Thursday, 28 November 2013

Travel: Prague

One of my favourite perks about living in Munich is the travel. Even with just five hours, you can reach scenic cities like Vienna, Zürich, Salzburg, and Prague. I never would've thought that in my time here I'd have the pleasure of visiting the latter, but alas, the capital city of the Czech Republic was one of the past few weekend's set destination. 

Aside from the eclectic mixture of architecture, the exceptionally talented buskers, and of course the fascinating history, I think I owe my little weekend getaway to the [mostly] wonderful weather and the enchanting aura of autumn: trees in various shades of red, yellow and [very rarely] green, early morning walks along the foggy river, and hot spiced wine aka Glühwein being sold in almost every corner of the city. Everywhere I turned the Old Town part of the Bohemian capital treated me with a feast consisting of Art Nouveau, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. From the top of the Prague Castle Hill on the other side of the river I could also clearly see green-topped domes amongst the abundance of fiery red-orange roofs. It was picture perfect.

I'd say the only thing missing would've been one big serving of [unfortunately non vegan] trdelník, a chimney shaped cake rolled in sugar and spices. I actually first encountered the Hungarian version called kürtőskalács at the only Christmas market in Auckland that I knew of, and when I tried it during my pre-plant-based days I immediately thought it was pure genius. Speaking of, Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) have just started here in Munich, and I am so excited to check them out!

That's a post for another time though, so let's go back to what I found in Prague. First off is a place really close to the city's heart, aka the Old Town Square, where buskers, tour guides and tourists unite. It is here where one can find the aptly named Old Town Hall [with a pretty neat view of the city if you decided to ascend to the top], the accompanying Astronomical Clock [apparently one of the most disappointing tourist attractions, since it chimes for only a few seconds every hour, on the hour], the statue of Jan Hus, and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn.

With such a convenient location, its no surprise that I had a couple of meals in this branch of Country Life. I was rather fond of their system: you pick up a plate, fill it all up with whatever you want, then pay at the cashier on a pay-by-weight basis. It's also rather convenient that the food is divided into three distinct areas, with one for cold dishes, another for warm dishes, and of course, for dessert. Let's just say that when I had the meal presented above, I was restoring my energy stores after running to catch my bus to Prague. Basically what happened was we were told to go to the München ZOB, but were then told that we had 5 minutes to make it back to the Hauptbahnhof where our bus was actually leaving from. That, and the fact that my friend and I were just about to do the 3+ hour free walking tour [which I totally recommend!]

I was of course drawn to all the bright, beautiful vegetables first. Broccoli, greens, tomatoes, and carrots galore; can't say no to that! Can't say no to the hummus either, because raw vegetables and hummus are some of the best pairings in life. Some would argue that potatoes and gravy make a decent pair too, hence the small plate of potatoes and mushroom Stroganoff I tried on the side.

If a quick fill-your-plate-up-with-as-much-as-you-want kind of meal doesn't suit you, then perhaps Maitrea would be a also good option. Actually, I'd say I was rather impressed by this restaurant, especially if you're wanting to stick to eating as raw as possible. Raw spaghetti and raw chocolate cake with fig sauce? Yes, and yes. I tried one of the other dishes on offer too, since it seemed rather unusual to me: traditional vegetarian sausages, onions and arugula marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Pretty strong flavours to start a meal with, but with the nice and thick tomato sauce with the pasta as a main dish and velvety chocolate-y goodness for dessert, I've got nothing to complain about.

Except maybe the fact that I forgot to try the hemp beer they had on offer, although that is my fault, and no one else's. The restaurant does get rather full especially during dinner time though, so I suggest booking a table in advance or getting there really early.

Same goes for their sister restaurant, Lehká Hlava, which is located closer to the river bank. It's a shame that I wasn't that hungry when I went there, since items on their menu were just as appetising: they've got a raw salad, quadruple mushroom risotto [mushroom love!], and tapas with kimchi, rice and seaweed. I ended up having two dips, a sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto and a Kalamata olive salsa, as my 'mains' to curb my hunger without overstuffing myself. Best sun-dried tomato pesto I've had, hands down. Certainly this was due to the perfect balance of sweet and savoury dancing on my tongue. As for the Kalamata olive dip, it is as intense as the menu described it to be, so just be wary if you aren't fond of salty flavours.

