Anyone living in Prague today knows that this city is practically littered with Potravinys and Vecerkas. These are only a percentage of the many Vietnamese-owned stores and restaurants. The Vietnamese population in the Czech Republic is large and they have their own community known as Sapa. Sapa is named after a region in Vietnam, but you don’t have to fly to visit.
The Vietnamese began building a community here during the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia. The adults worked in machine-building and light industries. Their children studied in technical fields, Czech literature, some even puppetry.
There were almost 30,000 Vietnamese workers and students living in the Prague by the eighties. Many of them had left after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. However, they began immigrating again to work in the Czech republic. Others moved to improve their lives or to do business and increase their opportunities. By 1994 their community was almost 10,000 strong.
Today there are over 60,000 Vietnamese people living in the Czech Republic making them the 3rd biggest minority. Most of them can be found in Prague, where they started a market complex called Sapa. This is named after a region in northern Vietnam.
The market sells clothes, Asian fruit, vegetables, spices and traditional Vietnamese cuisine. They also hold celebrations and share aspects of their culture to the Czechs and foreign visitors. To a Vietnamese person, Sapa is more than just a business. It is a place where they feel welcomed, accepted and at home.
Vietnamese Food in Prague
According to an article in the Prague Post published on July 11th 2012, the Vietnamese community had increased 292% in the past 10 years. In the last two years this increase in population was mirrored by an increased in Vietnamese cuisine.
There was a rise in Chinese bistros that are run by the Vietnamese. They began to gradually include national Vietnamese cuisine to the otherwise Chinese menu. A lot of them also changed their restaurant names from Chinese to Vietnamese.
A big part of the increase in the popularity of Vietnamese food in Prague was due to Viet Food Friends. This blog was launched in November 2011 by Nguyen Mai Huong and Trinh Thuy Duong. At the time of their interview their blog had almost 2,000 Facebook followers.
These two Charles University students said that their motivation was to allow the Czechs an opportunity to discover the Vietnamese cuisine. This was important to them as it wasn’t easily accessible in the past. They believed that the language barrier between the Czechs and the Vietnamese played a major role.
It seemed like a shame that there was a lack of Vietnamese cuisine in a country with such a great residing community. Both students came to Prague at a young age and were raised in a tradition Vietnamese way. At the same time, they attended Czech schools. Although they speak Czech fluently they still feel very close to what they refer to as their “motherland”.
Typical Vietnamese Food Available in Prague
The most popular dishes found in the Czech Republic are pho and bun. Phở is a noodle soup. The name phở refers to the rice noodles and not the actual soup. Other ingredients include beef or chicken, bean sprouts, lime wedges, basil, mint, cilantro and onions. These are covered with chili or fish sauce.
Bún chả is pretty much a cold version of phở. It contains grilled pork sausage patties, a variety of herbs, bean sprouts and pickled veggies/ Finally, there’s the nước chấm sauce which is a combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
Phở and bún are the most common in the Czech Republic. However, there are many other foods that are less known here but are typical in Vietnam. There are a number of popular dishes. But the ones to keep an eye for in Prague are bahn cam. These are golden-fried gooey balls speckled with sesame seeds and filled with mung paste which is a sweet bean paste.
There is also banh chung, a special meal eaten during an important Vietnamese celebration Tet. This banana leaf-wrapped parcel is filled with glutinous rice packed with fatty pork and mung bean. Tet is celebrated at the previously mentioned Sapa. Finally there is cap he which is a Vietnamese coffee that is much more of a dessert than a drink. It consists of dark coffee that is sweetened by condensed milk and is mixed up with a raw egg.
Vietnamese food is influenced strongly by Chinese cuisine. This makes sense because of the proximity between the countries. However, the food is also influenced by the French. The French inspired not only Vietnamese coffee but also their many baguette dishes. These are generally filled with traditional Vietnamese ingredients such as vegetables, herbs, spices, fish and meat. They also cannot be complete without nước chấm sauce.
Where to Eat in Prague?
The best place in Prague to experience some of these above mentioned dishes are Pho on Slavikova 1 next to Jirocho s Podebrad park in Prague 3. Here you can sample phở , bún, fried spring-rolls and non-fried salad-rolls. Before you go, be aware that there is nowhere to sit here. People come here to eat quickly, either at standing tables or they take their food to-go.
If you are looking for a more traditional restaurant, check out ed Hot Chilli at Krizikova 123/69 in Karlin. This restaurant has a much higher variety of meals and has proper seating. After I finished my meal here, the waitress offered me the special previously-mentioned Vietnamese coffee. Another nice Vietnamese restaurant can be found in Vinohrady on Slezka 57 called Ha Noi. They also have a nice variety of dishes and incredibly cheap prices.
“To be honest I do not feel Vietnamese at all” says Trang Dao. She is a second generation Vietnamese who was born and raised in the Czech Republic.
“My whole life, I grew up with the habit and the culture of this country” she says when talking about going to a Czech school. Which she attended until the end of middle school. Her parents taught her Vietnamese culture at home but she still “feel(s) more Czech” and she “could not imagine moving to Vietnam and living there”. For her Vietnam is a “completely different world”.
Since writing this, I have actually had the chance to visit Vietnam! You can read more about it here.