Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk is the funniest unfinished satirical warfare novel that has ever spawned a global restaurant craze.
Written within the 1920s and set throughout World Battle I, the ebook begins proper after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, a time when Czech lands had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czechs had been drafted, usually towards their will, into the imperial military. All of its characters try to keep away from navy service—all, that’s, save the hero Švejk (pronounced “Shvake,” to rhyme with Shake ‘n Bake), who’s dying to enlist. Together with his candy smile, boundless enthusiasm, and harmless, childlike face, Švejk is licensed by a navy medical fee as an “official fool,” and his actions incessantly disarm his commanding officers. However the reader by no means finds out whether or not Švejk’s idiocy is real or an act he places on to get away with outrageous habits. On a literary household tree, the ebook is grandfather to each Catch-22 and Amelia Bedelia.
One in every of it’s most iconic scenes illustrates the tensions of the period, and the paradox of the hero’s intentions: Švejk is arrested for treason at his favourite bar, U Kalicha (On the Chalice), after he says, “Get drunk, have the Austrian nationwide anthem performed, and also you’ll see what you begin saying!” The tight-lipped, mustachioed bar-owner Palivec can also be arrested for the ignominious crime of letting flies land on and defile a portrait of the emperor.
Almost 100 years after the ebook’s publication, Švejk stays firmly entrenched within the cultural creativeness of not solely the Czech Republic however the surrounding area. I’ve been engaged on a dissertation about The Good Soldier Švejk for the previous couple of years, and whereas it’s nonetheless the topic of scholarly debate and is taught in school rooms the world over, essentially the most seen proof of its affect is within the restaurant trade: Hašek’s novel has impressed restaurateurs throughout Europe, from Scandinavia to the Balkans, to open Švejk-themed eating places. For those who’ve ever vacationed in Prague, Athens, or Copenhagen, you’ll have seen Švejk smiling down on you over dinner; you may’ve stopped in for a beer at a spot referred to as U Švejka—Czech for “chez Švejk”—and even occupied a desk within the real-life U Kalicha.
Which is humorous, as a result of there is not really an entire lot of meals within the ebook—or, to be exact, there isn’t a lot consuming. As a substitute, the reader is handled to lengthy scenes of troopers fantasizing in regards to the meals they miss from again dwelling: roast pork with beets, horseradish and mustard, stewed goose with purple and white cabbage and pork-fat dumplings, home made cracklins. The meager rations they’re promised by no means materialize, they usually journey tons of of miles by prepare with out ever being fed.
In fact, Švejk isn’t the one ebook to encourage eating places; there are British pubs referred to as “Oliver Twist,” and there are Don Quixote–impressed tapas eating places. However the ubiquity of the Švejk restaurant is curious, particularly as a result of it’s a fairly darkish novel, to not point out a tough modernist textual content. What number of consuming institutions have discovered inspiration from books that characteristic sadistic docs administering each day enemas to recalcitrant recruits? A restaurant that pays homage to Švejk isn’t that far off from a restaurant modeled on a narrative by Hašek’s up to date Franz Kafka—a spot everybody says it’s important to go to, however you possibly can’t discover the handle on a map, the hours aren’t posted wherever, and the menu is only a record of all the pieces you’ve ever accomplished mistaken in your life, learn aloud by your father.
So why Švejk? Who opens these joints, and who eats there? What’s on the menu, and what’s on the partitions?
Final summer season, I made a decision to place down my library card and choose up my passport. I deliberate a route that might take me by prepare to all of the Švejk eating places I may discover on the continent, eight nations in all, to uncover the origin and growth of this phenomenon. I used to be capable of conduct interviews in Czech, Russian, and German; in nations the place different languages are spoken, I put out a name to native pals and pals of pals for deciphering companies. Seems, individuals are amazingly useful when compensated in dumplings.
