Food You Must Eat In Budapest


Budapest is one of those rare cities where the ancient and the modern paradoxes are visible to the naked eye in panoramic view. There are several vantage points in Buda where you can see Pest, and similarly from Pest you can see imperial Buda. Interestingly the young twin city, used to be two different cities separated by the Danube.

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Buda has an air of old world charm and wealth, while Pest is flat and has a more modern vibe. The majestic chain bridge is as recent as 1853. That  however, is fodder for another blog, this one is going to concentrate on Food. Finding Local Food is high on my travel agenda, and all other activities are planned around meals and where we are going to eat them. I am an eggetarian, so I am going to tell you about my Top 5 founds in Budapest which did not involve Meat.

 

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We found great places to eat on both the Buda and Pest sides.

 

Coffee Shops Fit For Kings

I visited Cafe Gerbeaud and Cafe New  York in Budapest. The latter is referred to as the most beautiful cafe in the world and the pictures down will tell you why. Cafe Gerbeaud is regarded as being touristy, but even if it was, what I did eat there was phenomenal. Let them eat cake” just my mantra for life… as I sat in the opulent Cafe Gerbeaud you totally get what the fuss is about. Greedy us, we tried their esterhazy, the gerbaud and the dobos slice with vanilla ice cream. They were all hungarian delicacies and my favorite was the Gerbaud Cake. It is a layered apricot and walnut cake, a family recipe. My second favorite was the dobos torte which was also a layered sponge cake with chocolate. These are all the best delicacies of the coffee house and all the burpees I will have to do after this are worth it! The platter was perfect and we had it all.

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We went to Cafe New York for breakfast. They have a breakfast buffet as well as an a la carte menu. The food wasn’t bad at all, but I do not remember anything in particular except that the place was breathtakingly gorgeous and at some point violinists were serenading us. I would go for the ambience and little else.

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You can tell that the coffee house culture was an elite pastime, and all the restored coffee houses post the war retain all the charm that you would rightly expect. It is an experience I would not miss at all, and the best part is I saw a lot of locals as well, so you may not be walking into a tourist trap.

Paprika

Most restaurants do a Non-Vegetarian Paprika, however I found a restaurant in Budapest that serves vegetarian Paprika. Kantin in the Pest Side in the Andrassy Neighborhood served us Mushroom Paprika with Gnocchi.

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I must warn the purist vegetarian that, it is like ordering Egg curry in Karaikudi in Chennai, I have been the lucky recipient of some chicken shreds in both places. However, I am the kind of person who will keep the meat aside and continue eating, So here’s a warning. Keep that in mind and you may want to warn the staff that you are a strict vegetarian . I did enjoy it, while I did find it fairly heavy as a dish, but after a day of walking I was happy to wolf down most of it.

 

 Vegetarian Food Michelin Style

Most announcements of travel are often met with a “but you are vegetarian! what will you eat” – I had me a superb meal at a Hungarian restaurant with no customizations at all. Yes, None. Nancsi Neni was our chosen restaurant for a good meal that was of Michelin standards.

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Nancsi Neni is in Budapest and is a farmhouse that has been converted into a restaurant. Its is on the higway and at least 45 minutes away from the Fishermen’s Bastion. We took a tram and a bus to get to this place. It has also received a Michelin bib gourmand award

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I had a delicious rice and peas, very similar to our good old pulao with grilled zucchini, a peas and carrot soup which was clear and very very tasty, and nothing like the creamy pea soup we get back home. I honestly prefer this over the pureed creamy soups we so often get back home. Of course my favorite dessert of the trip is the Palacinky with curd cheese and that is what I had here too! That by the way was my guilty indulgence even in Prague.

 

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Chimney Cakes

Chimney Cakes, Tredlnik, kürtőskalács, Kurtos they have many names and I saw a lot of them in Prague and Budapest. This is a traditional hungarian / czech delicacy. It used to be a wedding treat, but now it is made most for tourists and has become an everyday affair.

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The best ones in Budapest are made at Molnár’s Kürtőskalács Kávézó but don’t be in a hurry. They make them fresh and sometimes you have to wait 20-30 mins. I had all the time in the world, but I saw a father and little boy who seemed quite keen on one, and he kept coming back to check on it.

