When one thinks of vegetarian-friendly cities, Prague is not normally the first place that comes to mind – in fact it may not even be in the top ten. But for those of you unwilling to falter, you’re in for a nice surprise. In fact, our capital is quickly adopting the unbridled food trends, some of which are good, some of which are… well, just trends. Though, truth be told, things aren’t so bad for us vegetarians here, as of late. Of course, one can almost always find a Loving Hut or some similar insipid chain-type food anywhere in Europe, but we’re not here to talk about the dime-a-dozen restaurants. No, we’re here to talk about the type of food that makes those people who believe vegetarian food is only salad put their foot in their mouth – a belief slowly growing outdated, even here in Prague. Since you’re here, let’s start with something close to our hearts: the typical Czech pub.
A difficult place to start, some of the best of the worst foods you can, and will, find here. Some would describe Czech food as heavy, stick-to-your-ribs peasant fare. When you open up the menu at a typical Czech pub or restaurant you should look for the word Bezmasa. This is our section of the menu. Czech cuisine is notoriously unaccepting of our choice to not eat meat, but a few vegetarian dishes actually do exist. Most are quite delicious, and usually kind of unhealthy. It seems that we have reached the conclusion that frying something makes it better. In many cases a plate of smažené (fried) broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower or different cheeses will be considered a meal for vegetarians, usually accompanied by some boiled – or fried – potatoes and tartar sauce. This type of dish is actually much better than it sounds, unless, of course, it already sounds phenomenal. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t leave this country until you try some potato pancakes. Just remember, a fried vegetable is still a vegetable, thus I deem it healthy.
Not everything is fried, I promise – we eat sweets for lunch too! The stigma against eating sweets as a main doesn’t seem to have wandered it’s way into the Czech lands. In fact, it’s rather normal to see fruit dumplings with butter and poppy seeds, or dollops of cream cheese, possibly some honey, as a main course. The portions of these dumplings are usually big enough to sustain a small family and the prices are often very modest, but maybe you would prefer something that won’t make you regret eating half of a kilogram of deliciousness. A Czech version of crêpes, called palačinky, are also commonly found on the lunch menu, and are well worth your immediate attention. Stuffed and piled with fruit compote and/or ice cream, you’ll quickly see why we don’t just eat them for dessert. They do also have some savoury versions that are just as delicious.
It should also be noted that some traditional places, especially those outside of Prague, may offer something in the bezmasa section, however upon the food’s arrival you notice small chunks of ham. This does sometimes happen (sauerkraut is a repeat offender) just be aware and, more often than not, you’ll be fine. If you’re looking to stay in the capital and avoid any and all uncertainties, there are a few completely vegetarian restaurants lurking around. Many, such as Maitrea and Clear Head, are fairly easy to find on the Internet, and while they’re great choices, let’s look at a few other vegetarian friendly places that are less known and, in my humble opinion, better.
If you’re in the city centre and feeling hungry, a short walk from the Powder Tower and the Municipal house, is an undiscovered ‘restaurant’ that is one of the best places to get food in the city. Everyone loves Thai food, and Thai Box is the best place to get it. This little place started as a kiosk, and the new restaurant is small enough to fit about the same occupancy. Don’t let that sway you, I’d wager this is some of the freshest and best international food in the city. The menu is entirely vegetarian, and the dishes that are not vegan can be made that way. The owner, from Bangkok, has an ecological sense of ethic in her work, using recycled and biodegradable material when necessary, as well as fresh ingredients and eggs from happy chickens. If that’s not enough to lure your taste buds here, then it’s nice to know that it’s easy on your wallet, too. There is an English menu and the staff’s English is impeccable. Once you’re done stuffing yourself, if you’re in the mood for a nice beer or two overlooking Old Town, you’ll be glad to know there’s a great place close by! Just a few minutes walk around a couple corners you’ll find the shopping centre Kotva. On the northern exterior wall you’ll see an outdoor elevator – take this to the top floor to find T-Anker. Take your time here; you’ll understand why when you see, and more importantly, taste, all the goodness!
In a less charted, yet strikingly vibrant, part of the city, Prague 10 – Vršovice, one can roam for days without an iota of boredom. While this south-east city center-ish neighborhood may lack the glitz and glamour of the more well kept Old Town and New Town, it certainly makes up for that in spirit and life. The vibrancy of this party of the city is enough to warrant a stop here on our Bohemian State of Mind tour. Unfortunately, even on that tour we don’t have enough time to show you all the treasures in this little enclave. One of my favourites is Plevel.
