With pastries in the news, it seems like the right time to write about another crowd favorite- the trdelník. Describing their unique shape, these “chimney cakes” can be found in every tourist area in Prague for about 60 Kč each. I was thrilled to see signs boasting that trdelníky are a “traditional Czech pastry;” you mean I can devour this heavenly treat in the name of cultural appreciation?
Unfortunately, the idea that trdelníky are strictly Czech was a misconception, as clarified by my native Czech teacher who explained: “The trdelník is not a traditional Czech food. My Czech grandmother wouldn’t know what that is.” I was disappointed to have fallen victim to the false advertising of trdelníky, and decided to find out the real story behind them.
In August, reporter Dominik Jůn of Radio Praha took to the streets of Prague on a similar quest. Jůn discovered countless myths about the trdelník that provide quaint “histories” catered to tourists. Jůn interviewed Ladislav Provaan of the Gastronomy Museum to get his take on the elusive history of trdelníky. In his interview with Jůn, Provaan shared the true history of the trdelník,
“Trdelník ties very directly to the open fire. Prior to bread ovens, and prior to kitchen stoves or hot plates, there was no other way to cook dough other than to twist it on a stick of wood and rotate it over an open fire. […] As far as it is known in Europe, it starts with ancient Greece and practically every nation from Sweden down to the south, east and west, people knew Trdelník. The only difference is that it had so many local names. The word ‘Trdelník’ is the only thing about this food, which is purely Czech. It is a very ancient word, and it essentially denotes the use of a wooden stick, mallet or spindle – when twisting yarn this word was used” (Excerpt from Jůn’s article).
So there we have it: trdelníky are indeed a very old treat, but they are not unique to the Czech Republic whatsoever. This history does explain why I have been able to find them in other countries when I have traveled. In Hungary, they are called “Kürtőskalács”; in Austria, “Prügelkrapfen”; in Germany, “Baumkuchen”; in Slovakia, “Skalický trdelník.”
Although trdelníky are now made just for tourists, they still taste delicious, and I recommend trying one. It is interesting to watch them be prepared; thick dough coated in sugar is wrapped around a thick pole which is rotated slowly over a fire until the sugar caramelizes over the outside to a golden-brown color. If reading this article made you crave a trdelník, you can find them at stands in Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, near Prague Castle, and in other tourist areas in the city!
I now know that I cannot continue to devour trdelníky using the excuse that I am immersing myself in Czech culture, but I say with confidence that the trdelník I ate yesterday will not be my last. I will continue to enjoy them during my time in Prague and Central Europe, but I would also like to find some pastries that are unique to the Czech Republic. What is your favorite Czech dessert or pastry? I would love to hear about your favorite Czech sweets!