Increase in alternative diets, health food in Prague

Alternative forms of nutrition — such as vegetarian, vegan and organic — are taking root in Prague. During the last few years, this Western “health food revolution” has crossed the European boundaries into the Czech Republic. For example, Czech consumers demonstrated a stronger demand for health and wellness products during 2014 than in years past, according to last year’s Euromonitor International report. In particular, gluten-free, fair trade and raw food diets are emerging in Eastern Europe at the same time as in the United States. A search online for vegetarian cuisine in Prague reveals dozens of restaurants, reviews and blogs — even a dating site for vegans in the Czech Republic.

“I do not know about the rest of the Czech Republic, but Prague is like a heaven of sorts for vegans,” says David Blahnik, a vegan for nine months now. “There is a [vegan or vegetarian] restaurant or market in every area of Prague. I have no struggles.”

But if the goal in the Czech Republic is to replace traditional pork and dumplings with grilled tofu and a fruit salad, it will take some time. The country is one of the three with the lowest daily consumption of fruits and vegetables in Europe, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the European Food Safety Authority. Sweden (270 grams per day) and Iceland (196 grams per day) are the only countries that follow behind. Traditionally, Czech cuisine is high in fat and carbohydrates, with meat as the main entrée. The two popular non-meat dishes are cream potatoes and fried cheese. However, meatless meals are easier to come by in Prague due to a recent spike in fresh produce markets, health food grocery stores and vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

Prague locals and travelers alike flock to the Naplavka Farmer's Market every Saturday for fresh produce.
Prague locals and travelers alike flock to the Naplavka Farmer’s Market every Saturday for fresh produce.

A decade ago, finding meat-free dining in the Czech capital was difficult. Today, visitors can find 89 listings of vegetarian, vegan or “veg-friendly” restaurants and health food shops in Prague, according to HappyCow, an online healthy eating guide with recipes, food reviews and a mapping device designed to find the nearest health food in the area. Lehka Hlava, or Clear Head, a Buddhist vegetarian and vegan restaurant frequented by both local Czechs and first-time Prague visitors, boasts a week-long reservation list.

In addition, Czech residents have more choices about the origins of their foods. Several “bio” (or organic) stores offer home delivery for convenience. Farmer’s markets promise honest and fair trade with local Czech farmers, and customers can converse with the farmers themselves about each product.

Cousins Richie Bolek and Dominik Volner help Bolek’s mother, Aneta, run a produce stand by the Charles Bridge. Every Saturday for the past five years, the three have displayed fresh radishes, lettuce, carrots and other vegetables for sale in a booth at the Naplavka Farmer’s Market beside the river.

“People come from Russia, Germany, the United States, all over,” Volner says. He has seen more visitors during the past two years than when they first began in 2010.

These trends began on the farm. In 1989, the Czech Republic had two designated organic farms. In 2004, more than 6 percent of its total agricultural land was dedicated to providing organic produce, according to the Czech Ministry of Agriculture. In 2010, the number reached 10 percent.

Expect the number to grow. A market research report conducted by Euromonitor International projects solid growth for health and wellness products through 2019.

“My friend from work actually decided to also invest in vegan [foods] this next year because he believes it will be more profitable than it has been before,” Blahnik says. “Vegetables are no longer an afterthought.”