Pass the Chicken Schwarma, Hold the Central European Cabbage

It’s not easy finding authentic Middle Eastern food in Prague

 By Mariah Melendez

The many side dishes at El Emir. Courtesy of Mariah Mendelez.

The many side dishes at El Emir. Courtesy of Mariah Melendez.

Finding authentic Middle Eastern food in Prague is like hunting for Italian food in, say, a small village in eastern Jordan.  It’s hard to find.  The more I looked, the more excited I became.

Online, it seemed like falafel and schwarma were abundant in Prague, just waiting for me to devour. But what concerned me was that “Middle Eastern” food in the Czech capital seemed to be Indian food, Mediterranean food or a strange fusion the two.

True Middle Eastern cuisine hails from countries like Lebanon, Pakistan, and Iraq. Since my great grandparents migrated from Lebanon through Syria in the 1920s, Middle Eastern food has been a part of my life since I was nine. In other words, my expectations are high.

Middle Eastern food, unlike Turkish or North African food, encompasses a lot of chickpeas, beans and pitas. The first authentic Lebanese restaurant I went to in Prague was El Emir in Wenceslas Square. The restaurant is located inside a shopping center, which was alarming considering that good food rarely ever comes from inside a mall in the United States.

The interior made my friends and I feel like we were on a movie set for a Middle Eastern film. Persian rugs lay across the floor, a hookah sat on each table and photos with various landmarks and countryside vistas in the Middle East were strew along the walls; a bit cliche, but I appreciated the sentiment.

This time around, quality eclipsed quantity.

We had read great things about El Emir online and wanted to dive right into the menu. We were ready to feast, and we did. For our appetizers we ordered hummus (120 koruna, or about $5) and moussaka batinjan, baked eggplant with chickpeas, tomatoes, onions and spices (160 koruna). Next was the falafel (140 koruna) and tabbouleh, which is parsley salad with tomatoes, wheat, lemon juice and olive oil (145 koruna). They also served us warm and fresh pita with olive oil and a small plate of fresh olives. We savored the food over the next 15 minutes and barely said a word to each other. I was pleasantly surprised at how the quality of the fresh tabbouleh complemented the tender and well-cooked eggplant. The service was also very fast.

Courtesy of Mariah Mendelez.

Chicken schwarma at El Emir. Courtesy of Mariah Melendez.

For our main meal, all three of us ordered the chicken schwarma (290 koruna). The chicken was excellently seasoned and the warm pita it was served in was the perfect complement. We were also given a small side of pickled cabbage, which wasn’t very Middle Eastern, but I still ate it.

My only complaint was that they were out of lemonade with mint, to which I was looking forward. We were so full that we did not have any room for dessert, but I saw that they had baklava on the menu and I have been craving it ever since.

The food at El Emir was delicious, and the atmosphere added an enjoyable bonus; ultimately, the Lebanese restaurant made for an exciting discovery.

El Amir
Location: Palac Koruna, Vaclavske namesti  1, 110 00 Prague 1-Mustek
Region: Lebanese
Reservation: No
Price Range: $$

 

The falafel at Jordan's Fast Food. Courtesy of Mariah Mendelez.

The falafel at Jordan’s Fast Food. Courtesy of Mariah Melendez.

The second restaurant I went to was Jordan Fast Food, very close to the Malostranska metro stop. Jordan Fast Food is a small take-out restaurant, which boasted about its authentic Middle Eastern food on Yelp.com. When I walked up to the restaurant, the harshly lit neon menu and the fact that they also served pizza – not the best start – surprised me.

Since I wasn’t as hungry as I was at El Emir, I only ordered falafel, hummus, and a Coca-Cola Light, which came out to be 115 koruna. To my surprise, for the price and the quality of the food, it was a slam-dunk. The falafel was crunchy and flavorful, and the hummus was perfectly creamy. I am definitely going to make Jordan Fast Food a place on my list of Czech restaurants to frequent.  While there are so many falafel places in Prague, I liked how quick Jordan Fast Food was and how accessible it was on my daily commute.

Jordan Fast Food
Location: Malostranske namesti 29, 118 00 Prague
Region: Jordan
Reservation: No
Price Range: $

 

My meal at Bissili. Courtesy of Mariah Melendez.

Hummus and falafel at Bissli. Courtesy of Mariah Melendez.

The third restaurant I went to was Bissli Ethnic Fusion Restaurant in Old Town Prague. I have tried to steer clear of fusion restaurants, but after my enjoyable experience with Jordan Fast Food, I figured I would take the risk.

One glance at the menu left me a little rattled. They had tikka masala pizzas, over five different types of hummus, and a wide array of Indian and Middle Eastern concoctions. It was like all of the Middle East and Southeast Asia was fighting to be represented on the menu.

Clean glass walls, sleek black booths and tables greeted me as I walked into Bissli, a perfect place for a potential date.

The food was tasty and the price was astonishing; 125 koruna got me a full meal (entree and drink). I ordered the hummus with falafel and some samosas: Indian pastries filled with vegetables and meat. The falafel, like Jordan Fast Food, had just the right amount of crunch and the samosas were flaky with a hint of spice.

I do wish that Bissli had more traditional Middle Eastern food like moussakaa or tabouleh, but what I tried was delicious and maybe next time I will have the courage to try the tikka masala pizza!

Bissli Ethnic Fusion Restaurant
Location: Na prikope 23, Panska pasaz, 110 00 Prague 1
Region: Fusion
Reservation: No
Price Range: $

Although hard to find, the three authentic Middle Eastern restaurants in Prague were exceedingly satisfying and left me aching for more. This time around, quality eclipsed quantity.

Mariah Melendez is in the College of Arts and Sciences class of 2017. Her hometown is Cheshire, Connecticut.

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Categories: Culture, Food, Spring 2016 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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One Comment on “Pass the Chicken Schwarma, Hold the Central European Cabbage”

  1. March 7, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    great post

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