Communists can be a pretty domineering bunch, to put it lightly. The centrally-planned economy (apparently) required attention to every last detail, right down to what people cooked for dinner – and how much. When the Soviet Union began to dominate what people did, read, watched, and said to one another, it even began to dominate what Czechs ate at every meal.
The best way to do this was to ensure every Czech had the same cookbook and was afraid to deviate from the central plan. That cookbook was called normovacka, or “The Book of Standards.”
If that doesn’t get your mouth watering, comrade, nothing will.
Prague has a long history of being one of Europe’s best places to eat. One of the centers of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire, the highest of Europe’s high society visited and dined in Prague at some point in their illustrious, decadent, capitalist lives. But life under Soviet domination changed all that. Soon, the gem of gastronomical Europe became a place where oranges were the stuff of dreams, and bananas were a Christmas present (if you were lucky).
The Soviet Union had a carefully planned economic system that relied on predicting the needs of the populace while managing strict production quotas. Needless to say, it rarely worked like it was supposed to. In the early days of the USSR, food shortages were widespread, and famines killed millions. Czechs fared better than some other Soviet Republics, but still, food choices and supplies were very limited.
Vegetables? Who needs em?
In order to keep the demands of the Czechoslovakian Soviet Socialist Republic within the measurable and predictable guidelines the Soviet economy needed, the USSR gave the people one book from which to choose 845 different recipes. Any deviation was strictly forbidden, and the recipe dictated where to get the ingredients as well as how to serve them. Portion sizes were listed by hundreds of people, meaning that you were supposed to feed a lot of people with these recipes.
In some ways, the cookbook was ahead of its time, listing calorie counts by portion as well as its nutritional values. But now the cuisine of the once-shining star of European culinary delights was reduced to cookie-cutter homogeneity. Everywhere anyone went in Communist Czechoslovakia, they could count on each dish being served the same way in the same manner, in restaurants or at home. People could afford to go to state-run eateries and restaurants, but they would still be getting a meal from the Book of Standards.
Just like everyone else.