Eating Prague Culinary Tour: Seven Stops in Five Hours in Prague

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

Eating Prague Culinary Tour

On the fifth day of our 10-day trip to Prague, Therese and I took a culinary tour with Eating Prague Tours.  We were part of a lively group of 10 people with a wonderful guide named Mirka (I’m pretty sure that was her) who visited 7 different culinary stops.  The tour was supposed to be four hours, but it took a little longer than expected – five hours, to be precise.  That didn’t bother us a bit, but I gather some people had plans for later in the day or that sort of thing (more on that later).

To keep things at a manageable length, I thought I would break the culinary tour into two posts.  In this first one, I will cover stops one through four, and in the second/concluding post, I will cover 5 through seven.  Just so you don’t think you’ll be getting cheated in the 2nd post, I can tell you that we covered more ground geographically later in the day, so there are more city sights we encountered along the way that I will describe in that later post.  So please do check it out.

1. Le Court Galerie.  OK.  So we had an invigorating walk from our hotel to the starting point of the tour, Le Court Galerie, a cafe set in an enviable location, a quiet courtyard lined with trees.  It is the perfect place to have a beverage and a snack, which is what we did, while we waited for everyone to arrive.

I should tell you that the strudel we were offered was NOT dairy free.  Here’s what happened: even though I had told Eating Prague about my allergy when I reserved our place on the tour, somehow that information was not communicated to Mirka.  When we went around the group and introduced ourselves, I talked about this blog and my allergy, and she apologized and immediately went to work contacting other stops along the tour to ensure that there would be dairy free options for me (yay!).  But she couldn’t do anything about the strudel.

So what did I do?  I reasoned that a tiny taste would not be enough to make me sick (I know that some of you would not choose to take this risk, but based on my experience, I felt comfortable doing this).  This strudel, in any case, was a modern, healthy take on the popular dessert.  The apples had a bit of crunch to them, and they weren’t bathed in lots of sauce.  And the pastry was not flaky with layers of butter, but more like a wonton wrapper.

At this first stop, I think our hostess could’ve been more cut-throat about getting off to a timely start.  There was a group of three ladies who were running late and had informed her of that; but when they arrived, instead of rushing us off to the next stop, she let us all linger for a good bit of time so the three late arrivals could enjoy a beverage and some strudel.  Which was fine with me, but I’m just saying: if there are time concerns, that would be a place to cut some.

2. Sisters Bistro & 3. Naše Maso.  I mention these two stops in the same breath, because they are literally right next to each other, with their entrances facing each other across a narrow alley-way.

Sisters Bistro is an homage to the Czech open-faced sandwich or chlebiky, but with a modern, farm-to-table twist.  We were told that one of the two sisters who started the restaurant is a pioneer in bringing the farm-to-table concept to Prague, and in promoting the neighborhood food markets that will support this movement.

All of the open-faced sandwiches we tried featured some great fresh vegetables: beet puree and basil, celeriac and tomato, even the herring sandwich came with radish and dill.  The first one came with a sizable dollop of mozzarella, which I let Therese handle for me.

I had hardly swallowed my third sandwich sample when it was already time to slide across the alley to Naše Maso.  This is the cool, hip butcher that we all wish we had in our neighborhood, and all appearances is that this establishment, just a year after opening, is already quite popular.

Now normally I am not much for hip, but this is a little different than the hip I am used to – this is hip with substance (I think we need a new word for that).  The cured and smoked meats are done slowly using natural ingredients in a way that delivers the flavor cleanly.

Naše Maso Samplings

Naše Maso Samplings

As much as I loved the hams, especially the second one that tasted a bit like pastrami, the two sausages were even better.  And the house mustard, spicy and sharp, was perfect for dipping the sausages.

I am glad that we had a fair amount of walking to do after samplings these hams and sausages, because I was pretty full at that point.  Our journey took us through Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the square near to our hotel, where there was the opportunity for photos of the soot-covered Powder Tower.  At that point, we passed from Old Town to New Town (the section of Prague that was founded in 1348).  Our guide explained to us that the street called Na příkopě, which is now a busy commercial street full of shops, whose name means “At the moat,” was the site of the moat that separated the two sections of the city.  We left the square behind and turned southeast, passing through the Czech National Bank building to our next stop, a surprise.

4. Restaurant Zvonice.  Zvonice is notable for its location, inside Henry’s Tower, the tallest belfry in Prague. In modern times, the belfry was stabilized by building a structure within it, so that it now features an elevator and stairs as well as air conditioning.

