Being Vegetarian in the Czech Republic

Before heading over I was told that the Czechs like their meat. And that is true. No doubt about that. But…many places also have a meatless option. Often it is like in the US – carbs, some veggies, maybe a salad. Protein? Yeah….it’s very much like eating out in the US – often it is bring your own Protein!  Except they do throw a lot of cheese on things. OK….better than the scrooge-like amount of cheese offered in the US…at least you are getting some protein and fat. There are cultural differences and preferences. This actually made me less fussy – asking for as few alternations as possible (no dressing was as far as I went) and just going with what they had to offer. Although many people spoke English, I was never sure how well, so rather than make things complicated, I tried to just go with the flow as best as possible. It worked well, for the most part. To me this means traveling in a different country made me less fussy/demanding which…is good!  Sometimes I just need to be more accepting of what I eat.

I arrived with a few essentials – not out of fear of not finding food, but because I know that I get hungry and would be living in a hotel, and I didn’t know the resources in the area. Rather than risk me becoming overly hungry and non-functional, I have learned to travel, no matter where I am going, with snacks: apples, almonds, lara bars, oatmeal, protein powder. If I need to make a meal of it, although not ideal, I can. When traveling your timing is at the mercy of many unknowns. It is best, as in racing, to be prepared for what you can be, and know that you can take the rest in stride. If I had adequate fuel available when I need it, then I can better enjoy what is going on around me, as well as be better able to handle the standard travel delays and surprises!

Breakfast was the easiest, and my favorite, meal. It was the buffet at the hotel, included, as usual, with my room. The first week they had hard-boiled eggs. I also tried porridge. I had caught a cold and, although minor, found that I really liked the horseradish mustard as it bit through to my taste buds and cleared my sinuses! I found I was craving sandwiches so would take the veggies they had, the egg, and some cheese, add horse-radish mustard and enjoy.  That with fruit and yogurt (plain) and I was good to go for the morning.

I had wanted to be open to trying some new things within the limits of being vegetarian. My colleagues have been wonderful and very helpful, and sometimes teasing! Which made us all laugh. They kept an eye out for me…making sure I had a vegetarian option for lunch, and at the social gathering they had my first Tuesday there.  And note, just like in the US, if all else fails: pizza!

I actually have found (or been introduced to) 3 vegetarian restaurants, two of which I ate at. One I went to, and when I asked about protein he looked at me like I had a second head: veggies, carbs, salad…what else could I want? Ummm….beans, tofu, eggs…aka a protein source? Nope.  And that was a vegetarian restaurant ! So I ended up going down the street for an omelet. Many places do have omelets, and that has been my saving grace.

Vegetarian Restaurant - A regular lunch spot for a few of my colleagues
Vegetarian Restaurant – A regular lunch spot for a few of my colleagues

Some days I compromised and some I made do.  One vegetarian restaurant I only visited once as it was a very touristy place and the food wasn’t that good. The third (pictured here) was good: Brevnovska Cavarna. My work colleagues go there 2-3 times per week for lunch, and of course I joined them! It only had one dish per day – so it is take it or leave it. It varied daily and…was usually pretty good. Soup, main meal, and a dessert. I ate more sweets on this trip than I have in about a year! Lots of carbs (most pasta I have had in a dish in a day), but always protein and veggies and a complete meal, just not in my preferred portions!  I have gotten very spoiled and love my veggie-centric diet.

In the evenings I explored some the first week, but as I got more tired and in to a routine, knew the area better, and as it got cold and snowy I started going to the pizzeria across from the hotel which was good: a great salad and omelet’s available. And I started speaking with the regular waiter. He is a very interesting man – he came to the Czech Republic from Kosovo. As he said, there is little opportunity, now, in his homeland. Here he can make a good living. He was a good guy, and I appreciated getting to chat with him some. My last couple of days, wearying of omelets, I had bought cottage cheese. When I went to the pizzeria I ordered a salad and threw the cottage cheese on top. It was good!

I didn’t have a kitchen, so couldn’t fix anything. The idea of “ready to eat” veggies has not reached where I am in Prague, so the option to grab a bag of mini carrots or something like that to have a stash of veggies was not available to me. I was at the mercy of restaurants, and in a carb/meat centric country (sounds a bit like the US but…again…cultural food differences that made it unique and interesting). On Wednesday (2/20) we went to a hotel for a Bentley reseller’s conference, and they had a buffet lunch with fresh veggies. I went to town!  And that evening at curling they had many fresh veggies. I was in heaven. An experience not to be repeated in my stay here.

I went to a convenience store (often) and, daily, could buy a few apples and bananas to have as a snack. And I bought almonds during my second week….after my stash of Lara bars ran out (the horror….best filling snack option I had).

