Thursday, July 28, 2016

Smažený Sýr!

One Wide Man's Comfort Food

Fried Cheese. It's the stuff of life. Or at least the stuff of my life in the Czech Republic. Everyone needs to find their vice, their relief from the pain and suffering of being mortal. Some choose heroin, meth, crack, hoes, or heroin-addicted, methed-up crack hoes. I do not judge. For me, my vices are The Beer and The Sýr. I guess I would call fried cheese my comfort food. But that's not saying enough. It doesn't 'comfort' me in the way that macaroni and cheese comforts a white trash stoner. My smažený sýr (pronounced smazheny seer) experience is more like trying to stuff a slab of greasy cheese into a hollowed out knitting needle and jam that bitch into my tongue. I'm almost ready to seek help.

Tourists and travelers alike want to know what Real Czech Food is. Yeah, you can have gulash, but the Hungrarians already had that, and sure, you can score some chunks of roasted meat and sauerkraut, but the Germans probably invented that shit as well. If you want something so real, so tasty and so gawdamn decadent that Czechs themselves swear it's the FIRST thing they eat after returning from abroad—it's the fried cheese.

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská
'But we already have that,' a skeptical American friend said. 'Au contrare, mon frer,' I corrected, you have your mozzarella sticks. In Czechia, they take 2 fuckin' SLABS of cheese, batter the beJAYzus out of 'em, then chuck 'em in the deep fryer right next to your order of fries, then throw it all on a plate with tartar sauce. Occasionally there are small strips of sad sauerkraut or shredded parsley on the side as a garnish. You can safely ignore that shit and dive right on into your hunka hunka burnin' cheese.

Fried cheese is like sex: the worst fried cheese I have EVER had...wasn't bad. It was served in a train station, lukewarm, rigid, rushed and served with no enthusiasm by an old woman who clearly hated her job. And then there was the fried cheese...

The Smažený Sýr Zine

Back before weblogs became blogs, feckless writers who couldn't be published in magazines wrote zines. These poorly crafted tomes were oftentimes the alternative mini manifestos of whatever subcultures were popular before the iphones made zombies of our chilluns. I wrote one of those things, hand printed in pen and ink, to be released in Prague in the late 90s in the height of the (sticking fingers in air in ridiculous quote signs) Prague Literati (unfingerquote). There was just a metric fuckton of American wannabe writers (and Brits as well) living in Prague, sucking up the fried cheese, cheap beer and doe-eyed babes like a whale sucks brine through baleen.

My Smažený Sýr Zine was subtitled 'A Toxic By-product of the Prague Literati.' At the time, too many poetry readings were being given by thin, twitching vegans under the banner of Beefstew. When I first arrived in Prague in '97 with 400 bux in my pocket, I was also a misguided vegetarian. My last girlfriend in the States had warped my brain and stomach into a new diet without meat. Since then I have discovered that the vegetarian diet doesn't work for large men. All the tofu in the world won't fill the protein void. And kale? Gofuckyerself.

I chose cheese. It was in a restaurant near Karlovo namesti where my cheese cherry was first heated, stretched, and broken. The joint was full of smoke and beer and just the kind of apathy that made me comfortable in my own skin. I took the unintelligible Czech menu from the unintelligible Czech waiter and pointed to the plate of the man at the next table The man was cutting into a fried, breaded pillow of something which oozed onto a pile of french fries. 'Is that vegetarian?' I asked. 'It's cheese,' he replied. Then he brought me one.

And with that, Craig Robinson was in love.

I needed to tell the people. They needed to know my love. I wanted to start cults of fried cheeseheads which would put the Green Bay Packers fans to shame. And I wanted to smear the sýr all over the local newspapers and shout cheesy yelps of joy from the rooftops.

The Smažený Sýr Zine project withered in the udder. I had hand printed one—all 4 pages of it (double sided A4, folded in half) and all I needed was the money for a copy machine. I would print HUNDREDS of these cheesy little bastards, change the global diet, and jam my middle finger up the collective noses of all those wannabe 'Prague Writers.' Maybe the project died because a good friend of mine read it and called me a fucking idiot. Or maybe it died because the world wasn't ready to embrace a radical deep fried cheese diet, one which would throw the Earth off its axis from our sheer heavy human MASS. Or maybe I didn't have fifty bux to print the damn thing. You and I will never know. Oh, the bullet we dodged.

In the meantime, I attend cheese church religiously, looking for my sacred cow. Many times I have thought about writing reviews about where to get the best fried cheese in Prague, but the lack of culinary consistency in this country makes me think the cooks are on a rotating prison work furlough. You can get a perfect fried cheese in a pub one day, and the next—total fucking hockey puck. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.

Cheese Spotting

As mentioned before, bad fried cheese and bad sex are still better than a sharp stick in the eye, so fried cheese reviews might seem pointless with such a non-gourmet food. But after a few thousand pounds of cheesy goodness washed down with cheap, delicious Czech beer, I can offer the following fried cheese guidelines with absolute authority.

  1. The cheese must be at least 40% fat in order to melt well. Otherwise you are eating a rubber hockey puck. You can often get 3 or 4 diffferent types of fried cheese: the basic eidam, the snooty camembert, and the risky blue cheese. My staple is the eidam (eidamer in Deutsch).

  2. The fries must be cut thick and fresh on the premises and fried to a golden perfection. Anything less is just frozen fast food fries. The better joints even let you choose the style of your fries: traditional, 'American' (wedges) or boiled potatoes. But don't order the latter unless you are a starving Russian author just released from prison.

  3. The tartar sauce must come in a mini gravy boat with lots of little green herbal chunks. If they try to fob off a package of tartar sauce, you can feel free to deduct that shit from the tip. Cheap-ass-bitch tax, I call it.

  4. If a menu has fried cheese and french fries on it, but doesn't include the tartar sauce in the price, keep walking. These cheap ass Czech fucks like to charge for condiments. Hell, they even charge 50 cents for each ketchup packet in McDonald's or any other American fast food joint. The nerve.

  5. Hit the lunch menus between 11am and 2pm. It's a few bucks cheaper. Some of the more enlightened restaurants extend those golden, cheesy hours to 3 or 4pm, knowing that some of us don't get up at 5am, work in factories, and eat lunch at 11am.

  6. After all I've said, you still might be tempted to get one of the meat dishes from the lunch menu. Don't do it, I'm telling you. Unless you like eating three tiny, outdated, discount market chunks of stringy, fatty, grisly, dried out meat served in a sea of universal brown sauce and a metric fuckton of dried out dumpling paperweights. Trust me, life is too short for that shit.

The blogger is chock full of fried cheese as he posts this. But he still needs to ask you:

Where did you have your best fried cheese in Prague? 
Where can I find that tasty shit?

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská

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