Henry's Tower

Henry’s Tower

The dish that Mirka promised us at Zvonice was a sauerkraut soup.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat the sauerkraut soup, but the soup that was prepared for me was also quite lovely: a chicken consomme with julienned carrots and a dear sausage.  This was a result of one of the phone calls that dear Mirka had made after hearing of my allergy – and I of course was very appreciative.

I enjoyed the soup, but I think the best part of being at Zvonice was sitting at the long table with our group in the cozy confines of the restaurant – using one of the floors of the belfry, with large beams cutting through it, I would guess that the restaurant seats less than 30 people.  On the way down, I thought I would walk; but when, after just a couple of flights, the elevator opened on the floor near me, I hopped aboard, and there was Therese, as if she had been waiting for me.

At that point, I had probably already eaten enough food for the day; but there were still 3 more stops.  One of them would be for a sit-down lunch (wait, hadn’t we just done that?), one would be at a local micro-brewery, and lastly, there was a dessert promised (and for me, there would be a nearly-dairy free version of the dessert).

As we left Henry’s Tower and started on our way further south, I turned and saw this cool retro Coca Cola ad painted on the side of a building:

Coca Cola Ad

Coca Cola Ad

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Snack Safely: Just What It Says!

Snack Safely is one of the great resources I learned about recently at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas.  I was at lunch when I overheard someone talking about how Snack Safely had recently downgraded Oreos, removing them from their list of snacks that are safe to eat.

This got my attention.  Here we are at the Conference, with so many artisanal and allergy free brands represented, and someone is talking about something as mainstream as Oreos?  I had to find out more.  It was explained to me that beyond the ingredients listed on a snack’s box, there can sometimes be issues, such as cross-contamination, that make a product unsafe for us food allergic folks.

Also, I was a little shocked to hear that Oreos might be unsafe.  Yes, back in the day when most mainstream snack companies routinely put whey or other milk products in their cookies, Nabisco’s Oreos were off-limits for me.  Luckily, Nabisco’s rival cookie company, Sunshine had several cookie varieties that were dairy free, including Hydrox, which was somewhat similar to the Oreo (chocolate crunchy cookie outside, sugary creamy filling).  But at some point, I read the ingredients on Oreos, and they had removed the whey, and yay, I could eat them!

So to hear that they were maybe not really safe was going to make me sad.  But two items of clarification are necessary to conclude this story.  The first is about Snack Safely.  Louise uses them religiously, because their focus is on peanut allergy (which is the food allergy with which she is concerned).  Luckily, the work they do revealing companies’ manufacturing processes can also be very helpful to us dairy-avoiding folks.  But peanut allergy is what they are trying to address.

Second, in reading their report on Oreos, they do say that original and double stuff varieties are ok, but everything else is best avoided.  Phew!  I can live with a world where the only kind of Oreos I can safely eat are original and double stuff.

But let me tell you a little more about Snack Safely.  They produce a Snack List, which is updated regularly, where they break down snacks into different categories (pretzels, chips, cookies, etc.) and then tell you in each category which brands and varieties are definitely safe for people with peanut allergies to eat.  They also partner with manufacturers and have a list of those companies that work with them in making their ingredients as well as manufacturing processes clear to consumers. (An aside: many of the brands/companies on their list are companies I had not previously heard of, like Cybele’s and Enjoy Life, which I encountered for the first time at the conference).

To me, what Snack Safely is doing is pretty extraordinary!  To be advocating for us food allergic folks and making connections with companies cannot be an easy job.  I am sure there are some companies, especially the big conglomerates, who probably don’t want to be bothered with disclosing their manufacturing processes to the general public.  The fact that Snack Safely gets so many companies to do this is an incredible service to us.

And again, I am including us (dairy allergic folks) in this conversation, even though Snack Safely is focused on peanut allergy.  As I said earlier, I’m sure that a lot of the information they convey is also helpful to us.  Also, the high degree of professionalism they have shown in advocating for the peanut allergic is an inspiration to us.  We need a dairy free version of Snack Safely!  Well, until we have that, Snack Safely is a wonderful tool for getting information on what’s safe to munch on.

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The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas

The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

On September 26th through 28th, I was very privileged to attend the second annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Organized by co-founders Homa Woodrum and Jenny Sprague, the conference was three days of connecting to the community of food allergy bloggers on many levels.