My colleagues informed me that as a vegetarian, if I went to a traditional pub, my options would be limited, but there would be fried cheese. On Tuesday (2/26) I went to the regular pub with a few colleagues and the menu is in Czech only. So I relied on them to order for me. Gulp! They ordered the fried cheese. 200g of fried cheese. I didn’t eat half of it. It was good, and they were excited for me to try it (they had been talking about it since I had arrived, and that I had to try it!). I didn’t know they what they had ordered for me, but they kept talking about the cheese. When my lunch was brought out I thought the little cup of sauce was the cheese. ‘Ondřej pointed at the large, breaded item on my plate and said “That’s the cheese!” I was surprised and thought “I can’t eat all that. Even if I could, it can’t be good for me!” He proceeded to explain it was 200g of cheese. I ate what I could (it was good!) and enjoyed it. Part of me really wanted to enjoy the hospitality offered by others, and so it was important to me to go with the flow and try it. I had been doing it for my entire stay, and this was no different. It was good. I won’t say it isn’t. But I probably won’t have that meal ordered for me again! Or else, I would share it with someone.

Fried Cheese - Czech style! My colleagues were excited for me to try this
Fried Cheese – Czech style! My colleagues were excited for me to try this

While there I was speaking with the third of three Ondrej’s from the office, and he said traditionally in the Czech Republic they sit down and eat large meals full of meat and carbs, and don’t snack much in between. The idea of smaller, more regular meals, is there, but very new. I am a big snacker, but while there did tend to eat larger meals (and more desserts!) than when at home..and just a couple of snacks more to fend off light hunger between meals (or to top me off with something like an apple after lunch). I was amazed at how easily I fell in to this. For me this was more a matter of being a guest and accepting hospitality. Plus, I needed to work according to other people’s schedules and not just mine.

I found that I didn’t hit the pubs too often as smoking is still a big thing there. I was OK with it occasionally, but looked for places with minimal smoking. The good thing is – most people in my office also don’t like smoking! My colleagues mentioned that the Czech Republic is one of (the?) last countries which permits smoking in pubs. There is hope for a law to be enacted in 2014. But apparently they have a strong tobacco lobby there.  That will be an interesting development to follow.

My colleagues told me my hotel is on the edge of the tourist district, and if I headed to the river, prices went up some, and there was always an English menu. If I went away from the river, English menu options were mostly available and the prices went down.

In Prague I didn’t visit any chain restaurants. They were there – US chain restaurants were at the city square – the heart of the tourist center – and I stayed away except when I toured the square (briefly).  I was glad to leave the chains behind and go for the more traditional pubs and smaller restaurants although, again, the lack of vegetarian items did limit my pub going experience. I went with my colleagues to their regular pub for lunch (and their other regular spots). When I visited restaurants on my own I went to places with an English menu/translation available. It was just easier.

From my facebook posts people may believe I had done not much but drink alcohol. That is not a fair picture. Yes, alcohol is part of the culture. It is not unusual to have beer at lunch (I didn’t). And twice, in two weeks, there were celebratory reasons for which the office took a break and had a quick drink (shots actually). But….it wasn’t to get drunk, it was a drink: a celebration. A few shared stories and then back to work. I will admit I have had more alcohol these past two weeks than I may normally have in two months at home. But I have never gotten drunk or felt effects the next day.  And I look at it this way – again – I chose to participate in this. They did give me a reduced amount (knowing my tolerance is not up to theirs). But I wanted to join them, share stories, and do something new. And I did. Also I was there long enough I got to try a few new drinks including grog and hot wine.

And to be fair, although I didn’t post it, I did drink more tea here over two weeks than I have had in a very long time as well! I got to try ginger tea made with real ginger and lemon which is very good. It just isn’t as “fun” as shots at work, right?

In short, it was an adventure, and a fun one. I never restrict or have prohibited foods, but am conscious of eating for fuel. But this time I let that go and just went with the culture and hospitality offered to me…and very glad I did.

How much different from traveling in the US (or most places) and being at the mercy of restaurants…is really minimal. The cultural and language barriers (although most Czechs where I went spoke English) was the big difference  and added a fun twist and layer that made me be more flexible than if I were in the US. Not as many chains (a good thing), local foods, and local flair even on standards (corn on pizza anyone?). Some may say I missed out being vegetarian. I don’t think so. It was just a different experience than if I had eaten meat. I pushed my comfort zone and accepted things as is, accepted hospitality, and even let others order for me (at lunch when I was eating with colleagues) (or we were going to the restaurant where there was only one option…and I was good with that!). It was a very good experience for me. But I will admit….I am glad to have my veggies back!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s