Prague, the largest city and capital of the recently formed Czech Republic, gets a rough deal when it comes to gastronomy. After the 1948 coup, communist ideology dominated society throughout Czechoslovakia affecting, among many things, the food of the country.
Farms were nationalized - meaning no one could own more than 50 hectares of land and chefs across the country were forced to cook from the one state approved cookbook 'Recipes for Warm Meals' with pork, dumplings, red cabbage, pork, goulash and - did I mention pork? - becoming the only foods offered throughout the country.
In fact, any new dishes had to be tested by the Ministry of Health, a move that stifled creativity and made it almost impossible for chefs to introduce new culinary creations. It's for these reasons that most restaurants across the country opted for the same base of 6-7 dishes. However, in the past 20-years the country's food culture has started to shift and no where is this more relevant than in the beautiful city of Prague.
On a recent trip to the Prague, often described as the Paris of the East, I tasted some of the new delights offered by creative chefs across the city, sampled a fair few glasses of the world famous Czech beer and, of course, dipped my Czech chopsticks into numerous bowls of Pho - all explained below in this guide to some of the best new places to eat in Prague.
The New Age
There are a number of professionals trying to change the face of dining in Prague, from chefs taking classic recipes and bringing them into the 21st century with modern techniques, to those trying to rediscover lost ingredients and recipes from the country's historical homegrown cuisine.
One of the boldest is the Le Degustation restaurant run by chef Oldrich Sahajdák - a place where classic recipes from Marie Svobodová's cookbook of 1880 are brought back to life in slick surroundings and presented in modern refined glory. It's all a world away from the sloshed goulash one might expect to find in the ex-communist city. Dumplings, heavy sauces and pickled cabbages are replaced with foams, elegant jura and preserved fruits. Sahajdák is a man on a mission and this is the place to head if you want a taste of new Czceh Cuisine - a restaurant that screams Noma in the Czceh Republic.
Tradition with a Twist
For a restaurant that carries a traditional look with a modern menu that promises to wow, head to Alcron run by chef Roman Paulus. The place has been open since 1932 and consistently features on the best restaurant lists of Prague. The dining room has a classic old style design with a modern spin and features huge paintings on the walls.
Fish dominates the menu with ceviche of Scottish divers scallops and cucumber and char grilled mackerel with Japanese bouillabaisse sauce and a purée of fennel two of the must try dishes.
One of the greatest gastronomic influences left over from the communist regime's rule in Prague is the large number of Vietnamese immigrants who were invited as guest workers during the communist era. After the collapse of communism in 1989 many Vietnamese decided to stay and now make up the third largest ethnic minority within the country.
For a real off-the-beaten food journey grab some chopsticks and head to the outskirts of Prague for a visit to Sapa Market in Sídliště Písnice. You can easily spend a whole day here, wondering the many markets stalls and shops throughout the area - there's a large food hall with places knocking out bowls of authentic pho in seconds, make sure to dine where the locals are sat and don't expect the red carpet treatment. Service here is rough, bowls are chipped and the food is fiery, just how I like it...
For those wanting a more refined taste of Asian Inspiration head to Petrská in Prague's New Town and a meal at the newly opened Sansho. Run by chef Paul Day, it offers a modern menu of mixed Asian influence with quick service, informal style and super tasty dishes - I highly recommend the soft shell crab slider and the super succulent pork belly with water melon - the only problem with the soft shell crab being that you'll probably want to try two, just to check if the first one really was that good.
There's also Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan in Vinohrady where diners order at the counter before taking a seat. The fresh spring rolls packed with thin strips of beef are a must and the don't miss the restaurant's signature dish of pho bo tai - a bowl of rich stock served with rice noodles and a big bunch of fresh herbs.
The Ale Trail
It's impossible to visit Prague without realizing just how big the locals are on their beer. Much of the world's hops originate in the Czech Republic due to the perfect agricultural conditions for growing and the drink of Pils beer was actually invented in the country.
Beer remains relatively cheap throughout Prague and the local brew's low alcohol content make it tasty, light and easy to drink. There are a number of venues including old style Czceh beer halls that actually have micro breweries on site, U Fleku being one of the most famous.
Other places to take in some Czech tradition and taste the local brew are U Zlatého Tygrawhere beer is served up alongside a healthy bowl of their famous beer cheese known as Pivní sýr - a super strong fromage that's often mixed with raw onions and mustard before being spread on toasted bread.
If, after a look at the new side of Prague's culinary scene, you're still desperate to dip your toe into old style waters and want a packed plate full of classic Czech food I suggest a trip to Mlejnicein Prague's historic old town where you can grab what is described by many as the best goulash in the city - all served up inside a huge chunk of crispy Czech bread.
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