Vegan in Prague: Lifehouse

I’ve been stuck in something of a food rut lately – too tired to dig into a new cookbook, always preferring the comfort of recipes that I know and love. And even though the vegan scene in Prague continues to expand on an almost weekly basis, I haven’t had my old enthusiasm for venturing across the city looking for a new spot to try. On that note, I’m going to take a brief hiatus from this blog for a few weeks while I’m on holiday, and hopefully return reinvigorated (and ready for VeganMoFo in August – sign ups here if you’re interested!).

It seems fitting to finish for the holidays with a brief post on a quick and simple lunch I grabbed in the city centre recently. The centre of Prague is incredibly beautiful if you’re a tourist – and incredibly annoying if you live here! The streets are quite small and winding, and, unsurprisingly, there are tourists everywhere who want to stop and savour everything, making it difficult for those of us who are simply try to hustle from A to B. Also, the city centre doesn’t have the best vegan options, more’s the pity.

Lifehouse is a solid option for a light bite though, and it’s located really close to Wenceslas Square. It’s a teeny tiny place with just a few stools in a really cramped area, so it’s definitely better as a takeaway option. They have a small menu, with some milkshakes, some very exciting looking cakes, and some of the open-faced sandwiches that the Czechs love so much.

There are three toppings available, and we tried the avocado and the cheese (the third was ‘egg’). The avo one was solid – it’s hard to go wrong with well-seasoned mashed up avo! The cheese one was beautiful, so creamy and flavoursome. I’ll definitely be back again for that one! However, I felt like both of these would have been better on toast than just bread, if only because the size of the slice and the weight of the topping made it extremely floppy and difficult to manage!

So if you do find yourself in need of a quick bite in the city centre, this could well be the spot for you!

Friends, I’ll be back at the end of July, hopefully with tales of all the exciting food that Japan has to offer! See you then!

 

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Vegan Products: M&S Plant Kitchen Range – Part Two

Great news: the second wave of M&S’ Plant Kitchen range has made it to Prague! (Actually, I think some of these were first wave, but they’ve only made it here recently, so they’re still new and exciting to me.) I reviewed some of the earlier products I tried, and now here’s another batch. It’s so exciting to me that I can pop to M&S and get products like this on my way home from work!

I’d been looking out for the no pork sausoyges for a while because I’d heard that they were shockingly meaty. And it’s true! The taste, the texture, everything is spot on! I’ve always been loyal to Linda McCartney sausages, but these are my new favourites. They make for a top notch sausage sarnie!

The no beef burgers were also excitingly meaty – we don’t buy burgers that often, but these are definitely good to keep in the freezer for emergencies.

These nuggets are one of my new favourite things! If Dr HH is out socialising of an evening, I always pick up a packet of these for my dinner…and usually have a splash of M&S vegan wine to go with them. Very classy! The texture is so good, the outer crumb is good and crunchy, and they taste great.

I had really high hopes for the mac bites but actually, they were not great. The picture on the box shows each individual piece of macaroni, but in reality the inside was just mush: no shape, and no bite to it at all. They tasted fine, but they weren’t at all what I was hoping for, and I wouldn’t pick them up again – even with the yellow sticker.

The not-zzarella sticks were also very high on my wish list, and I almost screamed when I saw there was one box remaining. These were gooey inside, and had a really tasty crumb coating – nice junk food! I prefer all of the meaty goods to these cheesier ones, but I will still grab some of these again, should the opportunity present itself (so far I’ve only spotted them in the Wenceslas Square branch).

And finally, some dessert! The chocolate mousse pot was rich and creamy, a really good sweet treat. I’m so happy that this kind of dessert is available now!

There are still a few things in the range that don’t seem to have made it to Prague (isn’t there a pizza?), and a few that I just haven’t been inspired to try (the tofu teriyaki). British friends, am I missing out? What should I try next?!

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Vegan in Birmingham: Natural Bar & Kitchen

As a rule, I don’t trust eateries with the word “natural” in the title. For one thing, as scientist Dr HH delights in telling me, ‘natural’ is not synonymous with ‘good for you’. “Arsenic is natural!” he fumes, whenever anyone brags about their natural lifestyle. For another, it’s usually just an excuse to double the prices. Alas, that was the case when we visited this place in the centre of Birmingham. It cost a fortune, and wasn’t really worth it.

