Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Prague still ranked among 10 most vegan-friendly cities in the world

Prague Daily Monitor |
8 July 2020

Czech food is famous for its meat, potatoes, and lack of vegetables. Yet ironically, happycow.net placed Prague among the 10 most vegan-friendly cities in the world for the second year in a row. One reason for Prague’s growing trend of vegan-friendliness is that ever since communism fell in 1989, the market has opened, and people and cuisines from near and far have made their way back into the city. Another is that Czechs are more and more looking for healthier and sustainable alternatives to the heavy, meat-based fare that many of them grew up eating.

If you’ve ever had traditional Czech cuisine, you know that it’s not at all vegan-friendly. Meat usually plays the main role, while other frequent characters include potatoes, dumplings, bread, eggs, and fried cheese. If you’re lucky, your meal might be served with a side of sauerkraut and garnished with a token sprig of parsley. Anthony Bourdain put it well when he famously referred to the Czech Republic as “the land that vegetables forgot.”

What’s interesting is that this was not always the case. Throughout history, Prague was a major cultural and culinary hub due to its central geographical location. Ingredients and gastronomic trends flowed in abundantly from Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, and other surrounding countries. However, in the 20th century, Prague’s occupiers - both the Nazis and the communists - imposed strict controls over what Czechs could and should eat. Foodstuffs were rationed, imports were largely halted, and farms were appropriated. All of a sudden, the range of items available paled in comparison to that before the Second World War.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, markets reopened and culinary variety began making its way back into the Czech Republic, albeit slowly. Indeed, it was 20 years later that Bourdain made his famous quote. But since then, Prague has once again become a place of culinary richness, especially for vegans. At the end of 2019, happycow.net, a food website for vegan and vegetarian travellers, for the second year in a row ranked Prague among the 10 most vegan-friendly cities in the world. The ranking was based on 4 main criteria, one of which is vegan restaurant count to population density.

Marianna Slováková of the Rostlinně association, which maps the availability of plant-based products in supermarkets, and now also restaurants, claims that the number of restaurants in Prague offering at least one meatless option is growing rapidly.

As a city with plenty of work opportunities, Prague is again attracting foreigners and their respective culinary traditions. Today, food from Thailand, India, Greece, Lebanon, and other veg-friendly countries can be found all over the city.

Nevertheless, much of the trend towards veganism is coming from within, especially Prague. For example, an important Prague producer of future-oriented food is Mana, a science- and technology-based startup that makes all-in-one vegan food powders and, most recently, a complete-nutrition plant burger called the ManaBurger. The company is a leader in the category of vegan food powders, and its new, innovative burger also has global potential. Nemléko, likewise based in Prague, is another company that specializes in plant-based food alternatives, namely dairy products such as almond milk, poppy seed milk, and almond yogurt.

A great reflection of Prague’s “going green” is its infamous burger bar Belzepub. Formerly a meat-serving burger dive for metalheads and punk rockers, the bar is now a family-frequented establishment that offers exclusively vegan options, the latest of which happens to be the ManaBurger. Also notable is Kabelovna, a vegan pub and restaurant opened by Czech singer and songwriter Ben Cristovao in Prague’s Holešovice district.

Companies like Mana and Nemléko have shown that new food-production technologies can be successfully leveraged to increase the range of vegan food options available on the Czech market. And not just for vegans, but for anyone seeking healthy alternatives to classic food items like milk and beef burgers. In the same way, restaurants like Belzepub and Kabelovna have shown that the demand for those options is growing quickly enough to make service of plant-based food a “sustainable” enterprise.