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I saw the smallest batches being made at Molnar, and it’s best had Fresh and warm. You can choose your toppings, but the plain almond or the almond and chocolate ones are the best! Not too sweet, by themselves you can make them as evil and as sugary as you would like! I prefer the non ice cream simpler versions actually. The mass produced ones I found too sweet and sickening. Good thing is you can do a half and half too!

 

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This was my culinary journey in Budapest. I would love to hear about yours too… And if this blog helps you make plans, won’t you leave a comment about it 🙂

Why Ubud in Bali is A Must See destination


Imagine being in a place where you can count the different hues of green and thats the most important thing in your life, all this while sipping some exquisite coffee… It was Bali for New Years.  Does it bring images of crowds and partying? Well an intimate getaway is also possible in the middle of madness, and that’s what we managed. We chose Ubud, and I will tell you why it was the best decision we made.

 

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Ubud is a tropical paradise and nestled in abundant green because of the rain forests and the rice fields. The eyes easily adjust to lush green, and say thank you because on every odd day I only treat them to concrete, smog and some days we see clear blue skies. I am sharing my favorite things to do in Ubud, Bali.

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I was struck by the familiarity between Bali and India. There is a temple at every corner, and the locals are constantly offering incense as well as a prasad like offering to the gods. A familiar Ganesha, Arjuna, Rama and Hanuman greet you every few steps. It is odd that while it reminded me a lot of South India it had a unique flavor of it’s own.

The Rice Fields

We chose to stay at Alila Ubud that has the rice fields on one side and the rain forests on the other. The property is pretty much bang in the middle of them both and since we had a really really short visit, staying in the middle of it gave us a great experience. Actually in Ubud you are never far from one.

 

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Rice Fields

 

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View from the Sari Organik Restaurant 

Driving through Ubud gave me a sense of deja vu, if you have driven between cities in Tamil Nadu you will be familiar with Rice fields that exist as far as the eye can see. Driving village to village evoked the same vibe.

Nung Nung Waterfall

The most popular waterfall in Bali is Tegenungan Waterfall, we however went to the Nung Nung falls. We had gone to Ulun Danu Bretan temple and these falls are a scenic 40 min drive. Several hair pin bends and tropical highways take you to the Nung Nung Falls. The charming part is the compete lack of crowd and when you reach the falls you understand why.

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NungNung Falls 

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To reach Nung Nung falls you have to climb down close to 500 steps. It is a steep climb down and up. But if you like less crowds and are feeling fit then I would recommend this for sure. Our guide insisted that we go to these falls, he very innocently said that you have to go “up and down” and I did not think much of it. No HIIT session or WOD can prepare you for this. However I would not change a thing.

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views while climbing back up from Nung Nung Falls

Temples

Bali temples have a very distinct structure, the entrance is ornate and like Indian temples they seem to have their own version of the gopuram. We saw rows of temples when we were being driven to our destination and we were told that most of them were family temples, which meant that they were for the family only. Temples open to the public were different.

 

Ulun Danu Bretan

 

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We went to the Ulun Danu Bretan temple, because of it’s beautiful location. Located on the Bretan lake, the Shiva Parvati temple is a tourist attraction and it’s it is easy to understand why. But if tourist hubs are not your scene then it is Unlikely, that it can hold your attention for long.

 

Music and Dance

Music and Dance is an integral part of celebration. Balinese Dance is a sheer delight to watch. Again the concepts are very similar to Indian dance concepts that borrow from mythology or nature, and since we share the Ramayana and Mahabharata some of the sequences are completely mythological in nature.

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Coffee

So I went to Bali, I saw a Luwak too, but I could not bring myself to try the Luwak coffee. However two coffee places that I strongly recommend are Anomaly Coffee and Seniman coffee. The coffee was par excellence, and I was dying to go back for seconds. Unfortunately we did not have time to go back, but the perfect coffee taste is still etched in my taste buds. It was strong, full and felt absolutely smooth on the palate.

 

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Food

Indulging in local fare, every opportunity will leave you happy and content. While you will find the odd Nasi Goreng in a few menus in the city, you are unlikely to find too much Indonesian fare. We ate several versions of the Nasi. My personal favorite was the Nasi Bakar, which was cooked rice, spices and veggies  rolled into a banana leaf and grilled.  It is best to get your fill when you are in Ubud, because once you are back you will only have memories of great local fare.

