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On a Quest for Christmas in a Cup


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The classic beverage has developed international twists

For a few short weeks every year, Prague becomes something of a global hub for the Christmas spirit. The city spreads this comfort and joy with the seamless combination of sleigh-bells, twinkling lights, hooves on cobblestones and the aroma of cinnamon and spices wafting from every corner.

That familiar fragrance is known in Czech as svař√°k - a heated, sweetened and spiced wine (usually red), available anywhere and everywhere during the holiday season.

The tradition of svař√°k dates to the fifth century BC, when it was known by the name "Ypocros" (Hipocris), after the Greek physician Hippocras. Because sanitation was poor at the time, he prescribed drinking wine as an alternative to the risky drinking water. Some sources suggest the spices and honey were added because it made wine that had gone bad drinkable again, but perhaps they just liked the taste.

Whatever the reason, to this day, mulled wine remains a popular winter beverage in wine-producing regions across Europe, so it comes as no surprise that Prague has an inordinate number of svař√°k-slingers, no matter where the mood decides to strike.

The most well-known places for mulled wine are the Christmas markets on Wenceslas and Old Town squares. The bustling atmosphere of these markets can easily make you feel like you've walked into a Christmas card, and traditional, quality svař√°k flows at nearly every booth.

Of course, if you are looking to avoid the crowds of tourists, pubs and restaurants offer a more intimate atmosphere in which to enjoy a warm glass. Staropramen's chain restaurant Potrefen√° husa, for example, offers both red and white svař√°k.

"Sales are very high in the winter," says Lenka Pař√≠zkov√°, a waitress at Husa's Platn√©řsk√° location in Old Town. "We have our own select spice blend, and we only use dry Moravian wines."

But if you are in the mood to splurge, the best place for a magnificent, intimate "Christmas-card experience" is on the heated rooftop terrace at Hotel U Prince. Here, you can take in bewitching views of the city at its holiday best. The heat-lamps are on all winter, making U Prince one of the few places where it is possible to imbibe comfortably with both snow and open sky.

If svař√°k is not exactly what you're looking for but you're still in the mood for a toasty beverage, many places offer their own unique variations. The Christmas markets are a great place to sample some of these, such as medovina (honey wine), hot apple cider and traditional Moravian punch.

Some more unexpected delights can be found. Vopičkovo Vok√Ĺnko, in Mal√° Strana, offers true Czech tradition with a bit of original flavor. The Vopička family has run the small walk-through location on Na Kampě for 100 years. Roman Vopička inherited the business from his father 20 years ago and has been running it ever since.

"I have been here five days a week - from noon to 8 p.m. - for so many years," Vopička said. "I know most of the people who come here."

Vopička hasn't let himself become complacent. He still enjoys creating new and unusual drinks. His most popular hot-beverage, "krambule," is something he concocted eight years ago. This flagship drink is a secret mix of heated alcohol, spices and pear juice.

"Krambule is one of my best-sellers from September to April," he says. "It's actually very popular with moms on the way to the park with their kids. They call each other up to have 'Krambule meetings.' "

For another twist on a heated beverage, Belushi's offers a brand-new hot cider.

"We used Magner's Hard Cider and cinnamon," said Anthony Connor, food and beverage manager at Belushi's. "We also add some Becherovk√° for a nice local taste."

Of course, as the season gets whiter, the harder it gets to drag ourselves out into the icy streets. When you feel like spending an evening in hibernation, make your own mulled drink and enjoy it from the comfort of your living room. One of the best things about svař√°k is that is it so simple to make.

Another bonus of the do-it-yourself approach is that it leaves your kitchen smelling like a true winter wonderland. This is a great alternative to potpourri or cookies for entertaining this holiday season, or even if you're just relaxing at home on a blustery winter evening. So try to make it out to the Christmas market or one of the cozy nooks cooking up svař√°k this winter, and if you can't, then snuggle up with a cup of homemade Christmas cheer at home.

Author: Christie Elizabeth

Category: Food and Dining Viewed: 469 times
Username: christie Listing Ref: 1113225819
Date of Listing: 20 April 2015, 19:59:02

On a Quest for Christmas in a Cup


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