By Sydney McGrane
Mix one part Edam cheese, some hot oil, a deep fryer and breadcrumbs, then top it off with tartar sauce. You have just created smazeny syr – the ubiquitous fried cheese found from the shabbiest street cart to the classiest Czech restaurant in Prague.
What makes these fried cheese sandwiches so appetizing? First, they possess that quintessential Czech quality of “I-probably-shouldn’t-be-eating-this-but-it-tastes-so-good-anyway.”
Smazeny syr is obviously not the dieter’s best friend – but take one bite and you will undeniably be hooked.
Smaz (“shmahhz”), as American students in Prague affectionately call it, and I were first introduced at a late night rendezvous at a food stand after a pub-crawl. It was love at first taste. Some claim it’s a sure hangover cure, while others like how it’s a vegetarian alternative in a country of meat and game.
With so many places serving this fried cheese, it’s easy to waste your time and tastebuds on unsavory smazeny syr. Here are the best places to have a fulfilling smaz experience, no matter what your budget or dietary fix may be.
Best Midday Snack Smaz
For a snack break, head to the foodstand on Revolucni. Don’t be fooled by the stand’s simple appearance: their smaz is rich in flavor.
The bun is preheated in the microwave, then tartar sauce is squeezed directly into the crevice (not all smaz stands do this, but it helps – it oozes less and keeps your fingers clean). The cheese is cooked fresh in front of you and placed in the bun, creating a delicious melding of the flavors. Although it is very hot, the cheese is not stringy, nor does it come apart, allowing it to blend with the tartar sauce.
Revolucni, Prague 1
Cost: 35 Kc
Best Night Owl Smaz
Easily the most convenient of food stands, this smaz server sits at the Narodni Trida tram stop, a major transportation hub in downtown Prague. It’s best for the late-night munchies. Night-trams run about every forty minutes, so grab a smaz to pass the time, and it will soak up the pivo (beer) in your stomach.
At 33 Kc, it’s the cheapest smaz – and most popular. Every night, join a long line of older Czechs and university students. But go before 3:30 am, or else they’ll be sold out.
The man behind the counter will reach into the fryer, pull a piece of cheese out, and ask, “Mayo?” Fear not, it’s just the tartar sauce, ladled with a satisfying glop! The one or two napkins they give you will not suffice – make sure to ask for extra. Your smaz at this stand is likely to be stringiest, and ooze out with the sloppy heap of “mayo.” If you’re going to indulge, you might as well do it with the messiest smaz in town. You’ll be licking your greasy fingers, thankful for the instantaneous satisfaction of fried food.
Národní trída, Prague 1
Cost: 33 Kc
Best Classy Smaz
Sit down with some smazeny syr for a more refined experience. Restaurace Doba, voted as having the best smaz in town by Prague TV in 2003, can still live up to that title four years later. Descend underground into a dimly lit cellar café and order the “Fried Edam” (if you’re feeling adventurous at this point in your smaz tour of Prague, go for the fried Brie instead).
Three pieces are served, each the size of a flattened baseball. The flaky breading belies a liquid center. Drizzle their warm cranberry sauce on top, then cut in and the fluid Edam will ooze through the cracks like lava. Doba has perfected the art of melted Edam without it being stringy or searing hot. You’ll lick the plate clean.
They have an English menu, but your fellow diners will likely be speaking Czech. Go to Doba for authentic, delicious Czech cuisine without the extravagant prices.
Námesti Míru 16, Prague 2
Cost: 85 Kc
So now you’re a cheese connoisseur of Prague, armed with the knowledge of when and where to indulge in smazeny syr. Your appetite whetted, set out in search of new smaz. After all, part of Prague’s appeal is the invitation to explore; the best smaz may be the one you discover on your own.