 

 

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Bali Buda 

Soya and soya constructs are integral parts of their diets and make for tasty fare. Some of the restaurants where we had memorable meals were Bali Buda, The Plantation restaurant in Alila Ubud, Copper and Watercress.

 

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Copper – Ubud 

 

 

My personal favorite was also the Jamu, a local concoction of turmeric, ginger and other flavorings. I had this at every chance available.

 

Ubud is a place that is ideal for a calm getaway. Slow paced, easy and great food. We got around most of the town with a cab, and walking. You need to carry rupaiah with you, most places do not accept International currencies. I am told this is not the right place to use your card, so it is best to carry cash. You find a lot of exchange counters offering decent prices.

What would you add to this list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diwali done Right – Five Essentials


Diwali is best spent at home, with family but all festivals are as special as we make them, therefore if Mumbai is not your hometown and you still want a flavor of a thamizh Diwali, I am going to tell you how you can do it in a super easy way. We have done it a few times over the last few years, when we have not travelled back to Chennai for the festival

 

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Buy Bakshanam

The best part of Diwali is easily all the yummy bakshanam, and the blatant license to eat it without guilt.  We also enjoy the marindhu – the spicy, magic every sin melting concoction. Frankly while we enjoy this we never seem to have the motivation or the time to make any of it.

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To the rescue is A.S. Rajashekar Caterers. You can find them at the Bhajana Samaj in Matunga. All Bakshanam is made fresh, and there is a disciplined system in place. You can taste, choose what you want pay and walk away with a lot of goodies. They have even marindhu that you can buy and you do not have to slave over it.

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Visit Giri Stores for essentials.

Not only will this store transport you back to Mylapore, you can also buy some really interesting festive items from there. Perfect for lamps, bells, temple jewellery and music CDs. I like visiting this place, to refresh the lamp stash during a festival and if you are calling people home they make for very interesting Tamboolam Bags too. It is the ideal place to buy Ready Made Kolams as well, if like me you do not have an artistic bone in your body.

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Flowers… Flowers and more Flowers

While this city loves it’s mogras, it feels more like a celebration if you have got some mallipoo into the equation. The flower market in Matunga is the place to go to buy garlands, jasmine flowers and even vethalai’s for the pooja.

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flower market

Saree Shopping

What is a festival without some saree indulgences. Matunga is a decent place for a quick fix Silk saree. Mahalakshmi Stores is an old school saree store where you can sit down on a white mattress and he will show you as many sarees as you would like to see. The saree you see below is one I bought from there about two – three years ago. Of course there is Nalli too, which is the golden standard in silk sarees.

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Invite Friends Home

Now that you did all the above, it is best to call friends over to celebrate the festival. My go to Book for every festival is this book by Vimala Ramanan. It has all the details on the festival, why it is celebrated and most importantly what to make and how. Every time we bring this book out, it only spells happiness because it means that some yummy fare is being made at home.

 

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Diwali is one of our favorite festivals, as it transforms cities, there is light, there is joy, there is happiness and some great food doing the rounds every year. Since we love far away and have fairly hectic jobs our main aim is to have the frills of celebration with minimal effort.

 

 

My List of Top fun things to do in Prague


 

While I did my homework on what to do in Prague, I came across the quote that “Prague is the Paris of the 90’s . It got me curious, considering it does have a mini version of the Eiffel Tower too, I delved a bit deeper. Really the comparison was to the Paris of the 1920s that was bursting with artists, inspiration, writers and much art and beauty. Well, they got that right.

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Prague has a very obvious fairy tale, old world quality about it. It has something for every kind of traveler too. I have listed the top things to do in Prague that I would recommend that you do not leave without doing.

1. Charles bridge in the morning 

You will inevitably walk on a crowded Charles Bridge several times to get to one place or another if you are in Mala Strana or old town. I however, strongly recommend a visit in the morning. The bridge is empty, you have it to yourself or are sharing it with fitness and photography enthusiasts, and there are very few so it’s a total win for you there. There is no other time that you will not be jostled on the steps I am posing on.