There were sessions on many topics, from the writing side – self-publishing and copyrighting your work, for example – to the scientific side – how eczema and asthma can be affected by food allergies, for example.  The event was sponsored by many food producers and food allergy advocacy organizations, and the sponsors were on-hand, with tables set up in one of the three conference rooms in which the conference took place.  Most of all, this was a chance to meet many people in my field, and I did, and made some friends along the way.

What stood out about the weekend in particular?  Besides the people, who were great, there were a few things that stuck in my mind (and belly).  Upon registering for the conference on Friday, I received two full bags of swag that included literature and food samples from the many sponsors.  There were amazing snacks in there from brands I’ve never heard of before!  Stay tuned for another day when I will just do a blog to focus on the many new products I have been noshing on, both during the conference and since I got back.  It is just so exciting to learn that so many companies are creating allergy free food.

I was astounded to see how many mothers attended the conference who are advocating on behalf of their food allergic children!  I knew that demographic made up a significant portion of the food allergy blogging community, but I didn’t realize how energized and passionate (and present!) these ladies are.  The rest of us can learn a lot from them, because these ladies don’t take no for an answer and are restless in their pursuit of solutions.  Many of them have faced much steeper odds than I ever have, with children with any number of allergies, and have found a way to keep their children healthy and well-fed, and they are getting their stories out!

One very intriguing late-afternoon session dealt with the most current medical research into food allergies.  Dr. Ruchi Gupta of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago told us about where we are right now in our understanding of how food allergies are contracted and how to manage them.  The highlight of her presentation was an extraordinary video she created of herself singing a song to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” that tells kids how to live with food allergies.  This video had me laughing and crying at the same time.  It was so enthralling to learn that someone in the medical community is working so hard to care for those of us with food allergies.

Dr. Xiu-Min Li of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City followed with a description of a clinical trial that is underway to create a medication that would combat food allergies that is based on traditional Chinese medicine.  It will be probably a few more years before the medication she described is perfected and made available to the public, but hearing her lecture got me thinking: if such a medication existed, would I take it?  Don’t get me wrong: I will do any and everything to take care of myself, for myself and for my family.  But having lived for more than 30 years with a food allergy, I have become so used to eating a certain way.  I wouldn’t want to take medication to allow me, for example, to eat cheese or drink milk.  I am happy doing without.  The one application for which I can see myself using this medication would be protecting myself against accidental ingestion of dairy products.  For those times when I am at a restaurant and it is bothersome if not impossible to be certain that everything is dairy free, I might consider taking a pill.

This weekend meant so much to me.  In the weeks to come, I am sure you will hear me continue to make reference to things I learned at the conference.  And I will be introducing you to many of the wonderful people I met – hopefully, I can interview some of them, and maybe even get some of them to write guest posts here.  This was a transformative experience.  It was another step toward making me the advocate for the cause of dairy free living and travel that I so dearly wish to be.

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Hilton Old Town Prague, Ornamental Clock: Day One in Prague

Hilton Old Town Prague

Hilton Old Town Prague

After surviving the overnight flight from New York to Prague, Therese, Eileen and I got a taxi and in about 30 minutes we were at the Hilton Old Town Prague, and ready to begin our holiday in the Czech Republic’s famous capital city.  The only problem was that while Eileen’s room was ready, ours was not – apparently, even with Therese’s vip Diamond status, early check-in is not a guarantee (and it wasn’t that early anyway – by then it was already noonish).  It would’ve been nice to have a shower before heading out to do some sightseeing, but we adjusted, and with a sigh, we left our luggage in Eileen’s room, and headed out.

My plan for the afternoon was to explore the nearby Namesti Republiky (Republic Square), and then to walk from there to Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí).  Once in the square, my plan was to find the cafe with the best view of the Ornamental Clock, and then have lunch and catch the hourly chiming of the clock.  I also planned to buy us three three-day Prague Cards, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about tickets for public transportations and museums for the next few days.

The Republic Square, or Náměstí Republiky, sits just a block west of the Hilton Old Town.  Our adventure began there.  We saw the Municipal House and the Powder Tower on its western edge, and the Czech National Bank building to the south.  On the archway that connects the Powder Tower and the Municipal House is the seal of the city of Prague, which was neat to see.  This square is named for the fact that, in 1918, what was then Czechoslovakia achieved its independence from the former Austro-Hungarian empire, and became a country for the first time – and the ceremony announcing this new republic took place in the Municipal House.

We walked through the arch under the Powder Tower and entered Celetna Ulice, the street that connects this square to the Old Town Square.  It is a pedestrian-only street, and filled with souvenir shops on both sides of the street.

