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!

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Public Transportation in Prague: Prague Metro

Public Transportation in Prague

Public Transportation in Prague

My wife Therese, her mother Eileen and I just recently returned from a fabulous trip to Prague, Czech Republic, and I am excited to share the details of what we did and ate in the days to come.  But I thought that a good introduction to Prague would be to tell you about the city’s Public Transportation System.  There is a very good article on TripAdvisor which gives many pertinent pieces of information on Prague’s buses and trams and so forth.  I’m sure I will probably duplicate some of what you will find there; but I will also give you some information that is not in that article.

The good news is that Prague’s system of buses, trams and metro/subway trains is well laid-out, clean, safe and pretty easy to grasp.  We did not use the buses at all, so I will not be talking about them – we found that we could get everywhere we wanted to go using just the metro and the trams, and we became quite adept at using them.

In terms of the size of its historic/touristy sections, I would compare the size of Prague to Philadelphia’s Center City, or Boston’s downtown.  If you are a big walker, you can easily get from one end of Prague to the other in the course of a day.  If you don’t choose to cover the city on foot, getting there by tram and/or metro is quick and easy.

As for how you pay for the metro and tram and how much it costs, there are a couple of ways we handled that.  There is a Prague Card you can buy at the tourist office to the left of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, that in addition to covering admission to lots of museums, gives you free unlimited access to public transportation.  Since we were planning on doing lots of the main sights in Prague for our first few days there, we purchased Prague Cards for 3 days (you can get them for anywhere from 2 to 4 days).

Later in our long week in Prague, we decided to buy day passes directly from the Metro station near our hotel.  After taking a taxi what felt like a short distance and paying the equivalent of $25, we reasoned that buying 2 full price and one senior day pass for about $14 was a bargain (one full price day pass costs about $5.50).  If you are enterprising, you might wish to sort out the system for buying individual rides – to me, it seemed complicated, and being able to buy one ticket and ride all day on it felt easy and convenient.  The automated ticket vending machines were pretty easy to figure out, and we had lots of change (they do not take paper money, their one drawback), so that was convenient for us.

With change in hand, the process takes 3 or 4 steps.  First you press a white button marked “English” which changes the messages the machine gives you to English.  Then you press the button for a day pass.  Last, you put your coins in, and the machine spits out your card.  Then you just have to remember to validate the card the first time you use it by sliding the blank end into the yellow machines found near every metro and tram entrance.

If you are buying a discounted pass, that just adds one more step.  For that, you press the English button, then the green “discount” button, then select day pass, and finally you deposit your coins.

The one other thing to keep in mind is that ticketing is on the honor system.  During the 10 days that we were in Prague, we were never approached while in the metro or on a tram and asked to produce our Prague Card or day pass.  Nevertheless, we always bought tickets and had them handy just in case we were asked.

Prague’s Metro system, compared to that of a large city like New York or Madrid, is quite simple.  There are three lines – A (or Green), B (or Yellow) and C (or Red).  Each line crosses over the other two only once – A and C meet at the Muzeum stop (which is at the southern end of Wenceslas Square), A and B meet at the Mustek stop in Old Town, and B and C meet at the Florenc stop which is northeast of Old Town.  Our hotel, the Hilton Old Town, is half a block from Republic Square (Namesti Republiky), and we took the Metro from there to Old Town Square several times (two stops – one on the B line, then change to the A and take that one stop).  We also took the Metro to the State Opera House one night for a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata (once again, two stops – one on the B line, and one on the A line).

In my next post, I will finish up my discussion of Prague’s public transportation by telling you about our experiences on the trams. Once again, the trams were convenient and easy to use, just like the Prague Metro – in my next post, I will go into greater detail (accompanied by some useful photos).