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2. John Lennon wall

It stands as a symbol of peace and love, but the history behind it is interesting. It began with a tribute to the singer post his death, and the young people of the city covered it with more graffiti and messages, as the czech regime at the time had banned lot of pop music and entertainment. The wall that is owned by the Knights of Malta was whitewashed several times, but was always found repainted with graffiti and Lennon tributes, that they gave up.

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This is a visually striking wall, and makes for superb instagram pictures, which in today’s times translates to a lot of crowd. I cannot reiterate this enough – but go early to beat the crowds 🙂

3. Kafka in Prague

Whether you have read Kafka or not, you may have used the term “kafkaesque” to simply denote something dark, illogical, nightmarish or uncomfortable imagery. A visit to the museum is recommended simply because you understand the struggles of a man with a tough childhood, who was perhaps unlucky in love, bogged down by the tussle of going to work and simply wanting to pursue his passion.

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The museum tour is a self guided one, but easily one of the most engaging, interesting museums I have ever been to. They played with light,  the placement, An Audio Visual element, narrow paths – the works. It took you into his world, and his mind. Whether you read Kafka or not this is a museum visit that will remain with you.

 

4. Prague’s own Eiffel…oops Petrin Tower 

Built as a look out tower and a transmission tower, Petrin looks very similar to the Eiffel Tower. 299 steps will take you to the top and the height it is said is similar to that of the Eiffel Tower In Paris.

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You can take the Funicular up to Petrin Hill. Find a good spot, you can see all of Prague as you go up to the foot. You land in a garden, which is landscaped beautifully. You can climb the observation tower. There are two decks. I climbed up to just one, because the height did me in. However, if you are one, who is not afraid of heights, you can climb on. And if you did, do share pictures with me. 🙂

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5. The World’s most Beautiful Library

I would recommend planning a visit to the Strahov Monsatery along with Petrin tower. A short scenis walk will take you to the monastery. There are a couple of cafes where you can sit back and enjoy a meal in the outdoors or simply have a drink while you soak a different angle of Prague.

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Why you must visit? To see two of the world’s most beautiful libraries. That is not an exaggeration, but the Strahov Monastery library has made it to a few lists. Unfortunately you cannot enter the halls, but you can see both the majestic libraries. Artistic frescoes, and 1000’s of manuscripts that go back to the 12th Century.

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6. World war 2 tour

Like Most of Europe, even Prague has a World War history. It was taken over by the Nazis, with the government having fled to France and Britain. There are a few tours that take you through the history of the capture, the cruelty of the Nazi regime and the underground movement.

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It is a 2 hour walking tour and takes you to through the streets of old Prague and even the Underground cellars, under the astronomical clock that served as a hospital during the war, and a hideout for the rebels.

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Whether you are a history buff or not, this is a very informative tour and you surely come out knowing  a little bit more than you did earlier.

 

7. Sculptures around the City 

In addition to being a beautiful city, Prague has sculptures that are world famous. They are memorable and disturbing.

In the old town, only difficult to miss because there is always a crowd looking up is a statue of the hanging man, Freud debating whether to hold on to the rod or let go. This is designed by David Cerny and a representation of the psychoanalysts constant struggles

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The Kafka monument, is a representation of a Mini Kafka on the shoulders of a headless suit. This is located in the Jewish Quarter where he spent most of his life.

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The memorial to the victims of communism is a representation of the seven stages of living in a totalitarian state. It really represents the degeneration of man in the society and is a sad sight, especially because it hits the reality of how the generation truly believed that their life was going to change for the better and that promise simply degenerated.

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We could’nt make it to see Cerny’s Babies on the Zizkov Tower, but caught three of them guarding the Kampa museum. We saw a Manolo Blahnik exhibition there, you may want to check what is up while you are there.

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8. Views For Days 

Prague has many parks, and open spaces where you can make your own little picnic. Walking is most fun, a lot of these places are a climb up but totally worth it for the view.

Letna Park has a beer garden, and if you time it right, you can get a lovely table at the edge and have a view of the city.

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Vyserhad is a lovely park as well, it has a church but more importantly it has a huge park and various spots where you can set up a picnic, play with your dog or simply drink in the view.

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The Prague Castle is also something that you are most likely to do whilst you are there. My favorite part about it was the View, which you see below. The castle has a lot to offer, especially the St.Vitus cathedral which is synonymous with the skyline. I also enjoyed a military exhibit they had, since over the years it also served as a base especially during the war.

