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Vegetarian Meals in Prague

Vegetarianism has taken its time showing up on the Czech plate. Twenty years ago it was a challenge to find a vegetarian restaurant. Now, although still scarce, there are more establishments catering to people who prefer to eat food without a face. Vegetarian restaurants now exist but there is nothing Czech or traditional about them. Asking a Czech grandmother to cook her delicious buckwheat salad has never happened. If you are visiting Prague and want the true Czech experience you will need to eat meat, lots of it.

The worldwide popularity of vegetarianism has done nothing to diminish Czech’s preference for meat. Meat is a necessity in almost all traditional Czech dishes. Pork being the undisputed meat favourite, in 2012 almost 42 kg of pork was eaten per person - a pig per person.

Menus have a non meat meals section. But to most Czechs vegetarian meals belong to a special category similar to Macdonald’s meals - for times of depression or as a hang-over remedy. The vegetarian section is called ‘bezmasá jídla’ which translates as food without meat. Although be forewarned, without meat does not mean skimpy on the calories. Deep fried slabs of cheese, or balls of boiled dough covered with sugar, cottage cheese and melted butter are examples of these meatless belly bloaters.

If you need to avoid meat here are the options you will find on almost all menu’s at Prague restaurants:

  • Smazeny Syr (fried cheese) - A square half inch think slab of cheese deep friend in breadcrumbs. There is the option of either Edam (yellow) or Hermelin (white) cheese slabs. Served with fries or potatoes with a side bowl of tarter sauce (a kind of mayonaise) for dipping. If, like in Pulp Fiction, you find it odd to dip your fries in mayonnaise you will need to order ketchup as an extra. Some restaurants try to sneak a slice of ham into the cheese so be careful that you are ordering the strickly non meat version.
  • Bramborak (potato pancake) - This was a favourite in times of famine except for the potato famine. It is easy to make and as long as you have plenty of potatoes, cheap. Grate potatoes, add flour, egg, onion, spices and fry in vegetable oil. The oil is absorbed into the potato making it a perfect greasy compliment to beer. Although not normally done I like to order mustard for dipping.
  • Smazeny Kvetak (fried cauliflowers) - Eating raw cauliflower is usually not a tasty experience, but if you roll it in flour, soak in egg yolk, cover with breadcrumbs, and finally deep fry the taste of cauliflower begins to improve. The plate has 5 cauliflowers and is served with potatoes and tarter sauce for dipping. You might think that 5 cauliflowers for lunch is lean but it is surprising what a bath in breadcrumbs and grease does to expand the stomach.
  • Smazeny Zampiony (fried mushrooms) - Same as the kvetak above but with mushrooms instead of cauliflower. I hope you notice the clever Czech solution of how to make vegetarian food enjoyable - cover it in breadcrumbs and deep-fry.
  • Plněné Papriky (bell peppers) - The classic meat version is bell pepper filled with ground beef and swimming in tomato sauce with a side of dumplings. The improvised vegetarian version is exactly the same except the bell pepper is stuffed with rice.
  • Lagos - This was supposedly imported from the Hungarian cuisine, but I suspect it has a earlier greek origin. Basically a small pizza of nighty percent dough with a layer of red sauce (tomato?) and a light sprinkle of vegetables. Lagos are sold more by street vendors than at restaurants, perfect for tourists on the move.
  • Salads - Definitely not a Czech speciality. I have never had a good salad at a traditional Czech restaurant. Usually after I order a salad I hear commotion in the kitchen as the chief panics and attempts to determine whether he has the ingredients. If you really need a salad your safest option is to find an Italian restaurant or pizzeria, they have a dedicated salad section on the menu and therefore more practiced at salad creation.
  • Ovocne knedliky (fruit dumplings) - This almost sounds healthy and light, but don’t be deceived by the word fruit in the name. True there is fruit, strawberry, apricot, plum, but the small fruit is wrapped in a half inch thick blanket of dough, poured over with melted butter, covered with cottage cheese, and finally rained on with sugar. As you can imagine this was my preferred meal as a child. Normally served with 3 or 4 dumplings but now as an adult I force myself to stop at 2.
  • Soups - There is a fair selection of meat free soups: potato, garlic, sauerkraut and dill.

