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Saturday 17 December 2011

Going Vegetarian in Prague

There are quite a number of vegetarian restaurants scattered around the city centre of Prague. They are not located directly in front of touristy sights, but hidden in some small lanes amongst the maze of the streets. However, they are not that difficult to find with the aid of a detailed city map.

The first one I went to is called Lehká hlava. It means 'clear head' in plain English. This is a very interesting restaurant with two dining halls. One is a cool themed hall with starry-night atmosphere.

I was seated at the warm themed fiery ambiance dining hall after 10 minutes of wait. That wasn't too bad as I was told this restaurant is always full. Sometimes the waiting time can be up to an hour!

All the tables are lit from within. Some of the tables have glass pebbles inside, giving them a radiant look with the lighting from the inside of the tables.

The attention to details of the frescoes on the vaulted ceiling really amazed me. I haven't seen a restaurant like this before. The two dining halls were really a feast to my eyes.

I couldn't really make up my mind on what to order as everything on the menu sounded nice to me. Finally I found one item which includes five house specialties, the Velká Lehká hlava (Big Clear Head). It came with herbed potato gratin, vegetable shish kebabs, eggplant quesadilla, yogurt and salsa sauce. It was a giant-size serving, but I still managed to gobble up all the healthily and freshly prepared vegetarian food. I haven't tasted such high quality vegetarian food before. With such kind of scrumptious vegetarian food, who needs meat!

With such a good impression on Prague's vegetarian food, I went on to look for more. Maitrea happens to be a sister restaurant of Lehká hlava, so I was confident with the food quality.

The interior is not as 'unusual' as its sister restaurant, but still not that ordinary. This restaurant has two levels. I was seated at a corner of the ground floor dining area near the bartender.

I was spoiled for choice again, so I just ordered something with the word 'favorite' stamped at the side. I wasn't very keen on the vegan 'chicken', so I settled for the eggplant dish.

The eggplant and tofu in Thai green curry sauce was a hit to my gastronomic adventure! Every grain of rice fully soaked with the sauce tasted divine. Capped with the fragrance from the coriander leaves, this dish was just perfect! This time, the serving size was just right.

As I am a die hard non-alcoholic drinker, I can't stand a drop of alcohol in my drink. That Pivo (Bernard) švestkové was just nice for me, a beer without alcohol.

This non-alcoholic beer came in a very good looking bottle. Taste wise, it has got some plum flavour. Something very nice to go with the green curry taste. I spilled one-quarter of it due to my camera setup hitting the glass when the camera toppled, what a waste.

If you feel like having something lighter after many meaty meals in Prague, these two restaurants are highly recommended. Furthermore, it's not expensive to dine there as you can see from how much I spent for both meals.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Ais Kacang & Ayam Penyet

If you can just do one thing right for Kuching hawker food, the Kuchingites are gonna flock to your stall like sugar is to ants. Swee Kang Ais Kacang is one of those success stories; from a hawker stall at the Kuching Open Air Market in the old days, to this shop at Jalan Haji Taha.

Ais kacang is a local dessert with very simple ingredients. The local people call it "ang dao chien lut" because of the two main ingredients. "Ang dao" refers to the red beans simmered in syrup whilst "chien lut" refers to the green-jelly noodles made from starch. All these are topped with shaved ice, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. A healthier version comes with milk instead of coconut milk.

I have been gobbling up Swee Kang's "ang dao chien lut" since young and it is the best in Kuching in my opinion.

You may ask what "ang dao chien lut" has got to do with ayam penyet? Well, the answer is very simple. Just beside Swee Kang Ais Kacang is a Muslim coffee shop that sells one of the best ayam penyet in Kuching. It is served with a generous portion of green vegetable salad and sambal. Although the fried chicken looks a bit 'dehydrated' on the outside, the juiciness of the meat is well retained inside.

The ayam penyet here beats the overrated Raja (RJ) Ayam Penyet hands down! The breast meat that I was served at RJ Ayam Penyet was dry and hard. However, the side dishes of tempei and tauhu goreng (deep-fried tofu) regained some of its reputation.