Colorful Building on Celetna Ulice

Colorful Building on Celetna Ulice

Some of the buildings are decorated in quite elaborate fashion, undoubtedly bringing to our attention the street’s historical significance, as the place coronations passed through on their way to Prague Castle, and a street on which some of Prague’s most famous citizens like Frank Kafka lived at one time.

Along the way, we passed the remarkable Church of Our Lady Before Tyn on our right.  I tried on that occasion and later as well to figure out where to enter the church. to get a good look at its interior, but was never able to find the entrance.  Oh well.  Therese and Eileen were ready to enter the square and give it a good looking over, so I kept walking.

We were hungry too, so it was time to find a good place to eat.  We saw a restaurant advertising pig’s knee, something we saw offered again and again in Prague.  The place that we found to have the best view of the clock was Oliva Verde.

Oliva Verde Restaurant

Oliva Verde Restaurant

We got a seat and settled in for our first meal in Prague.  I realized that it had been a long time since I had eaten a full meal – if you don’t count the sandwich at Croque Madame at JFK Airport (which I don’t), I had not eaten properly since breakfast the previous morning.

We ordered our lunch and a glass of Czech wine from Moravia, a Czech Riesling.  Therese and I both had the half duck confit over red cabbage – I had french fries with mine of course, while Therese had dumplings, I believe.

Half-Duck Confit with Red Cabbage Entree

Half-Duck Confit with Red Cabbage Entree

Oliva Verde is an Italian restaurant ostensibly, but like most restaurants in Prague, they have a section on their menu for Czech specialties.  That’s where I found the duck entree.  Eileen also ordered from that part of the menu – a sausage platter that was also dairy free, I believe.  She kept offering sausage to me, but it was all I could do to finish my own dish (thought I was so hungry that I did!).

While we were eating, the hour struck, and a huge crowd had gathered, as happens every hour, to see the Ornamental Clock chime the hour.

Prague's Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t pretend to know how this clock tells the time – for an in-depth explanation of this, consult Wise Monkeys Abroad’s post on the clock – but it is fun to watch it chime the hour.  The doors near the top open, and the 12 apostles step through the opening, one after the other.  Then the clock chimes the hour.

Once we had seen the clock’s show, and finished eating, I went off in search of the tourist office.  There is a tourist office on the northern border of the square, but for some reason, that one does not sell the Prague Card!  Instead, you have to go to a second office which is to the left of the clock.  I did, and bought three three-day Prague Cards, using my Visa bank card (many businesses in Prague, as in the rest of Europe, do not accept American Express).

At this point, exhaustion was starting to set in, and it was time to get back to the hotel, check into our room, and have a nap.  Therese’s rule is that we should get 4 hours of sunlight when we travel to Europe, to start re-setting our inner clocks, before we sleep.  We had done that.  So I re-joined Therese and Eileen, and we walked back to the hotel.

Our room at the Hilton Old Town Prague was lovely.  A plate of fruits was left to welcome us, and the king-size bed looked very comfortable.  And there was a desk for me to set up my computer and blog and plan further excursions.  Perfect!

A nap, a shower, and then it was time for dinner.  We picked out a few places to have dinners over the next few days, and had the concierge in the executive lounge call and make reservations for us.  For this first night, we picked a place that was fairly easy to get into – Hybernia Restaurant, on a street parallel to our hotel’s, and just one block away.

Hybernia Restaurant

Hybernia Restaurant

This restaurant had a very tavern-like feeling to it.  Set in a quite ancient structure apparently, it turned out to be much larger than it seemed on first glance.  I had my list of possible ways to say “I am allergic to dairy” – Mám alergii na mléko, máslo, a sýr (“I have an allergy to milk, butter and cheese”);  Jsem alergický/alergická na mléko, máslo, a sýr (“I am allergic to milk, butter and cheese”); and Jsem alergická na mléčné výrobky. Prosím, bez mléka máslo nebo sýr (“I am allergic to dairy.  Please, no milk, butter or cheese.”).  It wasn’t too hard to find some food for me at this restaurant.  I started with a plate of ham and mustard.

Ham Appetizer with Mustards

Ham Appetizer with Mustards

I followed that up with a pork skewer.  No way was I going to finish this one!  It was monster-sized!  See what I mean?

Skewer Main Course

Skewer Main Course

At least it came with lots of vegetables, and a side dish of roasted vegetables.  I removed everything from the long metal skewer, set it aside, sliced up the food, and did my best.  It was much more than I could eat.  This would be a reoccurring theme in Prague.  Our first day got us off to a very good start, both in getting a taste of the city, and getting some good food in our stomachs.