Pigs Plea for more Vegetarian Meals in Prague

If a Czech pig could pray it would look up to the sky and say, please mighty and wise Pig of all porks, please convert all people into practicing vegetarians.

When I was young I was sent to live with cousins in a quaint little Czech country village. There were around a hundred families each with their own plot of land on which sat the customary U shaped arrangement of elongated buildings. The base of the U for humans and the wings for animals, farm equipment, coal and fire wood. At the centre of the village for all to share a large square plot of grass with a steeple chapel. As I saw the village 20 years ago was how it was 200 years ago and exactly how it is today.

Holding hands my cousin leads me to see the pig pen. Being from the city my acquaintance with the porky beasts consisted of Charlotte's Web and the picturesque movie Babe. As we enter through the short creaky door the stench not only smacks my nose but keeps digging down till it settles in my stomach. It is not dark, it is grey, the sunlight from the ajar door is barely able to penetrate the mosquito air. The two hundred year old brick walls crack and seep with mud and moss. As my eyes adjust I stop at a waist high wall. I carefully rest my hands against the wall plate and slowly lean over to look down. Before I comprehend exactly what I am looking at it makes a deep sound that can only sound natural in cage 666 of hell’s zoo. A beached whale - the bloated thing lay on it’s side with two of its toothpick legs in the air resting against it’s girth. The four walls of his pen just about touched him on all sides. As my innocent mind comprehends this sight of misery I realised the pig has laid in this position, in this pen, in the dark, in this stench, for all its miserable years of its miserable life. For all the times I have been riding my bike, playing in the woods, watching TV with my family, sleeping in my warm bed - this pig has been laying, unable to move, staring at the same three bricks in front of its face. Suddenly an eyeball lazily turned and stopped as it met mine. As they say, I saw his soul.

Walking back out into the light I emerged into the yellows and blues and greens of the world. We sat on our bikes and cycled to the lake. All through summer the sight of the bloated prisoner huanted my mind, especially during the times I was enjoying the world around me. With friends shouting and laughing around me I looked at the hills, the trees and the clouds and thought of that pig laying there - at that very same moment.

Pig Slaughter Day

Once a year family and friends from the village gather together and celebrate. Knives are sharpened, troughs are cleaned and large charcoal black pots are placed around the butcher table. Everybody has a part to perform. The men and older boys chop, slice, scoop, and ground. The girls walk around with rags and mops maintaining a clean work area. Wifes and mothers make sure the men are well fed throughout the day while they hack and sweat. The youngest and most energetic boy has the honour to start the festivities - catch and hold the frightened pig as it senses his final hour has arrived. With cheer and clapping for encouragement the boy chases, corners and finally holds the pig down. The day officially begins. The day is called zabijačka - pig slaughter day. What started in the early morning as a frightened pig ends by afternoon as sausages, hams, lard, bacon and pork bellies.

Nothing is spared, everything is eaten in one form or another. Even the blood does not go to waste. The blood is drained into a deep pot and heated, then with a small wooden paddle the blood soup is stirred for hours to prevent coagulation. The smell of blood soup fills the air as friends huddle around and inhale deeply. A line of the hungry forms with bowls and spoon in hand.

The intestines are used to create sausage wraps which are filled with ground pig meat soaked in its own blood. As the sausage is cooked the air expands and pushes from the inside against the intestine skin. When the fork punctures the tight intestine skin a gratifying explosion of blood and meat splurges across the plate.

The tongue and skin is chewed at and nibbled throughout the day. All the remaining pig pieces, including bone, are mixed together with head cheese and pig skin broth to form a pig jelly desert called tlačenka. By the end of the afternoon all that is left are the bones. Every young girl takes a bone and throws it across the yard - the first bone snapped up by a dog signals which girl will be the first to marry and be mother to the next generation of pig lovers.

Did I bring you pleasure? :)

I hope you find this website helpful. I created the website because I love Prague, I enjoy writing about it, and I get a weird kick out of helping you make your trip to Prague more enjoyable.

I wrote a book about local travel in Prague. The book is my pride, my joy, my unbiological offspring. It was written with a passionate heart. If you find this website helpful consider getting my book full of useful tips that will instil in you the confidence to wander the local streets of Prague. The book is included in the popular (proud to say over 1000 sold) Prague Local Explore Kit.

Thank you,
Roman : Prague 2023

Prague Local Travel Kit