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Croque Madame, Cibo Express: Surviving JFK’s Terminal 2 and Delta Flight

Croque Madame

Croque Madame

Two Thursdays ago, Therese, her mom Eileen and I departed for JFK Airport’s Terminal 2, to begin our vacation in Prague, Czech Republic.  We always like to get there early, since it can take forever under any conditions to get to JFK from lower Manhattan.  And besides, we figure that it starts things off nicely to get to the airport early and have a relaxing dinner at one of the fine airport dining establishments.  After all, we know that many of the airlines are sprucing up their terminals, including adding restaurants with better than edible food, right?

Well, somehow Terminal 2 at JFK hasn’t gotten the memo.  By all accounts, it is the terminal to avoid if you can.  It is cramped, laid out in such an awkward way that it would be hard to re-construct it in a more traveler-friendly shape as many other terminals (for example, JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK) have been.  And though Delta sent out a post on their blog in September of 2013 saying they were adding lots of new restaurants, which would be finished and running by summer of 2014 (i.e., a few months ago), the only one that seems to have materialized is Croque Madame, a cafe created by Chef Andrew Carmellini that specializes in crepes and sandwiches.  And the reviews of that new spot have been decidedly mixed, leaning more towards the negative is anything.

Nevertheless, Croque Madame still seemed like our best bet, so I decided we would go there for our early dinner.  After our typically endless car ride to JFK, we were unexpectedly ushered through the TSA Precheck line, and discovered that our gate was right next to Croque Madame.  It was meant to be!

When we first got to the restaurant, there were no tables free, grumble grumble (I will come back to that).  So we had to sit at this tall common table on bar stools, grumble grumble.  A fellow came from behind the counter and said we could come up to the counter to order from an iPad just next to the cashier, and he would bring us our food.  I ordered us some glasses of wine, a club sandwich for me, another club for my mother-in-law and a crepe for my wife.

As we sipped our decent glasses of wine, a table opened up, and the counter fellow found us and brought us our food.  My club sandwich was a tiny bit better than edible, but that was about it.  The toast was chewy and stiff, as if it had been toasted in a microwave.  There was a minimal amount of ok turkey roll and a couple slices of rubbery bacon and some surprisingly lively lettuce and tomato, with a smear of mayonnaise.

The salad alongside it seemed to have ranch dressing on it, with possible dairy (my bad – I should have said something in the special comments section of my order – was there a special comments section?).  I nibbled around the dressing, and found the greens to be fairly adequate.

The wine was better than the sandwich, nicely chilled, tangy and sweet.  Therese’s crepe looked much better than my sandwich (too bad I can’t eat crepes!).

OK, getting back to the space issues.  Since Croque Madame has no barriers setting its tables apart from the rest of the cramped hallway where it resides, the tables, with their iPads for ordering food, are mostly filled with people hanging out.  So those of us who actually want to patronize the restaurant are left scrambling for the least comfortable seating, while others charging their cell phones and playing games on the iPads take up the vast majority of the tables.  The restaurant’s minimal staff has no time to be asking people to move on if they are not going to order food.  It’s a bad situation, and nobody seems interested in doing anything to fix it.

After making the best of my meager dinner, I paid a visit to Cibo Express Gourmet Market, a chain that can be found in pretty much every airport terminal in New York City.  They often have good sandwiches and dairy free desserts and other goodies, so I always check them out.  In this case, I was looking for something to serve as my on-board dinner and snacks, since Delta Airlines, with which we were regrettably flying again, is really bad at making a non-dairy meal.

Sure enough, I found some better than adequate options to take with me on the airplane.  There was an appetizing Italian hero on a seeded hero roll – all I had to do was take off the provolone cheese, and I would be ready to go.  And for snacks, there was a package of mixed salted nuts, a package of Divvies Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, and BarkThins Snacking Dark Chocolate with Almonds.  Wow!  Talk about making a score!  No matter how badly Delta did with their in-flight offerings, I was set.

