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Holešovice's Hungarian rhapsody

Like its namesake, Paprika keeps things spicy and sweet


Posted: April 30, 2009

By Curtis Wong - Staff Writer | Comments (1) | Post comment

Holešovice's Hungarian rhapsody

Courtesy Photo

As its name suggests, peppery dishes form the menu of this new Holešovice eatery.

Like the Magyar nation it came to define, paprika has been shrouded in legend and mystique for centuries. The fragrant spice, like the peppers from which it originates, is said to have been named after a religious Hindu figure named Rysh Paprike, though modern-day historians now believe it to be a derivation of the Serbian word "paprena," which means "fiery."

Either way, paprika peppers are documented as having been grown in Hungary since the 16th century, and since then have become synonymous with the country's cuisine. It's safe to assume Magyar peasant recipes, often consisting only of bony pieces of meat with a handful of vegetables, needed a little sprucing up. And given that black peppercorns weren't produced locally and were considered exotic and expensive at the time, paprika filled in as an adequate substitute. Judging by the dishes served at Paprika, the new Hungarian eatery that opened last month in Holešovice, the spice continues to define modern-day variations on that farmhouse-style fare.

Unfortunately, anyone hoping for much in the way of ambience at Paprika will be disappointed. With the dining room's wood-paneled walls and red-and-white gingham tablecloths, there is little to distinguish it from the neighborhood's numerous herna, or slot-machine, bars located nearby. The only visible nod to the colorful nation from which the restaurant's cuisine originates is a garland of dried hot chili peppers, prevalent in Hungarian meals.

But diners who don't dismiss Paprika at first glance are in for something special. Owner and chef László Páczelt, who originally hails from Hungary's Lake Balaton region, offers up solid versions of his homeland's best-known dishes, with influences drawn from Turkish, Austrian, Italian and Slavic cuisines. In contrast to the restaurant's trite name and drab décor, home-style recipes featuring meat, root vegetables and potatoes are jazzed up with freshly ground paprika in both its sweet and spicy versions, forming the backbone of a menu which, though not especially elegant or diverse, is hearty, filling and served in sizable portions.

Paprika
Jateční 39
Prague 7-Holešovice
Tel. 722 064 214
Open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 3 p.m.-10 p.m.


Food **
Service ***
Atmosphere *
Overall **

FROM THE MENU

Goulash soup
60 Kč
Beef stew with red wine served with Hungarian pasta 120 Kč
Pork stew with sour cabbage served with homemade bread 120 Kč
Chicken paprika with homemade gnocchi 140 Kč
1 deciliter Egri red wine 16 Kč

That ubiquitous spice is everywhere, making its first appearance right from the get-go in the goulash soup appetizer. Though this version of the soup is mostly peppery broth with a few shreds of beef, it's still tasty, like a make-do dish you could imagine a peasant grandmother prepping with table scraps from a Sunday dinner, with a generous side of homemade rye bread ensuring that none of the fragrant broth will go to waste.

To those unfamiliar with Hungarian cuisine, it may seem strange to order two items with the word "goulash" in their titles during the same meal. But unlike its Czech and Austrian counterparts, Hungarian goulash is served both in the aforementioned form as well as a thick stew, usually alongside Viennese-style spätzle in a nod to the country's years of shared heritage with neighboring Austria. In its stew incarnation, however, Paprika's beef goulash keeps things native to Hungary, with a side of the egg-and-barley-based tarhonya pasta, which resembles small lentils in both size and consistency. Unlike Czech goulash, the meat arrives in a thinner, paprika-infused sauce as opposed to heavy gravy and, as a result, incorporates leaner cuts of meat. Though the use of the sweeter paprika keeps the heat factor of the entrée low, the kitchen allows diners to up the ante for themselves with an ample side of the spicier version in a ketchup-like dipping sauce, the wallop of which adds a touch of subtle warmth.

If there's a criticism to be made about Paprika's dishes, it's that they all seem a bit interchangeable after a while and, not unlike other Central European cuisines, rely too heavily on the flavor of a single spice. That aside, the rest of the dishes we sampled seemed to be prepped with utmost care. By far the best of these was the pork stew with sour cabbage. Small, tender pieces of pork loin are mixed with shredded cabbage and stewed in a glorious coral-colored sauce and topped with thick sour cream. Different in overall execution, but otherwise similar in flavor, was the chicken paprika, with meat so tender that it literally fell off the bone. Though it is advertised as served with homemade gnocchi, the side dish is actually more akin to spätzle than the Italian pasta.    

The favorable climate of the Carpathian basin means the Magyars have historically been a wine-drinking crowd, in contrast to their beer-swigging Czech cousins. Hence, no Hungarian meal is complete without at least sampling either the dessert white Tokaji or the dry, full-bodied red Egri. The red wine in particular is a perfect complement and, at a mere 16 Kč per deciliter, also a great bargain.  

On both visits, my dining companions and I were served by Páczelt himself, who offered details on menu items and wines. So what the restaurant lacks in menu variety and atmosphere it makes up for in home-style comfort and service, making it great for a quick lunch if you're in the neighborhood. Let's hope it will continue to find its footing in the coming months.


Curtis Wong can be reached at
cwong@praguepost.com


Tags: Curtis Wong, restaurant, Hungarian, Holesovice, Paprika.


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