The great mystery of Czech food is where the summer menu went. Pork, game, dumplings and cabbage are perfect in the icy Eastern winters but depressing on a hot day. Czech staples like roast duck (pečená kachna), beef in cream sauce (svíčková na smetaně) or pork stew (moravský vrabec) are omnipresent, and can be delicious or boring, depending on the chef. Desserts include strudel (závin), fruit dumplings (ovocné knedlíky) and crêpes (palačinky).
Prague and bigger towns offer a big choice of non-Czech restaurants, and even small towns have a pizzeria and a Chinese restaurant. Vegetarian food is easy to come by in cities, but in rural areas the choice is usually between fried cheese (smažený sýr) and fried cauliflower (smažený květák).
A samoobsluha or bufet is a self-service canteen selling cheap meals, sandwiches and snacks. A bageterie is a sandwich shop, and a pekařství is a bakery, which often sells open sandwiches as well as bread, rolls, buns and cakes – not to be confused with a cukrárna, or cake shop. A pivnice is a pub without food, a hospoda or hostinec is a pub which serves meals. A čajovna is a teahouse, which might serve snacks, and kavárna means both coffeehouse and café, and will serve cakes and sometimes meals. A vinárna is a winebar and a restaurace is a restaurant.
Restaurants and pubs usually open at about 11am and close between midnight and 2am, but rarely serve food in the last few hours of the day. Lunchtime is early – 11.30am–1.30pm; if you arrive late popular dishes will be gone. Many restaurants bring pretzels or a basket of bread to the table, which seem complimentary but appear on the bill if eaten. Most restaurants and pubs do not charge service, and you should tip around ten percent. It’s customary to sit with strangers when seats are scarce, especially in pubs and canteens: just ask if the space is free (Máte tady volno?), and wish fellow diners a good meal (Dobrou Chut’).
The Czechs drink more beer (pivo) per capita than anyone else in the world – hardly surprising given the high quality and low price of Czech beer. The most famous brands are Pilsner Urquell, from Plzeň, and Budvar, from České Budějovice. Even small canteens and cafés have beer on tap. Southern Moravia is a wine-growing region, and produces some good whites. Other specialities include slivovice, devilishly strong plum brandy, and Becherovka, herb liquor.