Sure enough, Delta’s dinner that night set a new standard for appalling.  The only thing I could eat off of it was the dry salad – lettuce, a couple cucumbers and a couple carrot slices.  Even the salad dressing had dairy in it.  I heard one of the flight attendants mentioning a chicken salad as an option which sounded promising, but those were gone by the time they go to me.  No matter: I happily munched on my Italian hero and two dry salads (my lovely wife gave me hers, while telling me that the food was ghastly – I think she lived off of two helpings of a block of cheese and a roll).

Sandwich from Cibo Express with Two Dry Delta Salads

Sandwich from Cibo Express with Two Dry Delta Salads

At the end of our overnight flight, as the lights came on and we began our descent, there was a pleasant surprise.  The breakfast snack package Delta put together actually had a few dairy free options!  Yes, there was a mushy croissant-like item that I couldn’t touch.  But the snack box had a package of nuts and fruit, some small toasts and a container of apple dip.  Therese and her mother agreed with me that the toasts and apple dip were actually really good.

Breakfast Snack Mix from Delta Airlines

Breakfast Snack Mix from Delta Airlines

So the flight ended on a good note for me.  But otherwise, I would grade the whole experience pretty low.  Transcontinental flights are just a matter of survival for me.  But as long as they deposit me, as this one did, in a new place, ready to explore and enjoy myself, that’s ok.

Posted in Airlines, Airplane food, Airports, Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Food, New York, New York City, Prague, Travel, United States | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Dairy Free Traveler in Prague: an Overview

Therese, Eileen (her mom) and I are in the midst of what is proving to be an incredible visit to Prague.  I wish I had the time to tell you all about it right now! But the truth is that my time has been filled with so many wonderful activities that I haven’t had the time or energy to devote to blogging.

But in the meantime, I will give you a little overview of what we have been doing, and what we will be doing, so you know what you have to look forward to reading about, once I can get some writing done!

We arrived on Friday, and after checking in at the Hilton Old Town Hotel, made a bee-line for the Old Town Square, where we had a great lunch and watched the fascinating Ornamental Clock chime the hour.  On Saturday, we took the tram to the Prague Castle, where we spent the day visiting the many sights there, including St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

Sunday, we saw an Art Nouveau exhibit and took the guided tour of the Municipal House and visited the Alphonse Mucha Museum (since there was also some amazing Mucha art at the exhibit and in the Municipal House, it was as if the whole day was Mucha).

Monday we spent mostly exploring the Jewish Old Town, the former Jewish ghetto, which is called Josefov.  And today, Tuesday, Therese and I took a culinary walking tour with Eating Prague.  Tomorrow we will take a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, a historic town in southern Prague whose incomparable castle complex and medieval town center are both Unesco World Heritage sites (Cesky Krumlov is about 2 and a half hour’s drive from Prague and we have hired a driver/guide to take us).  If the weather is nice (which it seems like it will be) we will go out in the evening to take some night pictures of Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge.

The rest of the week we will see more museums like the Decorative Arts Museum and just relax and have some fun shopping and gallery hopping.

How has the food been?  So far lots of restaurants have been very accommodating of my allergy.  The best was probably the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant in the Paris Hotel, not far from our hotel, where the waiter said to me, “pick out whatever you want, and the chef will figure out a way to make it without dairy.”  And the resulting meal was extraordinary.

So wish us continued luck in our adventures in Prague, and I look forward to telling you all about it soon!

Posted in Castles, Churches, Czech Republic, Museums, Prague, Restaurants, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Curry With Seafood: An Old Dairy Free Favorite Gets a Facelift

Green Curry With Seafood

Green Curry With Seafood

How can something be subtle and powerful at the same time?  That is the question I’ve been asking myself as I have been working with this wonderful purple basil that I’ve bought at the Union Square Greenmarket a couple times lately.  On this occasion, I decided to make it a part of my green curry with seafood.  Would it be able to stand up to Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste and Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk and make its presence felt?

Oh yeah.  I decided to include the basil in two ways, and it definitely made a difference.  I took half the leaves and tore them roughly and put them into the curry as it cooked.  Then I used the other half as a garnish when I plated the curry.  Just that much was enough to make me say, “mmmm, what is that new flavor?” And of course it was the basil.