Two other things I tried in here were the hot wine with spices and a berry pudding. I thought the presence of spices in the wine would make it more pleasurable to drink, but as a person who doesn't really drink, I must say that it wasn't something I'd come back for. That said, I do find most wines too bitter for my taste, so perhaps the Bacchus worshippers out there would think differently. Good thing I had the berry pudding in hand to wash away the bitterness.

Bohemian Bagel was the last eatery I visited on this side of the Vltava River, although they do have multiple branches in the city. Like many bagel chain stores, they have the classic varieties like whole wheat, sesame and cinnamon raisin, as well as a selection of different things to pair it with. That said, major points go to Bohemian Bagel for creativity in their presentation of their hummus plate. I mean look at it, how awesome does it look? Even our lovely tour guide Andrea, the one who showed us Bohemian Bagel, was astonished by how interesting a simple dish like hummus can be presented. Of course the hummus was nice too, especially with crisp bagel slices and fresh cut vegetables.

Loving Hut, another chain store that most vegans around the world know about that I actually haven't been to, also have various locations in Prague. Seven, to be precise. With that abundance I figured I should try it at least once, since it is after all, the vegan chain restaurant that can be found all over the world. Sure, a lot of the items on the menu creepily resemble animal meat waaaay too much for me to want to eat it, but I did find some things that I wanted to try. That would be the spicy soup vegetable broth based soup and crispy tofu with soy sauce. I quite liked how satisfying it was to bite into the crisp, golden coating of the tofu, before then sinking my teeth into the tofu that it hides underneath.

The last restaurant I had the pleasure of dining in on my last night in Prague was LoVeg, located along the long way to the Prague Castle. I think that once you go up this hill, one dotted with souvenir shops and restaurants, you'll know exactly when you've reached the entrance to this restaurant. That is, provided you look up, because then you will see an obvious marker of where it is. Be warned that after this you do have to go up a couple [and by that I mean give or take 5 flights]  of stairs to get up to your destination. It is so totally worth it though, because this restaurant was hands down my favourite. Relaxed atmosphere, cheerful and accommodating staff, and incredibly delicious food.

Let's begin with the starter, shall we? Baked red beet carpaccio with plant-based mozzarella, arugula leaves, and caramelised walnuts. The main? Marinated tempeh and home made dumplings with traditional Czech root vegetable sauce, cranberries, and plant-based cream. I admit that I've never had something like this before, but it is something I definitely recommend to everyone. Something about the earthy flavours of the root vegetables, the slight sourness of the cranberry sauce, the sweetness of the cream, the crispiness of the tempeh slices and the pillow-like fluffiness of the Czech dumplings just make it all work out. Heaven.

Oh, and then there's dessert too. To have there I had spelt pancakes with forest fruits glazed with wine, and for takeaway I also had a slice of their carrot cake. The cutest presentation of a carrot cake for takeaway I ever did see, thanks to the little carrot shaped melon slices presented on the side. Everything here was so so good, that not a lot of words can describe it. Except maybe perfect.

You could say same goes for the Life Foods goodies I got from Country Life and another gourmet food store whose name I've forgotten. Raw organic goodies to take on the trip back home? For sure. Especially when those goodies include vanilla almonds, Italian crisp bread, pizza crackers, raw superfood bars, hemp chocolates, cacao energy balls, and lemon vanilla cookies. If you had to choose, my recommendations would be the pizza crackers, brazil nut + vanilla and cacao + green protein superfood bars, and the lemon vanilla cookies. While on this food haul I actually talked to a guy who was getting some of the Life Foods superfood bars before he goes out into the wilderness of the forest or mountains or wherever it was he was heading to, and I think he too would agree with me that they are worth their slightly more expensive price. Although to be fair, a superfood bar for a Euro ain't too bad, is it?

Well, that's it folks. Děkuji!

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