* * *
The oldest Švejk eating places are literally simply actually previous Czech eating places, locations Hašek used to go throughout his lifetime. He was a heavy drinker, so numerous actual Prague bars are talked about in Švejk, a few of which redecorated following Hašek’s loss of life and rose to worldwide fame with a view to capitalize on the connection. These eating places—together with the real-life U Kalicha, which different Hašek students (in Czech we’re referred to as Haškolog, or “Hašekologists”) advised me was most likely the unique Svejk restaurant—characteristic decor impressed by the novel, usually reproducing the enduring illustrations by Josef Lada, cartoonish drawings during which Švejk is chubby-cheeked and cherubic. (The rights to the illustrations are the property of Švejk Restaurant, the biggest franchise within the Czech Republic; different restaurateurs use them past the bounds of the legislation.) You’ll additionally see classic Švejk tchotchkes like beer steins and collectible figurines, Habsburg kitsch like portraits of the final emperor, and World Battle I paraphernalia, as a result of apparently nothing whets the urge for food like a 100-year-old fuel masks.
The clientele at these joints is a blended bag. Some are vacationers in search of one thing “authentically Czech,” however many, after all, are followers of the novel, which has grow to be such a traditional of world literature that it’s been translated into greater than 60 languages. For instance, the day I visited U Kalicha, I met Estonian vacationers who had been delighted to step into the world of their favourite ebook. For them, a visit to U Kalicha was nothing in need of a pilgrimage. However as a result of the ebook has additionally been tailored into performs, movies, and comics, the picture of Švejk is immediately recognizable even to many individuals who haven’t learn the ebook.
To the Czechs, Švejk represents a specific model of playful, even absurd resistance—he’s subversive, however by no means will get in an excessive amount of hassle as a result of, in any case, it’s not unlawful to be an fool. To the remainder of the world, although, Švejk represents the Czechs.
And so, on the worldwide Švejk eating places, objects from the Czech Republic particularly appeared to be extremely prized, spoken of virtually as in the event that they had been holy relics, just like the rosary beads your Catholic grandmother purchased in Vatican Metropolis. A whole lot of the meals at these eating places is typical Czech delicacies, meat-heavy and hearty, alongside the traces of what the troopers in Hašek’s novel longed for—traditional dishes like goulash with bread dumplings, pork ribs, roast duck, and schnitzel, finest accompanied by lager.
These worldwide Švejk eating places might be divided into two classes—ones that opened through the communist period, that are primarily owned by Czech emigres, and ones which have opened for the reason that fall of the Iron Curtain. As Soviet Bloc nations transitioned to democracy, Švejk was typically used to specific nostalgia for a romanticized, pre-communist previous, which is fairly ironic, contemplating that within the novel, Švejk is rebelling towards the imperial order of which he’s now purported to be an emblem.
* * *
Spiros Koulouris is of Greek descent, however grew up in Prague and emigrated again to Athens through the communist interval. When he opened the primary Czech restaurant in Greece, again in 1982, he named it U Švejka, after his favourite novel. The restaurant, chock-full of memorabilia and opening right into a lush patio, looks like an ideal mix of a Czech beer corridor and a Greek taverna. Koulouris and his spouse Aphrodite are marvelous hosts, nevertheless it felt unnatural to be consuming heavy Czech meals on a sizzling July day in Athens. (A whole lot of Švejk restaurateurs advised me their meals gross sales go down in the summertime months, pushing them to depend on beer-drinkers to maintain them in enterprise.)
For Koulouris, Švejk evokes a heat, homey feeling. “It’s just like the Odyssey,” he mentioned, “the heroes are the folks round us. In literature, on a regular basis folks grow to be gods.” In his opinion, Švejk is adaptable to any type of resistance: “Wherever there’s energy,” Koulouris says, “there should at all times be Švejk.”
Not all of the worldwide Švejk eating places I visited adhere strictly to Czech delicacies, the way in which Koulouris’s restaurant does, neither is it a provided that their homeowners love the ebook. After I interviewed Artur Jarczynski, the proprietor of U Szwejka, one of many greatest eating places in Warsaw, I requested him the identical query I had requested each different restaurateur: What’s the relationship between Czech meals and this novel? The die-hard followers, like Spiros Koulouris, all gave me the identical stunning reply—there isn’t any connection; they’re simply each fantastic. However Artur modified the subject a pair instances earlier than I lastly acquired him to confess that he’d by no means learn it.
Neither had many of the company I spoke with. The Estonian couple in Prague had been the one vacationers moreover myself who appeared to be on a Švejk pilgrimage. Different company I talked to largely humored me with out ever placing down their beer, though one memorable group of Russian males that I met at U Švejků, additionally in Prague, mistook my journalistic initiative for flirting. I nonetheless didn’t perceive what compelled folks throughout Europe to dedicate their eating places to this novel, and what, if not title recognition, drew their prospects in.