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Prague Gastronomy Museum: Eating Down Through The Ages

Prague Gastronomy Museum

Prague Gastronomy Museum

You might say that I had placed the Prague Gastronomy Museum at the top of the second string of Prague attractions.  After we had seen a lot of the things that make Prague famous, like the Astronomical Clock and the Prague Castle, gone on a culinary walking tour of the city with Eating Prague, and gone on a day trip to amazing Cesky Krumlov, we were ready to ask the question, “what else is there to do in Prague?”  And the Gastronomy Museum, which had been at the top of my pre-trip list anyway, was the first place that made the cut.

After visiting this gem of a museum, I regret not putting it right at the top of the top list.  For a museum of diminutive size – it seems to be a converted townhouse, with two floors and maybe a dozen rooms containing its permanent exhibit – it had a considerable impact on us.  There are a number of quite thought-provoking elements.  For example,  we were instructed at the outset that we could photograph photos and materials in the exhibits, but please not to photograph the descriptive placards accompanying them.  I shrugged at this and figured ok, they don’t want us stealing their ideas.  But then, as I passed through the exhibit and read, for example, a point-by-point history of the fork and knife and spoon, I understood.  The information is astounding – entertaining, enlightening and often unexpected.

I was surprised also to see that not only did they start at the beginning, with a description of what prehistoric mankind ate, but that they broke it down into a number of periods, with different available diet and method of food preparation at different times and places (of course, most of the food was eaten raw).  I was intrigued to learn, for example, that early man had the flora to be able to eat rotten meat and not get sick from it.

Recreation of an early homestead and kitchen

Recreation of an early homestead and kitchen

As we approached one of the museum’s highlights, the exhibit and description of the medieval smoke kitchen, we were unexpectedly joined by the museum’s co-founder and owner, Ladislav Provaan, who gave us an in-depth description of the smoke kitchen and its advantages and disadvantages.  Its name comes from the fact that the cooking and heating came from the fire, but since there was no chimney, the smoke from the fire stayed in the house with the inhabitants.  Sounds pretty ghastly, right?  But apparently it was a great way to keep food preserved for a long time without refrigeration (I’m sure like me, you just said “oh, right, they didn’t have any refrigerators then!”).

Medieval Smoke Kitchen

Medieval Smoke Kitchen

The next room dealt with the incredible advances that took place during the Renaissance period.  Of course, most of what we saw there was based on what went on in the wealthiest households; nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing how sophisticated the kitchens became for providing food for a large group of people.  Mr. Provaan was still with us for a few more minutes and we enjoyed hearing his commentary on the large copies of 17th century prints that are displayed at that point.

17th century Renaissance Prints

17th century Renaissance Prints

At that point, we were on our own to explore the next room, which was full of representative kitchens from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  My favorite was a nineteenth century stove and accessories, with an early pressure cooker sitting on the stovetop.

I also loved one kitchen set-up that had an early portable radio on a shelf above the stove.

20th Century Kitchen with Portable Radio

20th Century Kitchen with Portable Radio

This reminded me of when I was very young, when my mother had a clock radio on top of the refrigerator to listen to news and music while she was cooking.  This museum kitchen set was obviously much old than what I grew up with, but the presence of the radio in it gave an extra feeling of authenticity for me.

The rooms which concluded the first floor took as their subject drink, namely beer and spirits.  As I was contemplating a large wreath made out of hops and reading about beer production in the Czech Republic, Mr. Provaan re-appeared to add commentary.  Believe me, I really appreciated him giving us a special museum visit – I just felt a little funny about it, since we had not paid extra for a guided tour.

As with many of our museum visits, as I spent time reading every bit of information, just enthralled with the museum, Therese and Eileen moved on ahead of me.  They had already seen much of the second floor when I arrived there.  I did not take too many photos there, since the displays there were mainly of text and materials mixed together (it was hard not to take pictures of text, so I just gave up and read and enjoyed).  The second floor had rooms devoted to the history of cookbooks, and utensils, and modern culinary history, with a focus on Czech culinary luminaries.

Mr. Provaan had pointed out that many of the earliest cookbooks were written by scientists.  Nutrition was much more of a consideration than taste.  Of course, I had heard of Brillat-Savarin and his identifying of the different categories of taste.  But there were many other culinary pioneers featured in that room.

My favorite room on that floor described the history of utensils.  I guess from my days attending Renaissance faires, I was familiar with the idea that the knife was used to do everything from cutting up food to shoveling it into the diner’s mouth.  But the story of how long it took for forks to be widely used and accepted is fascinating.