It has great reviews on Happy Cow, as well as a convenient central location, so we thought we were definitely onto a winner. I wanted to go to try the tofish and chips, and Dr HH wanted to dig into the buffet. And so he did! He was impressed by the range of options, and found everything tasty, but not really spectacular. And it was very expensive for unspectacular food! Among other things, he had a kind of chickpea and sausage casserole, some cauliflower cheese, and various veg sides, but it felt like nothing we couldn’t make at least as well at home.

As for me, I stuck to my guns and got the tofish and chips. It’s a dish I love and order whenever I can, and this one was solid, but again, not really the best I’ve had (but probably the most expensive). It was crispy and well seasoned, but I’d have liked better, chunkier chips.

In the end we didn’t even get dessert because we were so outraged by the price:quality ratio. Everything was fine, but not worth the price (nor the rave reviews on Happy Cow!). I guess it’s just the added tax you have to pay when you go anywhere “natural”…

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Vegan in Prague: Klub Cestovatelů

It’s quite tricky finding a restaurant in Prague that serves both meaty and vegan dishes, so discovering such a place is always wildly exciting. I prefer giving my money to all-vegan establishments, but sometimes you need somewhere that will please a crowd, and Klub Cestovatelů is one such place.

It’s a Lebansese restaurant located right on the river, so it’s a little pricey by Czech standards, but it’s also very good. There are lots of tempting dishes on the menu, and it clearly labels vegan, vegetarian, and halal options, which makes everything very easy to navigate. Dr HH discovered this place on a work night out, and I have since been there for a team lunch as well – it’s definitely good for pleasing a crowd with different dietary requirements. But here let’s look at the vegan feast we treated ourselves to when just the two of us went.

I actually don’t know that much about Lebanese food, and my only prior experience with it was at The Cedar Tree in Dublin last Easter, when we had a veritable feast. I know that it involves hummus and falafel, so that’s alright by me! There’s not that much good falafel in Prague, and for me this one is in second place behind Paprika – it was flavoursome and herby. The hummus was also very good. We got the pine nut version, and I’m not sure if there were pine nuts in the blend or just sprinkled on top, but either way it was tasty, and we felt very fancy indeed.

For our mains, we tried the batata hara, or fried potatoes with tabouleh. Dr HH found this extremely dry and more of a side dish, whereas I thought it was perfection: nicely cooked and seasoned potatoes, and a well-contained salad on the side. Delightful!

We both agreed that the mousaka batinjan was a treat, though. This was baked, spicy aubergine with chickpeas, tomatoes, and plenty of cumin. It was lovely! I’m a big fan of those dishes that are beautifully fragrant and spiced without being spicy hot. You could really taste the flavours.

This place gets really busy, probably due to its location, so I’d certainly recommend booking ahead. They also do a different lunch menu every day of the week which always has a vegetarian option, but it’s not always vegan. The staff there are great, and are extremely accommodating and helpful if you contact them in advance to find out which days they’ll have vegan options on.

Although it’s primarily branded as a Lebanese restaurant, its name actually means ‘Travellers’ Club’, so they have some dishes from other cuisines as well. Whether you’re a traveller or a local, you should definitely stop by!

 

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Vegan in Amman: Shams El Balad

For Dr HH’s birthday this year, I treated him to a choose-your-own-adventure: either a long weekend in Paris, or a whirlwind trip to Jordan. He opted for the latter. It was somewhat out of left field for us – it’s not really a travel destination we’d talked about before. We’re both opposed to visiting a lot of countries in the Middle East due to their use of an Asian workforce essentially for slave labour, terrible laws for women, and dreadful anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Jordan seems like the best of the bunch, I have a Jordanian friend who always raves about her home country, and Ryanair started direct flights from Prague to Amman last year, so it seemed like a good opportunity to go along and see what it was like. Everybody wants to visit Petra, after all!

We stayed in Amman, but basically used it as a base to go travelling further afield in the country. I would certainly recommend staying for longer than we did – we had two full days, and spent one of them in Petra, and the other on a tour of some ancient ruins in the north. Unlike our usual holidays, this one was all about the sights and adventures, not about the food, so this will be my only post about it.

I was not a big fan of Amman itself, besides the amphitheatre and citadel. We were staying downtown, and it was a bit of a dive really – there was lots of litter in the street, and a lot of stray cats picking over it. It was also a very male-dominated area: especially in the evenings, there were not many women out and about, unless they were part of a family outing. There were far more men, hanging around on the street in pairs or groups. An absence of women never makes me feel at ease, so I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere so much.

My friend had recommended a place called Hashem, which was listed as all vegetarian on Happy Cow, so we were keen to give it a try. It was packed when we arrived, but we managed to grab a recently-vacated table. We asked for a menu, but didn’t get anything, and nobody ever returned to talk to us or take an order. I was hungry and confused, so we bailed out. We went into a place further down the street that had falafel, hummus, and chips, and that was basically where we got all of our food on our trip.

We took some falafel, crisps, and Cliff Bars for our day trip to Petra, which was a good call as there weren’t many tempting options around Petra itself (though we did see a tomato sandwich…and there was falafel being sold at the entrance too, plus an actual restaurant inside that we didn’t take a look at). Taking a packed lunch to Petra is probably the best (and certainly the cheapest) option for vegans. There’s a lot of walking, we needed plenty of sustenance!

We wished we’d also grabbed takeaway falafel for our second day trip, a tour of Umm Qais, Ajloun Castle, and Jerash. Instead, our driver took us to a restaurant used by every tour company in the country, which had a massive buffet with no allergens listed, and a set price – so I paid four times more than I did at every other meal, and only had hummus and bread. We were fuming. Fortunately, the scenery made up for it…

…although at times the weather did hinder us a bit!

So all told, we only had one really noteworthy meal during our trip, which was this massive lunch at Shams El Balad before we headed to the airport to fly back to Prague. And if you’re only going to have one good meal, this seems like the place to go! It was a nice reprieve from all the things I disliked about Amman, right down to the fact that most of the diners were couples or groups of female friends. We sat out in the sunshine, looking out over the city, and enjoyed very good but unobtrusive service in calm, clean, peaceful surroundings. It was a wonderful haven!

The menu marked the vegan options, which is always appreciated. We decided to properly treat ourselves, as it was our only real culinary indulgence of the trip. The main reason we chose this place was because of the za’atar and olive oil bread on the menu. Just look at all that za’atar! This was everything I’d hoped for, it was really delicious – though the za-atar was quite loose and made a bit of a mess. Interestingly, the people at the table next to us were brushing all the za-atar off and just eating the bread base…clearly it was not what they’d been expecting.

We got some complementary bread as well, to accompany the two dips we ordered. This was the eggplant mutabal, which was charred aubergine, tahini, mint, and pomegranate. It was absolutely delicious! It can be quite tricky to get the aubergine nicely charred without being bitter, and this dish had the balance just right.

We also had this foul mdammas, which was qalayeh (some kind of bean), coriander, and garlic. It was also really flavoursome, and delicious with that soft, fluffy bread.

The harra potatoes were sensational – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and very nicely spiced. I wish I’d had room for a second helping of these!

And then there were these little aubergines stuffed with walnuts and herbs. My Jordanian friend made me these once before, so I was very excited to see them on the menu here. I believe they’re called makdous, but the menu seems to have been updated since our visit so I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, they are small, full of flavour, and definitely worth a try if you ever come across them on a menu.

After all that food, we were also full! We sat enjoying some sunshine and reflecting on our wild adventures around Jordan, sipping a really flavoursome chai.

I certainly don’t plan to get into the habit of taking holidays which don’t have food as the main focus (or at least one of the guaranteed highlights), but this was worth it as a bit of a fluke just so we could see Petra and some of the other sights of Jordan. We had a lot of falafel, saw one of the wonders of the world, and discovered the joys of za’atar bread: definitely a successful trip!

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Vegan in Prague: Veggie Naplavka

You know you’re working too hard when you miss a vegan festival so you can go into the office! Fortunately, I lived vicariously through Dr HH, and now you can too…

Who doesn’t enjoy a good bank holiday?  The giddiness of having a four day working week and a long weekend, oh the joys that May and August bring!  Upon moving to Europe I was jolted out of these delightful patterns when I realised they just have the holiday on a fixed date every year.  A little readjust, no long weekend, but at least it’s still a four day working week (unless the holiday falls on a weekend – disaster!).  Fortunately, this year’s May bank holidays fell on Wednesdays, phew!  What is the best way to spend a mid-week public holiday? At an outdoor vegan food festival, of course!

Veggie Naplavka is a regular festival held along the Vltava river and is one of the largest open-air vegan festivals in Europe.  This part of the river is glorious when the weather is good, making for a lovely waterside stroll with a view of many of Prague’s historic sites as you wander along.  If you get tired, there are plenty of boats and riverside spots where you can stop for a drink.