Because the ebook was revealed, Švejk has grow to be synonymous with Czech tradition, which is itself synonymous with good beer. Lots of people I talked to, company and homeowners alike, mentioned that they take into account Czech lager the most effective beer on the earth, and so it appears, numerous Švejk restaurant-owners hope prospects will see Švejk’s title exterior and are available in for an excellent evening of ingesting Czech beer. All the things else, from the decor to the choices on the menu, can have as little or as a lot to do with the novel or something Czech because the homeowners like, and typically meaning under no circumstances. At Krogen Soldaten Švejk in Stockholm, the menu consisted of a smattering of authentically Czech choices, whereas additionally providing up traditional Swedish dishes like potato pancakes with pork and lingonberry jam. At U Švejka in Zielona Góra, Poland, half the menu is Czech, and the opposite half is no matter strikes the chef’s seasonal fancy.
Initially, I used to be skeptical of restaurant-owners who use Švejk to money in on its recognizability. Name it revenge of the nerds, however that is my favourite ebook—I take it critically, and I’m protecting of it. However the extra I traveled, the extra I noticed that culinary fusion is the truth is true to the ebook, and I’ve made my peace with free variations, each literary and culinary. The characters within the ebook could also be Czech however their concepts about meals span the Austro-Hungarian Empire which, on the outbreak of World Battle I, included elements of the Balkans, Italy, at present’s Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and, after all Czech Republic. One soldier remembers being welcomed into Serbia with “the goose’s thighs they gave us, reduce little cubes of the perfect meat.” In Budapest, they dream of salami: “The capital of the Hungarian kingdom was naturally sure up with the idea of a particular type of sausage.”
But this culinary wanderlust is tempered by homesickness. Fearing deployment to Italy, a recruit says:
’You recognize, at dwelling in Kašperské Hory we make form of small dumplings out of uncooked potatoes. We boil them, dip them in egg, and roll them effectively in breadcrumbs. After that we fry them with bacon.’ He pronounced the final phrase in a mysteriously solemn tone.
‘However they’re finest with sauerkraut,’ he added in a melancholy voice. ‘They will chuck their macaroni down the bathroom.’
There could also be a qualitative distinction between the Švejk restaurant-owners who love the ebook and embrace its anti-authoritarian message and those who use an iconic picture to promote beer, however quantitatively, they each contribute to this international phenomenon. For his half, Hašek, an irreverent and lavish man, will surely have cherished to know that individuals everywhere in the world collect in areas he impressed, ingesting, consuming, and laughing with pals. And as for Švejk and his hungry fellow troopers, all these Czech and pan-European dishes they had been dreaming about are prepared now, ready for our order.
Given my ardour for the ebook, perhaps it’s no shock that my favourite Švejk restaurant of the journey turned out to be the freshest and most loving tribute to the novel. It’s a brand new spot in Sofia, Bulgaria, the place the beer is Czech however the very good meals, like pork ribs with a smoky-sweet paprika rub, infuses Bohemian requirements with Balkan boldness. The bar known as Palivec—“as a result of,” mentioned the proprietor Ivan Meshekoparanov, “U Kalicha was taken.” Right here was a person who actually knew his Švejk!
The restaurant’s brand reimagines Lada’s paintings: it’s a frothy beer stein with a mustache, a tribute to the unique illustration of the unlucky bartender Palivec. You received’t discover Švejk’s face wherever right here, however subsequent to the bar is a portrait of the emperor, thoughtfully lined with synthetic fly specks. Ivan mentioned that lower than 10 p.c of his company get the reference, however, as I lastly understood, that’s not the purpose. You don’t must have learn Švejk—though by this level I hope you’ll need to—to understand the surprising method a chilly, golden pilsner enhances spicy barbecue. However a part of what makes Švejk so interesting is the surprising locations it takes us.
It was on a sunny patio in Sofia that I lastly understood what the Švejk-themed restaurant is all about. It’s an invite to come back along with your folks to have amusing over some good beer and stable meals. It’s a possibility to unleash your inside Švejk, skirt your tasks, even act like an fool, if just for a spherical or two.
This put up might comprise hyperlinks to Amazon or different companions; your purchases by way of these hyperlinks can profit Critical Eats. Learn extra about our affiliate linking coverage.