Once again I became aware that I was way behind Therese and Eileen, as I could hear them speaking with Mr. Provaan in a large well-lit room at the front of the building.  I entered to see a large room obviously set up for doing cooking demonstrations (they do lessons on cooking Czech cuisine every Wednesday, and I’m sure they do other culinary events from time to time).

Gastronomy Museum Demo Kitchen

Gastronomy Museum Demo Kitchen

On the counter was a bottle filled halfway with a dark liquid.  Before I could wonder what that was all about, Mr. Provaan told us it was a special mead, made with numerous spices by a local maker.  He offered us small glasses to taste it.  Wow!  Again, from Renaissance faires, I am used to mead being honey wine, something drunk in large gulps.  This was more a liqueur, much stronger than any mead I’ve ever had, to be lightly sipped and savored.

The Dairy Free Traveler with Ladislav Provaan

The Dairy Free Traveler with Ladislav Provaan

After quaffing that heady brew, the rest of the museum was a blur.  We did walk through the galleries with information about contemporary Czech culinary luminaries which concluded the exhibit.  And on our way out, we took a long look at their gift shop, which at present is pretty small – just a couple of counters next to the entrance, and some tee shirts hanging on the wall.  There was one tee that had a very official look to it, and it happened to be in my size, so Therese bought it for me (thanks, Therese!).

Gastronomy Museum Tee Shirt

Gastronomy Museum Tee Shirt

We didn’t want to leave the museum.  We felt like we had made a new friend in Mr. Provaan.  We wish him and his remarkable museum great success.  This was my first gastronomy museum, and I don’t know how many others exist around the world (New York City doesn’t really have one) – but whatever others I may encounter, they will have a hard time impressing me as much as this Gastronomy Museum in Prague did!

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Eating Dairy Free in Prague: an Overview

Eating Dairy Free in Prague

Eating Dairy Free in Prague

Therese and I survived our flight from New York City to Prague.  Our reward was lots of good food, even for Mr. Dairy Free (me, of course).  Now I know you want to hear all about the Prague Castle and the Astronomical Clock and Charles Bridge and all the other extraordinary cultural edifices there.  Don’t worry, I’ll get to that!  But I wanted to give you a sample of some of the awesome eats we encountered in the City of a Hundred Spires.

The photo above is of my first meal in Prague, half a duck confit with crispy onions, red cabbage and and au jus.  I mean, why just confit the leg when you can do a whole half of a duck that way?  Which does bring us to two of the things people say about Prague cuisine: that it is unremittingly rich or heavy, and with large portions predominating.  And yes, I did find that to be true, but it didn’t take too much to adjust to that.  Here are some of the highlights:

1. Kamenny Most.  Right in the middle of our week, we went for a walk over the Charles Bridge, ending up on the eastern end.  Our early dinner at Kamenny Most was plenty good, better than you might expect from a terrace restaurant in a touristy part of town.  I mean, I remember eating a dinner in Sevilla years ago at a riverside restaurant that was terrible.  This was many levels above that.  We had a very nice bottle of red wine, a Zweigeltrebe, my first experience with that varietal.

Zweigeltrebe Red Wine

Zweigeltrebe Red Wine

And my entree, a sort of mixed grill of duck confit wing with smoked ham and a sausage skewer, was very nice, just the sort of thing for a guy who has worked up an appetite walking over a bridge.

Duck Confit and Smoked Ham Entree

Duck Confit and Smoked Ham Entree

There was even a lemon sorbet with a sprig of mint, a lemon slice and a lady finger-type cookie for dessert (ok, I can’t guarantee the cookie was dairy free, but it did add a geometric element to the dessert).

Lemon Sorbet Dessert

Lemon Sorbet Dessert

2. Mlejnice.  I chose Mlejnice for a lunch in between our tour of the Municipal House and a visit to the Mucha Museum mainly for location – it was about halfway between the two attractions.  But when we walked in the door, I knew I had made a good choice: it has a magical old world feeling.

Mlejnice's Fairy Tale Interior

Mlejnice’s Fairy Tale Interior

Look and location aside, we enjoyed Mlejnice.  The restaurant had me looking like a genius – after our lunch there, Therese was saying, “another awesome pick!”  So what did I eat?  Duck again.  OK, let me assure you that I ate other things in Prague besides duck.  But I do love it, and this duck with blueberry sauce and fried potatoes was very good.

