Friday, October 15, 2010

How Prague Will Make Me Gain One Thousand Pounds

My Czech-English tandem partner—I’ll call her M. for the sake of privacy and mysteriousness—brought me to a Czech restaurant to eat a typical Czech lunch: Three dumplings the size of baseballs filled with strawberry jelly with strawberries, syrup, chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and several mountains of whipped cream covering every inch of a rather large plate. The meal was so large that neither of us could push ourselves to eat a third dumpling. 

While we practiced our Czech, I asked her how to say “candy” and related stories of delicious Hungarian pastries filled with a sweet ricotta-like cheese and slices of peach. Lately I’ve been compulsively turning the conversation to food—food that I’ve eaten, food that I want to eat, food that I want to make. Right now my focus is on pumpkins. With a pumpkin sitting on my counter, looking delicious, how can I possibly refrain from daydreaming about a whole week of eating pumpkin soup, raw pumpkin (it tastes like carrot, only better), stuffed pumpkin, baked pumpkin (it tastes like carrot, only better). M. said, “You’re rather skinny for someone who likes food so much.” “Not for long,” I answered with my mouth full of whipped creamy goodness.

This morning I went down to the breakfast room of Komenskeho and discovered that, in the night, all of the fresh oranges and peaches had magically transformed into chocolate cake with a layer of creamy mousse, all of the yogurt had become pudding, and all of the cereal had become Coco Puffs. “Is this all for me? Am I dreaming?” thought I, making my usual cucumber sandwich. Who am I kidding? I went right for the cake. I prudently cut it in half and proceeded to eat both halves. The Komenskeho staff has always graced the buffet with danishes and doughnuts, but things are getting increasingly out of hand. I suspect that they may be fattening us up to roast us for an upcoming holiday feast.

I rode my sugar high to a gallery with my dorm mother and some friends. After an hour or so of looking at Andy Warhol and Rene Magritte and having security guards mock my name in Czech, I met the rest of the group in the gallery’s restaurant. Every establishment in Prague comes complete with its own dining establishment so that you’re never more than ten feet away from your next diabetic shock. I asked if there were any vegetarian meals, and the woman pointed me to a smaller version of the fruit dumplings from before. These were more like ravioli than baseballs, little pockets of fruit jam or sweet cheese covered in cream and chocolate and almonds. My friend and I split an enormous plate and finished every one.

Tonight I’m editing some scholarly documents that have been translated into English, and I may have absentmindedly consumed half of my groceries.  I cringe with every bite of leftover pasta and musli, imagining the staff of the Ruzyne Airport rolling me through the terminal like Violet Beauregard and strapping me to the tail of the airplane. Then I say to myself: Tomorrow I will exercise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Country that Remembered Vegetables

I’m starting a new routine. Every Tuesday, I get up at eight in the morning, eat a cucumber sandwich in the breakfast room, and set out with my grocery bag. I make the long commute by tram, metro, and tram again to Kubanske Namesti where I follow a long chain of old people off the tram. The old people and I slowly migrate across the street to the park to the farmer’s market.

As I enter the marketplace, I see fruits and vegetables stacked in crates and sausages behind glass. The Czech specialties seem to be potatoes and plums, and apples are everywhere now that they’re in season. My mind is blown when I see a green cauliflower with bizarre alien projections. (My research has led me to discover that it is a Veronica cauliflower. Here it is, in all of his psychedelic glory.)

A man selling honey elaborates on the different kinds of honey and I nod and say “dobre” as though I understand what he’s saying. The only jar of honey I’m certain of says “flower” in Czech on the front, so I splurge for a delicious topping for my giant tub of yogurt. The vendor gives me a glass of “most.” I assume it’s cider because it tastes like cider, but if it has some alcohol content I can’t taste the difference.

I’m looking for a pumpkin that I can lift. There are pumpkin like squashes and various gourds to choose from, but the only pumpkins I find are the size of horses and would be an inconvenience to others on the tram. I find a good sized, pumpkin-like specimen that is half green and half orange. I ask a nearby woman with a pumpkin, “Jite?” (You eat?) She confirms that it is food.

With a small pumpkin in my bag and carbohydrates on the brain I get a loaf of bread at random and a few small rolls. My final splurge is a box of raspberries. I figure they’re so out of season that I may never have the opportunity to put them in my Czech yogurt.

This pescetarian paradise has a stand where you can purchase vegetarian Indian food, one for chocolate truffles, and fried fish fresh from the Vltava (which is a fantastic tongue twister). The pastries and cookies are innumerable and the choices that one makes between them are heart-wrenching.

Cuban cigars are available for those who actually go to farmer’s markets for that sort of thing. One can even buy a jar of chocolate honey cream, which Aztec priests used as a lubricant when removing the organs of their victims. I would want some to spread on my toast.