The other thing I do differently with my curry has to do with the broth/sauce.  I begin by sauteing first the scallops and then the shrimps in the pan with a little olive oil or margarine.  The seafood leaves behind a wonderful essence which then becomes the base for the sauce.  Later, after I have cooked the onions and pepper in the essence and added the curry paste, I will add the coconut milk.  But when I have added the rest of the vegetables, there won’t be enough liquid to cook and cover all the veggies.  I could add more coconut milk, but my solution is to add chicken broth – just enough to mostly cover the vegetables.  The resulting curry broth is almost like a soup base, rich but light, dancing with the combined flavors of seafood essence, chicken broth, coconut milk and oh yes, basil.

I love this way of making green curry – in fact, now that I have done it this way a few times, I can’t imagine doing it any other way!

Green Curry with Seafood
(makes 6 servings)

1 pound, uncooked scallops
1 pound, uncooked large shrimps
1-2 tbsp. olive oil or margarine
1 medium to large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
1 medium to large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
8 crimini mushrooms, brushed off, caps removed and quartered
6 to 8 white eggplants, roughly peeled and cut into quarters
2 dozen purple basil leaves
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
½ – 1 cup, chicken broth
2 tbsp. green curry paste

I know that there is a considerable amount of preparation for a dish like this.  But after getting all these lovely vegetables fresh from the green market, I had to use them!  This is where a willing spouse or energetic youngster comes in handy.  In my case, I had the former close by – my wife always asks me how she can help, and usually I tell her to relax, but this time I took her up on her offer.  And she did a great job of slicing and peeling and chopping!

Vegetables Prepared

Vegetables Prepared

Beautiful, right?  Before I proceed, I should say just a thing or two about these white eggplants.  I love eggplants, and one of the things I love is how many different shapes and colors and sizes they come in!  So I try to take the opportunity to buy some of the different ones, and use them in dishes (after all, eggplants are really good for you).  But, if all you have available are the monster aubergine eggplants where you are, use those.  Chop them into 1-inch squares and go for it.

OK.  So as I said earlier, start with the seafood.  Take your shrimps out of their shelves – I even like to remove the tails, but if you like the tails on, then leave them on.  Put a large skillet on over a medium heat.  Add the olive oil or margarine, and when that is hot, you’re ready to begin.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper over both sides of your scallops and add them to the pan.  Cook them on each side for about 3 minutes – 4 minutes if you like a little extra crust on your scallops.  Put them aside on a plate.

Salt and pepper the shrimps, and add them to the pan (if your pan is looking a little dry, feel free to add another drop or two of olive oil).  Cook them on each side for 2-3 minutes, until they turn tannish and curl up into little shrimp curls.  Put those aside as well.

Now add your onions and cook them in the essence for a couple of minutes.  Add the red pepper and cook for another minute or two.  Add the curry paste and stir to make sure all the vegetables are covered with it.  Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

Now add the coconut milk and stir to get it well mixed with the curry paste and vegetables.  Add the zucchini, mushroom and eggplant, and here is where the chicken broth comes in.  Add just enough of the broth to bring the level of the liquid up so it nearly covers all the vegetables.  Turn up the heat to get the liquid bubbling, and then turn the heat down and cover with a lid.  Let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Tear your basil leaves roughly in half.  Take the lid off the pan and add half the basil leaves.  Stir them in and let it cook for a minute or two (if the zucchini is still too al dente, you can let the curry cook for even longer – just don’t cook it so long that the vegetables get mushy).  The last step is to add the seafood back to the pot, give it a good stir, let it heat the seafood for a minute or two, and you’re done!

Of course, you can eat this dish over rice or noodles.  But we like to eat it all by itself, almost like a thick soup.  Oh, that broth is to die for.  Hope you like it as much as we do!

Posted in coconut milk, Cooking, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Recipes, Thai food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment