When I decided to study abroad in Prague, the most frequent question that people asked me (and that I asked myself) was “What will you eat as a vegetarian?” I googled “vegetarian Czech food” and found many pictures of meat, potatoes, and cheese, and an article that described the Czech Republic as “the land that vegetables forgot”, which, no surprise, did not put me at ease. I talked to people who visited the Czech Republic and they immediately told me to try the goulash, or the sausages, or the schnitzel, and when I said that I was vegetarian they responded, “…oh”. I came to the conclusion that if all I can eat are potatoes and granola bars for three and a half months, I could survive that.
Well, was I ever wrong! Prague is the most vegan friendly (yes, vegan, not even vegetarian!) place that I have ever been to. The number of vegan-only restaurants that are in the city is amazing—from normal sit-down restaurants, to buffet-style restaurants, to fast food chains, the vegan menu is vast. Now, part of my shock might be because I live and go to school in the Midwest, but I am used to restaurants that brag about how many dishes they serve with cheese, not how many vegan dishes are on the menu.
A slight caveat to the story is that my two American study abroad flatmates, our Czech flatmate and I are all vegan or vegetarian, so we all go out to eat together at vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants, and our “Czech buddy” has been incredibly helpful in suggesting places to eat or vegetarian brands to try. Our first weekend here we were exploring Prague Castle and decided to find a restaurant for lunch; less than five minutes later we stumbled upon an all vegan restaurant with an overlook of the castle and the city below.
Grocery shopping is slightly harder; there aren’t really any meat substitutes, and because I can’t read Czech I sometimes buy things that I think are vegetarian but turn out to have something like chicken broth in them. However, this just makes me buy fresher food, so all in all, the veggie life is amazing here in Central Europe.
The ironic part is that I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find anything without meat, but instead I have slowly been transitioning into veganism. The vegan restaurants are so delicious that I don’t miss the taste of dairy or eggs, and most of the time can’t even tell the difference. Most of the transition happened on accident by my normal foods not being available: packaged cheese and cream cheese aren’t very common here, yogurt has a vastly different consistency, and whole milk is exclusively used in coffee drinks here which I’m not used to, so I started switching to soy milk.
The switch to veganism is not a hard and fast rule; I frequently enjoy foods and desserts that are definitely not vegan, and now that I’m adjusting to the taste of whole milk I have my cappuccinos with soy milk only half of the time. I’m also determined to try smažený sýr (the one traditional Czech food that is vegetarian), which is fried cheese served with French fries. Yikes! Yum! (I’ll try it in the name of a cultural experience!). But is incredibly comforting to know that I can grab a vegan burrito from the 24-hour Burrito Loco around the corner, or enjoy a vegetarian buffet at Herbivore down the street from class, or an all vegan brunch from Café Moment down the street. Ahh, Wisconsin, you’re going to have to step up your vegan game—Prague has given me high food expectations 🙂