Duck Breast with Blueberry Sauce

Duck Breast with Blueberry Sauce

It’s a minor point, but I liked the fact that instead of french fries, they gave me those fried potato rounds.  They were crispy on the outside and soft inside, my favorite potato combo.  But let’s not forget how cool this restaurant looked!

3. Kočar Z Vidně.  I had researched many of the restaurants we visited in Prague beforehand, especially those we ate in at the beginning of the trip.  However, as the time passed, we became more spontaneous.  Kočar Z Vidně is an Austrian restaurant we passed by on our way to the Czech Music Museum.  We said to ourselves, after we visit the museum, let’s come back here for lunch!  And we were happy with the results.  It was quite late in the afternoon by then, and we were all very hungry.  I ate a salad and a whole rack of ribs and roasted potatoes, washed down by another good Moravian red wine (that’s right – no duck this time!).

4. King Solomon.  On our third full day in Prague, we spent the morning exploring Prague’s Jewish Quarter which is known as Josefov.  And after a few hours of intense commemoration of the Holocaust (the effects of World War II are still so palpable in cities like Prague), we were ready for a good lunch.  And wow, did King Solomon deliver.  Matzoh Ball soup for a starter, and then sliced goose breast with potato croquettes and gravy.  My first time eating goose breast, and there was a little too much of it, but let me just say that if I had a second stomach, I would’ve been happy to finish the whole thing!

5. Sisters Bistro and Naše Maso.  On our fourth day, Therese and I went off on our own, and took a culinary walking tour with Eating Prague.  Between 11am and 4pm, we visited 7 different eateries and sampled all kinds of interesting Prague cuisine.  The highlight for me was two small shops that are right next to each other, with just an alley between them, Sisters Bistro and Naše Maso.

We started with Sisters, a shop owned and operated, appropriately enough, by two sisters.  Their specialty is the open faced sandwich (in Czech, Obložené Chlebíčky), a favorite in Prague.  But instead of just throwing a slab of cheese on their open faced sandwiches, they go for something a little lighter, more current.  They like to use fresh vegetables sourced locally, like the celeriac and red beet that were featured in two of the samples we tasted (don’t worry, I took the chunk of mozzarella cheese off of my beet bite!).  Some of the people in our group of 10 walking tourists shied away from the herring, but I ate two – I have loved that sweet pickled fish since I saw my dad scarfing it down when I was a kid.

Next we sampled some cold cuts and sausages from Naše Maso, a modern butcher shop where everything is done with care, and in the healthiest, most artisanal way.  As our guide explained to us, the cold cuts were cured slowly over the course of days using just salt and other seasonings.  The ham we tasted was not full of water like ham you usually get in a deli.  And the beef ham was so subtle, reminding us of pastrami.  I loved the two sausages as well (once again, fear not for the appearance of cheese – that was provided for a young vegetarian woman, and was thoughtfully kept separate from our meats).

6. Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant.  For the final stop on our Prague food crawl, I will bring you to probably our best meal in Prague, at the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant.  I won’t go into great detail about the meal here, since I’m sure that I will devote an entire post to it soon.  But suffice it to say that between the outstanding service, the great food, and the gorgeous setting, this was a meal that I won’t forget for a long time.

So there you have it!  Now you can’t complain that you went to Prague and you didn’t know where to get a first-rate dairy free meal.  Prague’s culinary scene is definitely on the upswing, and yes, portion control is still mostly an unknown concept there, but think of that as a test of your will power!  Or if that doesn’t seem possible, skip a meal now and then (as we did) and get lots of exercise walking (as we did).  Whatever you do, enjoy the food, enjoy the city, just enjoy.

Posted in Artisanal food, Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Food, Prague, Restaurants, Travel, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prague Public Transportation, Part Two: Trams and Taxis

Prague Public Transportation

Prague Public Transportation

In my previous post, I told you about Prague’s Metro trains, and buying tickets for Prague’s public transportation system.  In this post, I will talk about Prague’s trams. And I will also mention taxis in Prague, and how to best make use of them.

Let’s begin by explaining the taxi situation in Prague.  With the metro, trams and buses, you may never need to take a taxi in Prague.  However, if you do, the best way to get one is to go into a hotel or restaurant (or museum) and ask them to call one for you.  If you grab a taxi on the street, it is most likely going to be what we in New York call a gypsy taxi – one that is not licensed but is posing as a taxi.  Those gypsies are likely to take a roundabout route to get you to your destination, and grossly overcharge you.