Plevel is an amazing vegan restaurant that can only be described as delicious goodness! With an alternating lunch menu and a wonderfully diverse evening menu, it’s quite easy to find something interesting to satisfy your hunger. No matter your diet or allergies, you’ll find variations of traditional Czech dishes, raw choices, as well as a more global fare. For quality homemade food, the prices are quite decent. Czech food goes best with Czech beer, and they’ve got a great one – Pivovar Polička, from a small regional brewery. I’d recommend the nefiltrovaný, or unfiltered lager. Finally the vegetarians can enjoy a proper Czech dish, the proper way. The ambiance here is somewhat artsy and hip, but it’s missing the ever so common pretentiousness these places often emit. Kind staff and a diverse crowd only add to the inviting atmosphere.
If you’re looking for something that isn’t Czech, Javánka is a nice choice. As the name suggests, this is Indonesian food (Javánka means Javanese). Though not entirely a vegetarian restaurant, they do offer a variety of vegetarian, vegan, raw, and even gluten-free dishes for those with allergies. My favourite thing here, the Nasi Rames, described as a “small feast”, is a big plate that allows you to taste various menu items. This should successfully stave off your hunger until dinner at least. The food you get is plentiful, delicious, and great for travellers on a budget.
Just around the corner from both of these places you’ll find CoffeeSource, a wonderful coffee roaster/café (more info here). While they don’t have much to offer for food, the coffee is fantastic and the garden is serene. Once you’ve finished your after-lunch or early dinner coffee, a walk through a park seems quite nice, and Havlíčkovy sady is just the place, with plenty to see, do, and taste. And the best part is that they have fresh wine on Fridays!
Just up the street from the bottom of the park is Zlý Časy, and while this is far from a vegetarian restaurant, it merits at least a mention. With 48 taps, this might be one of the best places for the beer lover, offering mostly Czech regional microbreweries as well as specialty beers from around the world. They also offer a weekday rotating lunch menu, and one of the options is completely vegetarian. This is also a nice place to try my personal favourite Czech delicacy, nakládaný hermelín or ‘pickled’ camembert cheese. Though it is technically translated as pickled cheese, the cheese doesn’t actually pickle; rather, it marinates in a jar with oil, herbs, spices, onions and garlic – later to be eaten with plenty of rye bread. It goes without saying that it is best washed down with a glistening Czech pale lager (or three!).
A brief walk south of Old Town, past the Dancing House, you’ll find yourself on a quay with a beautiful view, and Saturday’s most bustling farmers market. This isn’t your typical market; it’s more of an event. With live music, the occasional flea market, all sorts of fresh food for take away or to take back and cook at your hostel or B&B, and even boats converted into restaurants and pubs, you definitely will not be bored! Look for the stand with homemade pesto and toast – if you only end up trying one thing, this has to be it. This market has pretty much anything one could ask for, making it a perfect place to go for lunch, to enjoy some coffee, for a beer or wine, or to pick out some food or dessert. The quay has ample seating areas, where you can eat or drink with friends or people watch. If you want an even better view, walk a few more minutes south to the less familiar medieval castle of Vyšehrad.
Vyšehrad, legend has it, was the original settlement of Prague, and though we honestly can’t prove this, what really matters is that this fortress is a lovely, lush, and historic part of the city. You know something’s up when this area isn’t buzzing with parents and grandparents playing with children and dogs, while others enjoy picnics (and so should you!) or a nice book. Just on the edge of the ramparts, behind the old Romanesque Rotunda of St. Martin, is Hospůdka na Hradbách – a beer garden with a grill that offers a beautiful view and fantastic grilled veggies.
It seems as though everyday a new vegetarian, vegan, or even raw food shop is sprouting up in Prague, with many of them easily accessible by public transit. Though it’s far from a complete guide, all of the places I mentioned have impressed me in some way or another. Aside from the flavour of the food, they also care about the quality of the ingredients. Each place also has its own quirk, and is local and unique in its own way. Whether you’re a vegan or vegetarian worried about how to survive hearty, Czech cuisine, or someone who’s just looking to discover a different culinary side of the city, Prague serves up plenty of options to choose from!
Kudos to Alexandra Siebenthal for taking the beautiful photos in this blog post!