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I have only covered my favorite things to do in Prague, the city of course is a culinary delight and has a plethora of options for every kind of traveler. Since, it has a rich history even in the post modern era it really is a delightful combination of modern and classic. One can choose the kind of experience they want. I firmly believe after each travel you take a bit of the city back with you for eternity and we have surely taken a large part of Prague back with us.

I would love to hear what you liked about the city, so we can compare notes. 🙂

Finding #Coffee in #CuttingChai City


It’s #InternationalCoffeeDay and I simply had to revisit this. This list hasn’t changed much, except I would add koinonia to it. That’s all!

SWATHI RISHI

My quest for good Coffee, in this Tea drinking city, has seen me go through several cups. More bad ones than good. I realized that there was very little of the good brew out there. Those who are addicted to Coffee, will know how disturbing a mediocre or bad cup of coffee can be, and also know the sheer bliss of the perfect Cup.

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While a lot of factors contribute to that perfect cup, ranging from the quality of beans, freshness of milk, mood of the barista and so many other variables like these. What really matters to me is how good the beans are, when they were roasted and definitely no “Low Fat” Milk. Once you have tasted coffee made from freshly ground beans, it is difficult to make peace with an instant mediocre brew.

I have put together a list of the Best 4 from my experiments with…

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How to Eat Out & Still Fit in!


If your life revolves around the next meal as mine does, or if you are planning your next meal as you are finishing your present, then you may just understand the struggle of fitting in to clothes. Some are blessed with a metabolism and skinny genes, and I realized very early on that I am not one of those. My mantra was Eat…Burn…Repeat and still continues to be.

 

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Having said that, just burning is not enough. We have to watch what we eat. But what does one do, when social life revolves around eating out, treating oneself with food is easier than a shopping binge or a holiday so a meal out or dessert is often a pat on the back too. While I have been trying to lose 5 kgs for the last 8 years now, and I haven’t lost it, but my goal has not changed, which essentially means that I have not changed sizes drastically. I have also made peace with my body now. There are a few pointers I practice and I would like to share them with you, about how I try to balance eating out and still being healthy.

Tip 1 : Easy On Oil / Butter / Sauces and Cream.

Any restaurant that is making food fresh, will be happy to accommodate this request. No matter how fancy or regular it is. I have realised that a lot of restaurants tend to go overboard with the oil and butter, since it cooks food faster and comes across as tastier. I prefer to control the amount of ghee or oil so I always ask for it on the side. You don’t have to deprive, just control

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Tip 2  : WorkOut in anticipation of a Big Meal

When I am indulging in a BIG meal, I always plan activity as well. Either before to earn it, or after to redeem it. I realise it is Math, we are biting into a lot more than our body needs from our sedentary existence. In my head this is a fair trade.

Sometimes, you may not be able to make time for a workout, but it does not matter if you miss it by a day, the important point to keep in mind is that one must go back.

 

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Tip 3: Share Dessert

Desserts are Sinful, and the tastiest ones are sheer indulgence and possibly have nothing that is nutritious, as much as we convince ourselves. There are healthier options, but the unhealthy ones are the ones we crave, the healthy ones are those we make peace with. At least, that’s what I do. It is an indulgence and best shared,. Dessert portions are fairly large and sharing them just reduces the guilt of wasting, and the burden of pants that don’t button up!

 

 

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Tip 4: Meals with Friends.

I love romantic dinners for the ambience and the bonding, but I always have one regret. The variety of food that you can taste is very little. Added to this, since my husband is Non Vegetarian and I am vegetarian, when we go out we seldom share. The greedy in me loves the idea of many dishes… I love tasting a lot of food when I am going out, therefore I am always in favour of large groups going out to eat. You also do not end up eating as much and you can try a lot of food. You have the choice of portion control paired with tasting more food.

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Tip 5: Plan One Big Meal

My bohemian fantasies are made up of every meal being a feast, a slothful existence in which I am skinny.  But that, is a fantasy that has no scope of being a reality anytime in future. Three mad meals in a day may be difficult for the body to take, so balance it out. If Breakfast put cheat day to shame, then Lunch and Dinner can be a bit kinder on the stomach and conservative with calories. I also try to ensure that I am not completely skewed to one food group. I would avoid 3 carb heavy meals in a day and mix it up with a meal that is protein heavy.