I am still considering whether to go back to RJ Ayam Penyet to sample its ayam penyet by specifically ask for thigh meat or drumstick. There's gotta be something at RJ Ayam Penyet that makes Kuchingites flocking there. What do you think?

Monday 12 December 2011

To Read or to Sleep

The main purpose for me to visit the Strahov Monastery is to see the Strahov Library. The library with the two Baroque halls is the largest monastic library in Czech Republic.

I paid 80 CZK for the admission ticket, but I was given a 50 CZK ticket which I think is the concession ticket. I didn't noticed that until I got back from my trip and studied the ticket in more detail. I wonder what had happened to the balance of 30 CZK!

The first thing that caught my eyes was the two-storey Philosophy Hall once I stepped into the lobby. Everybody is allowed to peek at the hall through the door only. Only V.I.P. guests can enter the hall. It is said that the humidity from visitors' breath may endanger the frescoes on the magnificent ceiling.

To take pictures here, there is an extra 50 CZK photo license. If you have forgotten to pay for it at the ticket counter, one of the prudish attendants there will stop you from taking any pictures until you pay them 50 CZK. They will stick a sticker stamped with the monastery's seal on you camera sling belt as proof of photo license. Once you have decided to leave, they will confiscate the sticker from you. I think that's to prevent the sticker to be passed around among other visitors. What a brilliant thought!

Further down the corridor from the lobby is another beautiful hall called the Theology Hall. The same restriction on visitors' entry to the hall applies here. Everyone is only allowed to peek at the hall from outside the door. The curved ceiling full of embossed carvings is a resemblance of today's moulded gypsum-board ceiling, but I believed they were hand-crafted at that time.

The ceiling is also adorned with beautiful frescoes depicting 'True Wisdom'. What an irreplaceable theme for a library!

When I looked up on the ceiling of the corridor, there was a fresco too, but definitely not as elaborate as the frescoes in the two halls.

Other than the two magnificent halls, ancient books and written artifacts are displayed along the corridor and lobby.

There is a documentary book from the 17th century with very beautiful drawings on it. Writers in the ancient time had to be good illustrators too.

There is a also a symbolic map from the 16th century depicting Europe as a virgin.

When I was about to leave the monastery, I saw two symbolic maps of Europe on the lawn!

Sunday 11 December 2011

This Nicholas is Not that Nicholas

In Prague, there are two St. Nicholas Churches. One is located at Old Town Square and the other at Lesser Town Square.

The one at Lesser Town Square is more prominent as it is considered as the most beautiful Baroque building in Prague. The more-than-70-m high cupola and the bell tower of equal height form an important part of Prague's skyline.

When I went to Prague 7 years ago, I remembered that I paid to go in to the church at Lesser Town Square. When I read my travel guidebook during my trip this year, I saw free-of-charge entry! I thought that was more than a bargain and happily went to the church expecting to have free entry. But I realised that I was wrong because I mistakenly referred to the entrance fee of the St. Nicholas Church at Old Town Square in the travel guidebook. I still paid up 70 CZK to gain permission to enter this St. Nicholas Church. What I got from the 70 CZK was a postcard-size ticket and a leaflet with more information about the church.

I didn't take many photos of the church 7 years ago as I did not have much memory storage for my digital camera, and was very careful with the shots from my film camera. This time round, I could finally fire the shots to my heart's content.

The church interior is adorned with many statues, giving it a very strong spiritual atmosphere. There are also very beautiful paintings on the dome and vaults with gilded frescoes at every corner. All there were done by the contemporary leading artists.

During the evening time, concerts are still held inside the church. Therefore, the pipe organ is still maintained to be in working condition. It is said that the organ was used by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during his part of life in Prague.

Paying 70 CZK to see all those was already worth the ticket price. Not to mention that there are actually more paintings, statues and frescoes in the chapels lining along both sides of the nave of the church.

When you are in Prague, don't miss out visiting this church as it is one of the churches with the most beautiful interior in Prague, or perhaps the most beautiful.

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