The festival normally pops up twice a year and for the last two years the spring/summer edition has been on May 1st.  This year Ms. HH decided to go in to work and use the quiet office to achieve maximum efficiency, so I embarked upon this nomming odyssey solo.

Come festival day, this previously idyllic strolling spot turns into a teeming mass of bodies to battle through, and as I fought through the crowds I had one rule in mind: don’t eat from any stalls where I could just as easily go and visit the restaurant.  I skipped the Prague favourites (and the long queues that come with them): Forky’s, Plevel, Chutnej, Forrest, Loving Hut, Country Life, Sri Lankan Curry House, Creme de la Creme, VeganGrill, Radost…not today!

First up on my list were the chickpea and seitan wings with dip from Ovegano.  From what I could glean from their website, Ovegano are based in Brno, where they do some pop up events and also sell some of their products at a few different restaurants and cafes in the city.   I was initially drawn to this stand on my first wander through, but as I got closer most of the branding I could see on the tent was for a raw cafe. Raw wings sounded a lot less appealing!  On my second pass I spotted a fryer in the back, so I dived right in.

They were excellent: a glorious crunchy coating (I assume this is where the chickpeas came in to play) and perfectly seasoned seitan with a good bite to it.  They were a wee bit dry to be nommed alone, so I was glad to see some dip. Unfortunately it was the tiniest thimble of creamy dip, so I had to ration it carefully.  On the whole, I was happy to overlook this dip-saster for these glorious crunchy wings.

Once the starter had been dispatched, I tackled a plate of dumplings from Yara Street Food.  They are usually found at Farmer’s market at Dejvice on Saturday mornings and are not usually all vegan.  For this festival they had a selection of four different types of steamed dumpling, a noodle dish, and a sweet mango hotdog.  Whilst in the queue I was thinking long and hard about which flavour of dumplings to have, before I spotted the mixed plate option.  I tucked into an exciting looking plate of four dumplings with some pickled vegetables and bits of salads.

The pea, cabbage, and spring onion was a pureed filling that was a little bit uninspiring and didn’t have a particularly strong taste.  The chickpea curry flavour was a little disappointing – the curry didn’t have a huge amount of flavour and I am glad I didn’t go with my original idea to just get a plate of those.  The next one on the plate was sweet potato and garden vegetable (my translation may be slightly off there), which was enjoyable with a good sweet potato flavour, but I couldn’t really pick out much else.  Last of all was the cauliflower, ginger, and coconut.  This was the other flavour I was considering just getting a whole plate of, and it did not disappoint.  It was a pureed filling bursting with flavour from the ginger and coconut.

Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag on the different flavours and I felt the dough on the dumplings themselves was a bit on the thick side, but I could definitely see myself getting a plate of the cauliflower, coconut, and ginger dumplings again.

At this stage I was starting to get a full belly but I thought I could sneak in one more little savoury before moving on to pudding, so I opted for some fries with garlic sauce from Sinea.  Sinea are a Czech (I think) company that sells a wide range of pre-made vegan goodies, and this stall seemed to be primarily aimed at selling sauces and sides (potato salads and the like).  The chips were excellent, chunky, crispy, and had the skins still on (and there were certainly more than it looks like in the picture).  The garlic sauce was a bit sweet and not garlicky enough, so they had failed in their attempt to hawk me some sauce, but I would buy chips from them again without hesitation!

Finally, to pudding!  I had already decided to pass on Creme de la Creme, even though for the first time in Naplavka history the queue was not obscenely long.  I was tempted by Rolls Bros, but figured I knew I could taste their wares elsewhere. I eventually decided on a little stall with no visible sign (later research led to me believe that this was Juicee) that was selling ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate, and topped with nuts. This immediately brought back fond memories of StickHaus in Venice.  There were a few fruit flavours on offer: mango, strawberry and raspberry. I opted for the raspberry with chocolate and peanuts.  It wasn’t the delightful creamy treat I was hoping for, and was more of an ice lolly than an ice cream, but it was tasty nonetheless.  The combination of raspberry and dark chocolate was well balanced and the peanuts gave it a nice crunch.

After that I was satisfied and ready to head home. I had been providing live updates to Ms. HH throughout the afternoon after she missed out on all of the fun [and much appreciated they were too – Ms HH].  I was of course under strict instructions to pick her up a nommy treat and I obliged by popping to an old favourite, Donut Shop.  They had a lemon iced donut with a brownie on top that I hadn’t seen in the shop before (but have seen since), so I grabbed two of those for breakfast the next day [not pictured, alas].  The chocolate from the brownie and the bit of sharpness from the lemon made for a good combination, but it didn’t challenge the other well-established vegan options for the top spot.