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These are some things I follow, I would love to hear what you do to balance eating out and stay healthy. If any of my tips helped you I would love to hear about that too. Let’s keep the conversation going .

 

 

Lip Smacking Prague…Here’s what to eat!


Prague is a beautiful city, It has a magical, fairy tale like quality to it. It really comes from the identical  sloping red roofs, powder towers and the spires. It is really easy to get lost in its beauty, when you don’t see that many tourists around, but let’s accept it every princess has to eat. Finding local food to eat is definitely high on my list of things to do on a holiday and being vegetarian I need to do my home work a little bit more thoroughly.

 

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Here is my list of favorite lip smacking Prague food.

Kulajda

Kulajda (Pronounced ku-ly-da) is potato soup. This however is unlike any potato soup that I have eaten. It is thick, but not as thick as pureed potato that passes off as soup. A generous dose of dill, mushroom and a poached egg on the top. There is something easy about the soup, without the overwhelming starchiness of most potato dishes. I had this whenever I could get the opportunity, since I was certain that I wasn’t going to find this on menus anywhere. The best ones I had were at TriSoleti and Guston

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Palacinky

Palacinky is a czech speciality and to keep it simple, is essentially a crepe. I had my favorite one at the Lokal Inn. Lokal is one of Prague’s best restaurants for authentic czech food. I had one with Curd cheese baked with eggs and I would definitely add it to my list of favorite foods. You do get crepes in several places with different kinds of fillings, this one at lokal was surely my favorite.

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Cafe Savoy

Cafe Savoy is listed on every Prague food list and it is easy to understand why. I would recommend reservations here. We had to go back the the next day, since they were full and had about 90 mins waiting. Firstly the grandeur of the coffee shop has a wonderful old world charm about it. You really feel like you are part of something historical and luxurious. However, the food matches up to the hype. We enjoyed an utterly delectable Half boiled egg in a cup, with generous shavings of parmesan. This really evoked childhood memories for me. Half boiled eggs were a ritual and I loved the drama of the half boiled egg cup, it was more fun than eating an omelette.

 

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Cafe Savoy is also very famous for its desserts. Their section is drool worthy, but alas the stomach can only stomach that much. Thankfully they do mini portions. We tried the Karamelovy veternik another czech dessert. It has a hard pastry like shell with a creamy caramel filling in the centre. I hope you have the opportunity to try more. Do tell me what you liked, so that I can take notes for next time.

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Guston Burger

This was one place where we saw no tourists. Just the kind of place that locals would visit. It is Zizkov which is the modern part of the city. This place is famous for it’s burgers. As a vegetarian I find burgers very unappetizing, but this was really wholesome. It had a chunk of roasted tofu, aubergine, lettuce, tomatoes. The super interesting part is that they also do a “lettuce” version of the burger. The burger is massive, and honestly I could not finish it. The waiter did tell me later that a lot of “girls” like the lettuce version and I should have gone for that. I must really prove my carb love to him another time.

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Ice Cream

 

No one ever looked sad eating ice cream, but the struggle to eat something so exquisite is real. Amorino in Mala Strana in Prague churns out Gelato Flowers. At the end of  an exhausting walk around old town Amorino is the perfect place to treat at least two of your senses. You can choose as many flavours as you want, and they make your own personalized flower. You just have to choose the size

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Fresh Fruit

You will always find me where the berries are. Fresh fruit is found in abundance and I love to snack on fresh produces. So do yourself a favour, find em berries and I find them great as a snack or even to quench your thirst or battle that tiredness because of the walking. We found several fresh fruit stalls across the city

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Tredlnik

What will fire your curiosity is the cylindrical, bread like item that everyone is eating around the tourist part of the city. Some eat it plain, and with ice cream or whipped cream. Honestly, since we went to Budapest after, I ate the better tasting Tredlnik there. However, if you are planning to eat it then have the one at Good Food Bakery. It does have the comfort of sweet, carb loaded bread.

 

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This is just some of the yummy food I ate there. Do share with me what you ate when you went there, or if my blog helped you. I do hope you enjoyed reading this.