How can you tell if a Prague taxi is legit or not?  If they are, they will have the name of the taxi company, its phone number and license number stenciled on or immediately behind the passenger door.  The gypsy taxis may look like a legit taxi, but they will have no information on their doors.

Even if you go to a hotel, you should ask them to call you a taxi, rather than using the ones out in front.  At the Hilton Old Town where we stayed, there were “taxis” parked in front all the time; however, we found out the hard way that these are basically limousines that have contracted rates with the hotel for their service, rates that are significantly higher than the legit taxis charge.

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, our trip from the airport to Hilton Old Town took about 30 minutes, and cost us, with tip, around $40.  We took one of those hotel limos one day to go from our hotel to Malostranska Namesti, about a 15 minute ride including traffic – if he had not taken every possible wrong turn, the trip wouldn’t even have taken 10 minutes.  With tip, we paid him $25.  After that, we said: “no more gypsy taxis for us!”

So let’s move on and talk about the trams.  As simple and reliable as it is, the Prague Metro leaves lots of holes, parts of the city that it doesn’t really cover. For example, there are no Metro stops close to the popular Charles Bridge. That’s where Prague’s tram system, which is much more elaborate, comes in handy. Now, I can’t begin to give you a full appraisal of the tram system. While we made great use of the trams, in our 10 days in Prague we only rode 4 of the 22 trams lines.  What I will do is tell you about the routes we took and how they helped us get where we wanted to get to.  And I should tell you to keep in mind that all the tram stops show up on Google Maps, so you can easily plan your public travel around Prague ahead of time (which is what I do).

On our first full day in Prague, we wanted to visit the Prague Castle.  There are guided tours you can take to the Castle that will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the major buildings in the Castle, but we decided that it would be better for us to do it on our own.  Around the corner from us, at Namesti Republiky (Republic Square) was a stop for Tram 5.

This took us in 3 stops to Malostranska, a transportation hub in Lesser Town where many trams (and the Metro underground) crisscross.

At Malostranska we crossed the street and transferred to Tram 22, which 3 stops later dropped us off just a few short blocks uphill from the Castle.  That was important because the Castle is on top of a very steep hill.  If we wanted to, we could’ve hiked up the hill from Malostranska.  But we wanted to save our legs for walking around the Castle complex which is extensive (and completely covered in leg and back-numbing cobblestones).

There were several other times that we traveled to the west side of Prague’s Vltava River, to Lesser Town and environs, and each time, the tram came in handy.  For example, from Malostranska, we took tram 12 one day to Malostranske Namesti, a square with the incredible Baroque St. Nicholas Church.

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church

There are also tons of great shops and cafes near there (and some museums as well), and the western entrance to the Charles Bridge is a few short blocks away.

The Western Entrance to the Charles Bridge

The Western Entrance to the Charles Bridge

Later in the week we wanted to see Czech artist Alphonse Mucha‘s monumental series of paintings called the Slav Epic, which are on display at a branch of the National Gallery, the Veletrzni Palac.  I discovered that Tram 24 from our stop, Namesti Republiky, went there, and stopped right on the corner near the Gallery, and so we were able to get there in just about 15 minutes!

After visiting the Mucha exhibition, we wanted to head back to the area near St. Nicholas Church, to have lunch at a wine bar called Vinograf.  I was thinking that we would have to ride tram 24 back to Namesti Republiky, then hop on the 5 and take that to Malostranska, and switch to the 12 there.  But a little exploration of the Veletrzni Palac tram stop revealed that tram 12 stopped there!  So we hopped on the 12 (feeling by now that we were solid tram-riding veterans) and rode it straight through Malostranska to Malostranske Namesti, got off, and walked a few short blocks to Vinograf (and by the way, if you like wine, you won’t want to miss that one).

Vinograf Wine Bar

Vinograf Wine Bar

So there are just a couple of examples of how easy, convenient and useful the Prague trams can be in getting around town, going from one attraction to another.  Next time we visit Prague, perhaps we will travel a little further afield, and need to use the buses.  Whether we do or not, we know we can rely on the metro and trams to get us to most of the places we will want to see.  And if we need to use the taxi, we know what the deal is, so we can do that, too!

One last note: if you found some of the places that I mentioned in this post to be of interest, do not worry that I have said all I am going to say about them.  As I begin writing about each individual day we spent in Prague (which will be very soon), I will go into greater detail about Vinograf and the Charles Bridge and lots of other amazing things we saw and did in Prague!  Stay tuned!

Posted in Countries, Czech Republic, Museums, Prague, Public transportation, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment