I was nervous about living in this country because I’ve never had to pay for all 3 meals a day for months at a time. But the Czech Republic is far more familiar to the American palate, and wallet, than you might expect. First of all, the extremely valuable Euro never caught on as a currency here. The Czech economy still runs on the Czech Korun (Crown) which has an awkward, but favorable, exchange rate of 1=22. I round down to 20 so it’s easier to remember; meaning 100 Crowns is $5, 200 Crowns is $10, then divide whatever prices I see on signs according to those rules. (This math gives me prices 9% higher than they really are, which is a great budgeting lifehack for impulsive millenials like me.) For example, here’s what average groceries cost.
I got 2 bags of cereal, 1 liter of milk, 500g of spaghetti, 400g of pasta sauce, 4 wraps, and a cream danish thing. This all cost 231 crowns, or $10.50, and it came from a grocery store about 3 blocks from my apartment, an expensive part of the city. I think that’s pretty comparable to South Carolina, but if you’re willing to take a 15 minute tram ride to a superstore like Tesco (think EU Walmart) then you get prices maybe 10% lower. In my experience, food here is slightly cheaper than Columbia, SC.
Groceries are pretty dependable, but once in a while you might not be able to find something you want. I couldn’t find black beans today. Cilantro apparently does not exist here, as far as my roommates can tell. And when I run into a wall like that, or I’m just feeling lazy (read: most days) then I just go to a restaurant, because restaurants are notably cheaper here than the U.S. A good meal in a sit-down place is usually $9-$12 ($20 for a steak is the most expensive entrée I’ve seen). Takeout sandwich or pizza slice places are more like $3-$6. So eating out on the regular is doable on most budgets, and you can get any kind of food. Pizza, burgers, Asian, South American, and of course, Czech. Fasten your pacemakers for this one.
This is called smažak. The crispy thing on the right is cheese. Just cheese. A solid brick of deep fried cheese. That’s a main course. Now, I’m certainly cherrypicking the fattiest example here, but it’s to prove a point: Americans are not an isolated culture. I have to go all the way to a State Fair to see something like this back home – it’s right around the corner in Prague! And there is more nuanced traditional Czech cuisine: different cuts and seasoning combinations for beef and pork, hearty soups, and an amazingly diverse beer culture that any beer fan will weep for joy when experiencing. But yeah, the bottom line about traditional Czech food is that it’s not good on… any of your organs, really. I felt like I was stereotyping the food, until my Czech language professor said that heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death here. Beware the saturated fats, people.
There is food for everyone here, you just need to explore the city and find your favorites out of the hundreds of stores lining the streets. Plus, having no cafeteria to rely on every day is great for your cooking skills! I knew how to make about five things when I came here, and now I can make around ten. Even the vegetarians in my program have been doing well for themselves. And if my vegetarian friends back home learned anything at Wofford, it’s how to survive in any food culture.