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Beware of the Burčák

Posted by on 09/16/2014

Finding something new in Moravia

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we here at travel. To bring you delightful, and delightfully weird, things from around the world. We are proud to present to you a few things in Štramberk, a tiny city in eastern Czech Republic. Historically, this area was known as Moravia (the western part of Czech lands were known as Bohemia). Actually, the phrase “was known” is a bit misleading in the eastern part of the Republic, since while no one in the former Bohemia continues to refer to it by that name, Moravians will still claim the title when it suits them (and this is often, apparently). Moravians are, in general, poorer, more boisterous, more quick to smile, laugh, and quarrel than their reserved western cousins, making them effectively the Irish of central Europe. I loved them immediately.

We arrived in Štramberk just looking for lunch and had a succession of surprises. First, this teeny hamlet of a few thousand people had a superb pizza joint. The German-speaking waitress was visibly relieved when she found my caveman Deutsch sufficient for communication. It’s not a small world after all, I suppose. Stepping out, we lucked into Štramberk’s heritage day festival, when the town square was full of locals, watching other locals sing, dance, and goof about in costume. Several vendors also set up shop in the square selling all sorts of stuff I’d never seen before and couldn’t figure out. Oh, and sausage. I know my sausage; I’ve been around the block a few times.

At the fair, we discovered a specialty virtually exclusive to Štramberk: the Štramberské uši, or “Stramberk Ears”. This is a baked treat, a kind of cinnamon and clove flavored flat cookie, rolled up into a rough approximation of an ear shape. Local legend has it the townspeople started baking them after an incident in the year 1241, when marauding Tatars sacked their city. Some clever townspeople lured the invaders to a particular spot underneath a dam, then broke the dam, flooding out the Tatars and saving the city. Since the Tatars were known for cutting off the ears of their victims to send back to the Khan as tribute, the locals started shaping their flatbreads into ear-like shapes in a nice (and tasty) fuck-you to their would-be conquerers. Score another point for Štramberk.


they’re super cheap too, and last for days

Next, we discovered another culinary delight, only not quite as local–this is particular to the whole of the Czech Republic, though we’d never heard of it before. Maybe that’s because, by law, you can only sell it between August and November. It’s Burčák, (BOOR-chack) basically a very immature wine. It looks and tastes like fruit juice, though it’s generally as alcoholic as beer. Indeed we thought it was fruit juice, and downed a cup or two. When we started feeling ever-so-slightly breezy we thought to google the name of the stuff, and, much to our delight, the top hits in the search results were “Beware of the Burčák” and “The Most Dangerous Beverage in Prague“. We did our (belated) research, realized we were quaffing central European hillbilly hooch, and immediately went back to the booth and purchased a full liter. For research purposes, of course. We’re dedicated to bringing you the truth, no matter the cost.

Our research well underway, we repaired to some benches to watch the entertainments. The local medieval guild paraded around in fine costume, then some adorable preteens (no, seriously) did a fairly complicated jump-rope routine, and then, the most sublime act of all: A Czech bluegrass band took the stage, layin’ down that old-time high lonesome sound. In Czech.

Afterward, I went up to meet the boys. Only one, the fiddler, spoke any English at all, but he was really happy to find that an honset-to-gawd A-murikan had seen, and liked, his act. We shook hands and left as friends.

shit-kickin' knows no borders

shit-kickin’ knows no borders. shit-kickin’ needs no borders.

All in all, pound-for-pound, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speck on the map turned out to be one of the best travel days we’ve had in a long, long time. We need to spend more time here, but for now we’re off to Poland, and more terra incognita.  Happy travels!

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