Today’s word is wanderlust: “a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world“, as the definition goes. I’ve been feeling a bit gloomy in the past few weeks, and I’ve come to think wanderlust may be the reason. Maybe it’s because my friends are all on holiday, or just about to leave, while my next trip’s not until December. Or maybe I’m more conscious than ever that moving jobs cost me many precious days of annual leave, putting travel abroad completely off the cards for this year. My list of places to visit is as long as my four limbs together, and my opportunities are just…non existent.
Still, I feel an urgent, pressing need to travel. I need to discover new corners of the world just as badly as I need the air I breathe. Instead, all I can do is revisit pictures of past trips, feeling both blessed for the amazing sights I’ve seen, and sad for the lack of new adventures to look forward to. It’s not all bad, though, for all this reminiscing motivated me to fulfil an old resolution. I promised you a post about where to eat in Prague, didn’t I? Well, here it is – if you can forgive me for putting it off for over a year. You have to thank Alex, who’s enjoying a trip to Prague right now, and inspired me to put together a list of tips for a sweet tooth in the Czech capital.
My recommendations mostly revolve around dessert, because you can hardly go wrong with savoury options: no matter where you go, food is so plentiful and cheap, you’ll easily end up eating twice as you do in the UK at half the price. If you’re a carnivore at heart, you’ll be spoilt for choice; just make sure you try the wonderfully meaty, spicy, goulasch at least once. If you’re a carb lover, you’ll go crazy about the infinite varieties of bread dumplings and potato sides available with your mains. I know a thing or two about those; so much so, that I forced myself to stay off bread for one week after my holiday!
When it comes to coffee and cake, finding the right spot is a little harder. Most bakeries only have takeaway counters, designed for locals doing their daily grocery shop; coffee shops with seating areas are trickier to find, and most of them exist mainly to attract tourists, hungry for familiar flavours and willing to pay a premium for them. Still, you’d be crazy to leave Prague without tasting at least one typical sweet treat. At their best, Eastern European baked desserts look simple and lovingly homemade, just like something your own mother would prepare for you with her own hands. Look out for these cakes and pastries when you’re out sightseeing, and don’t shy away from randomly stopping at a local bakery to try something that caught your eye. That’s how I made my best discoveries, and I can guarantee you’re up for some pretty good ones, too.
Don’t leave Prague without…
1) Trying medovnik
Medovnik is a typical honey and nut cake, made according to an ancient Slavonic recipe. I’d never heard of it before travelling to Prague, and had no idea what to expect from it until I ordered it for breakfast one morning. It was one of the best surprises Prague gifted me with. Its layers have the texture of a biscuit base, paired with a buttercream that beautifully highlights the sweet taste of honey. The cinnamon and nuts sprinkled on top won me over completely: I never say no to a cinnamon bake, and when walnuts are involved, I’m an even easier prey. Since I first tasted medovnik, I’ve been plotting to make it at home; it’s also very easy to find in Prague, so make sure you get yourself a big fat slice!
2) Tasting U Knofličků‘s cakes
U Knofličků (translating as “The Little Button”) lies on the Újezd high street in Malá Strana, very close to the entrance to Petrin Park. Its cute vintagey decor reminded me of a London independent cafe, and the espresso I ordered was very good, contrarily to most of the coffee I had in Prague (admittedly my fault: I thought ordering a “small coffee” would do the trick, but unless you specifically ask for an espresso, all you get is watered-down instant coffee!). U Knofličků is also one of few bakeries I’ve been to that provide a large and comfortable seating area, and the offer of cakes and pastries is rather impressive for a city that doesn’t care much for dessert. I had my very first slice of lemon meringue pie there, and couldn’t help returning for a slice of apple strudel the day after; that’s the stuff good memories are made of.
3) Having breakfast at Staročeská Pekarna
Staročeská Pekarna (translating as “The Old Czech Bakery”) is a very good spot for a sit-down breakfast in the morning, or a quick sandwich lunch. It’s very close to the underground station that connects the Old Town to airport transfer routes, ideal if you want to begin or end your trip to Prague on a high note. Food is very typical of Eastern Europe, with loads of cheesecakes and freshly made Czech crepes (palacinky), as well as savoury pastries packed with cheese and cured meats. They also serve hot chocolate in a very quirky way: they bring you a mug of hot milk, accompanied by a sort of chocolate lollipop you have to dunk in and let melt. Worth trying, at least for the visual impact.
4) Getting a taste of Denmark at Mansson Bakery
My first visit to Mansson Bakery, on my way to Prague’s Jewish Ghetto, was also my first encounter with Danish food. Surrounded by bakes of all sorts, I felt I’d just entered my personal pastry lover’s heaven; the specialities on offer were all so new to me, and so inviting, I had a hard time picking just one for my breakfast. My choice was a custard, almond and raisin coffee cake I can only describe as sumptuous, and my partner’s almond pastry looked pretty nice, too. Had I had more time, I’d have gone back to taste their selection of breads; everything on display looked gorgeous, and seeded breads, of which there was plenty, are a lifelong weakness of mine. Drooling over dated pictures just doesn’t do the trick, does it?
If you’re in Prague, or planning to go any time soon, don’t forget to let me know if you follow any of my directions. I’d love to hear about your experience, and hope these few tips and pointers will help you make the most of the city’s great food and magic atmosphere. As for me, I’d go back to Prague any time – so let me know if you have more recommendations, and I’ll save them for my next visit!