We just returned from a family vacation to Prague. Much as we love to travel, we had never been to one of the Eastern bloc countries and so were really looking forward to this trip. Prague is one of the only major cities in Europe that was not damaged during the second world war and so the buildings which are hundreds of years old were not damaged by bombing. The history of the Czech Republic after WWII has been turbulent with communism as a result of which the buildings fell into disrepair through neglect. Things changed after the Velvet Revolution and much credit has to be given to the people of the Czech Republic for restoring the historic buildings and building up excellent infrastructure post the communist era (the excellent subway is from the Soviet era, I believe).
Anyway, Prague was everything that guidebooks rave about and more. It was one of the best places we have ever been to in Europe and very kid-friendly. Our family was not ready to return at the end of the week.
Given the meat and potato reputation of the Czech people, we approached our culinary adventures with some trepidation. That worry was unfounded though given the range of options available – just about every restaurant we went to explicitly laid out vegetarian options on the menu. Some were better than others. So here are a few tips for vegetarians traveling to the Czech Republic. Hope you find them useful.
1. Stay away from the touristy spots – Nothing new here. You can eat well and inexpensively, if you just walk a street or two off the main touristy drag.
2. Czech Food – Czech cuisine is a hearty meat and potatoes (and cabbage) type cuisine. However, there are vegetarian options. A typical Czech meal might consist of a hearty soup (a potato or a mushroom soup are vegetarian options) followed by a fruit dumpling (we tried a strawberry dumpling). Then there are lentils, rice, pickled cabbage, dumplings and dipping sauce (tomato and cheese). There is of course, battered and fried cheese (Syr in Czech) – lovers of fried mozzarella sticks will enjoy this. Then there is salad – a lot of options there as well. We ate Czech food at Havelska Koruna, close to the Havelska Market – nice cafeteria style place with very friendly service. Czech food was tasty, albeit a little sweet. Definitely worth a try.
A NOTE ON CZECH DUMPLINGS – Czech dumplings are more like steamed bread than anything else. They are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork and a dipping sauce. The fruit dumplings are often eaten as a main course and are made in the summer months when fruit is available. Some restaurants, we were advised, use frozen dumplings instead of freshly made. Try and avoid those if you can. There is a difference in fruit dumplings (in the picture below, which are big and round) and goulash dumplings (in the picture above, which look like sliced bread).
3. Italian Food – Lots and lots of Italian eateries abound. We had pizza three times and it was sensational. My wife, who has been to Italy a few times, claimed that this was the best pizza she has had outside of Italy.
4. Local Vegetarian Restaurants – We ate at the excellent Lehka Hlava. It is a “bohemian” restaurant in Bohemia 🙂 Well worth checking out. They also have a sister restaurant called Maitrea and then there is a vegan restaurant called Country Life which we did not try.
5. Indian Food – So here is an example of how we are turning into our parents. When my wife was growing up in Europe, their family traveled a fair bit and everywhere they went, her parents would seek out an Indian restaurant to get their fix. Well, much to our children’s chagrin (who’d rather eat pizza and pasta), we are those parents now and actively seek out Indian restaurants whereever we go. On a memorable trip to Innsbruck, my wife and I trekked through a couple of miles of snow in sub-zero temperatures to eat bad Indian food. Anyway, Indian food in Prague was overpriced (at the two restaurants we checked the pricing at) and underwhelming. A dinner at the highly rated Indian Jewel cost us almost three times as much as most of our other meals for not very good food. Avoid.
6. Trdelnik – This is a Czech sweet bread you can buy from vendors all over the city. It is cylindrical – about 3 inches in diameter and 4-5 inches tall. The best we had was by the Charles Bridge on the Castle side of the bridge. It is roasted on something like a spit and then dusted with cinnamon and sugar. This very quickly became a favorite snack of ours in our wanderings.
7. Beer – It is inexpensive and extremely good. Indulge. Most beer halls have fresh pretzels that hang on little wooden hooks. They are a little bland but worth a try. You can also order the standard deep fried Syr.
8. Self-Cook – If you are staying in an apartment like we were, you will likely have cooking facilities. Tesco has an excellent supermarket close to Old Town where you can pick up essentials for what amounts to US prices (a pleasant surprise in Europe). The variety of bread and cheese is amazing.