I wasn’t done with picking up nommy treats just yet, and stopped off at a Prague vegan food festival favourite, Nebeske Dorticky.  I picked up four cupcakes from here for some evening treats: two Ferrero Rocher, a Rafaello, and, a chocolate and cherry.  I am happy to report that these cakes lived up the usual high level, perfectly baked cupcakes with delicious icing.  Ms. HH ranked the Rafaello the best of the bunch, and I ranked the Ferrero Rocher ahead of the chocolate and cherry.

That is the end of my nomming odyssey.  I was happy to see how the festival has expanded, and there seemed to be more choice than ever. It was great to have several small plates of food and not have to rely on a getting a vegan burger or something from the Linda McCartney stand.

I look forward to the next edition and the exciting new options it may bring!

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Vegan in Berlin: Secret Garden

A few years ago I tried the best vegan sushi ever at Edamame Vegan Sushi in Warsaw, and since then I’ve been hoping to recapture that brilliance. Unfortunately it hasn’t quite happened yet, but Secret Garden in Berlin made a pretty good stab at it. It’s a really nice, all vegan eatery, tucked away above the Veganz supermarket on Warschauerstrasse. Despite its location at a busy junction of a main road, the restaurant itself feels extremely peaceful and calming. The menu is not exclusively sushi-based, there are some general Japanese dishes as well, but we were mostly focused on the sushi, which had some quite ambitious and exciting flavour combinations.

It was so peaceful and relaxing in there that we decided to treat ourselves to some cocktails! I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a cocktail, it always seems like such a ridiculous expense. But in the spirit of our forthcoming trip to Japan I decided to throw caution to the wind and have a cherry blossom cocktail, while Dr HH opted for a zingy mocktail. We were both very happy sipping away at our fancy drinks.

Continuing with the non-sushi elements…we were really keen to try some dumplings, because they are always a treat. There were four varieties on the menu, and we opted for these little island ones – steamed dumplings with shiitake, garlic, and vegetables, topped with dried olives, hoisin sauce, and chilli rice flakes. It was tough to pass on the ones that were fried, but flavour wise these were definitely winner! The filling was not that strongly flavoured, but the sauces really delivered.

We also tried some spicy shroom summer rolls, because alas there were no spring rolls on the menu. These contained three types of mushrooms, lovely chunks of cashews, and veg, and were drizzled with a shittake-truffle sauce. The sauce looked so much like mayo (which I hate) that it was a little off-putting, but it was absolutely delicious.

And on to the sushi! You can order them in sets of 4 or 8, so we tried a few sets of four. First of all, we got the excitingly-named angry samurai – black rice, mango, avocado, soy strips, and tomato chilli sauce. They looked good, and tasted even better! Actually, I could have lived with a smaller piece of mango, but the other flavours kept it in check.

Then we went straight for the two tempura options! First up was the golden foo dog, filled with aubergine, tofu, and radish, and topped with Unagi sauce. There’s nothing like a crispy tempura roll, is there? That crunch is just so satisfying! These tasted really savoury and delicious.

But the tempura tiger were possibly even more exciting – rolled with black rice, grilled courgette, mushrooms, and garlic. I would definitely recommend these. None of these sushi varieties were quite as exciting as the ones we had in Warsaw, but this was still a really solid meal.

Nowadays when we go to Berlin we do not really do any sightseeing, we just go to visit the vintage clothes shops and eat…so we spent pretty much a whole afternoon here, ordering small plates, sipping our drinks, and enjoying people-watching (aka dog spotting) from the window. As such, we decided to plough on with some dessert. It is quite rare to spot creme brulee on vegan menus, so I was powerless to resist this one. It had a liquidy layer on top, which made me fearful that it was missing the lovely crackable surface, but fortunately, it was right there! It was a delicious dessert, with the perfect texture and flavour. I am not sure that the berry compote really added much, but it was nice too.

And Dr HH had this matcha cheesecake, which he cannot remember anything about. He shrugged and said it was probably good…so there you go!

This place was not cheap (not extortionate either though), but it was a really nice place to relax and spend a few hours with unobtrusive service, tasty dishes, and a pleasant atmosphere. And most importantly, it had tempura sushi!

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