Part 1: Sausages & “Arms” in the Czech Republic
When people think of the Czech Republic the item that most likely will come to mind is beer — and why wouldn’t it? Czech beer, or pivo, is flavorsome, hearty, and handsome in taste. For me, most people I know are fond not only for those said qualities but also their seemingly restorative superpowers during the weekday grind. When it comes to consumption, one may suspect the Germans but it’s actually the Czechs who drink more beer per capita than any other European country. For centuries, the Czechs have been mastering the art of beer production and whether you’re a local or a tourist – beer is the lowest common denominator which tastefully binds us all.
Yet before you leave me to quench your thirst with a Pilsner Urquell, you should know that for every ying there is a yang, and for every Czech beer there is the counterpart; a Czech klobása, or sausage. Nothing can compliment an iced-cold Czech beer quite like a grilled sausage, the kind that snap when bitten into and come served with mustard, horseradish, and a wedge of fresh bread. Czech sausage is the other, must-try item when you visit Prague and the must-have item when you are hiking to a castle in the springtime or are softening with a mulled wine in the Czech Christmas markets.
Since I moved to Prague, first in 2004 then again in 2011, I have been quite a sausage patron and had a few run-ins with the klobása culture. For example and unbeknownst to me, when you order “1” sausage at your deli, it actually means “2”. Confused? I was, and here’s the explanation: Czechs count sausages as “arms” – the first klobása link is the “upper” arm (your bicep, for example) and the second link the “lower” half thus forming “1 arm”, or how you and I would think “2 joined links”. I found out the hard way by ordering 7 sausages for an upcoming camping trip for us new expats. I stood at the deli. “7 sausages, please!” I said proudly, mustering all the Czech I had. “7?” she replied with caution. “Yes, 7. I would like 7 sausages,” I retorted sharply, not knowing if I was getting the “yuck, foreigners!” treatment. She disappeared into the backroom without a word. “Welp, maybe she does hate foreigners,” I exhaled, bowing my head but she returned, and boy did she and in spades.
Emerging with a clear plastic garbage bag cradling 14 sausages over her head, the deli woman struggled for what seemed like a small eternity to pile the bagged links onto the small scale. Between her plastic gloves battling with the same texture of the plastic bag against the freedom of 14 sausage links you can image that this was done very, very swiftly. Obviously not calling attention to me in any way, shape, or form. “Eugh… shit,” I thought, as the deli line began to multiply. “You said 7,” she confirmed with a smirk and nod. Silence. I couldn’t possibly give everyone at the deli the satisfaction that I was wrong. I couldn’t explain myself then in Czech to make some half-charming joke to break that deli woman’s icy Iron Curtain stare. I knew what to do. I cried, “Yep!” then I reached for the bag “damn, that’s big“, put the “7” sausages in my trolley, and sputtered away, sausage fumes and all only to dock in the frozen section when I covertly abandoned my mistake.
Living in the Czech Republic in my 20s was always an adventure. I have learned quite a lot about the food, how to handle and order food, and what different terms mean. Also, I can happily express myself now in Czech. I have to admit it is not always easy but being an expat, you have to plan for that and perhaps that “you-must-learn” pressure adds to the sense of excitement of being a foreigner in a foreign land. But when it comes to food, I am all in.
Now in my 30s (and with better manners), I have graduated from ordering sausages to making my own, breaking “arms” you could say and doing it my own way. There are several benefits about preparing your own sausage. For me, it is the quality. I know exactly what is in the links since I have purchased the cuts fresh from my butcher and ground it at home. In addition, it is the flexibility to spice the meat myself. There is not one specific sausage recipe, per se. If you like to add a bit of fennel, or maybe some hot paprika to make a famously delicious Hungarian sausage, or take the French route and add fresh tarragon, allspice, and parsley, go for it. it is solely up to you.
For me? Find out what I did in The Bell Kitchen when I prepared my own batch of pork sausage and how you too can learn to create your own at home in the upcoming Part 2: Preparing Homemade Sausages & Intro to Charcuterie