By Patti Morrow
When people think of food in Prague they typically picture Czech goulash – chunks of beef heavily laden with gravy and served in a thick bread bowl; however, Sophia Smith has been working hard to change that perception. A British expat who moved to Prague sixteen years ago, Sophia brings a lighter, healthier, eye-appealing Asian spin to the meals she serves.
That Was Then…
Freedom to travel and the ability to discover and incorporate new cuisines into local cooking are relatively new concepts to Prague, the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic. Up until 1990 the country was still part of the Soviet bloc, as it wasn’t until 1989 that the controlling Communist government was peacefully deposed. In 1993 Czechoslovakia dissolved into the two Central European sovereign states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Sophia describes her early days in Prague as a “gastronomic desert.” She noticed there were many expats with pockets full of money. There was great excitement when a new eatery opened because it had been so difficult to get good food.
Instead of being a classically trained chef Sophia holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, but saw a need and niche opportunity in the city. She began her transition by running a café at the British Council which served homemade meals and baked goods.
“Prague people were very curious about food. I’d offer to make carrot cake, and they would be like ‘What? Cake with carrots?’ and wrinkle their noses,” Sophia says with a wry smile. “Now they’re clamoring for it, and cheesecake and red velvet. It’s changed a lot.”#Prague's culinary scene now features an Asian twist. #yum! Click To Tweet
Sophia has also seen similar changes at Cocina Rivero, a cooking school she’s been teaching at for five years. When she began people wouldn’t eat or cook with coriander. Now they crave the spice, especially laced with chili peppers.
Sophia attributes her own love of chilis to her childhood. Her first taste of the spicy substance on her lips came at the hands of an aunt. It was the Asian equivalent to washing a child’s mouth with soap, because of Sophia’s frequent use of the English adjective “bloody.” In time, she actually grew to enjoy it.
…This Is Now
Sophia puts her dynamic energy and culinary talents into various restaurants in Prague. Check out:
As she grew up in an eclectic Irish-Asian kitchen, Sophia receives many requests to do Asian food. But she insists it’s not fusion, as she doesn’t see the point.
“Like making crème brûlée with lemongrass in it when the traditional crème brûlée is better,” she explains. “I do Asian food, but I make it more contemporary, a little bit lighter but zesty, with a lot of melding flavors and appetizing presentation.”
Sophia became head chef at the small indoor/outdoor Café Buddha a year ago. At the time they were serving Thai food, but the owner wanted to update the menu. Sophia came on board and designed the offerings, apart from the sushi rolls. The menu includes a three-course lunch special with pick-and-choose delights. When I dined at Cafe Buddha I chose Prawn and Crab Kanom Jeeb (steamed Thai dumplings), Jungle Curry Seafood (spicy curry without coconut milk), and Watermelon and Strawberry Granita (a semi frozen dessert), with a glass of Prosecco for good measure. The food was punched with flavor and textures.Heading to #Prague? Don't miss the delicious #cooking of Chef Sophia Smith! #eat Click To Tweet
Sexy Curry Company
Perhaps it’s because spices like cardamom, ginger, chili and lemongrass claim to have an aphrodisiacal effects the partakers, but how can you go wrong with a name like that? Sophia started the Sexy Curry Company as a delivery and takeaway option at the James Joyce Irish pub. The highlight: authentic curries from all around the world, with Sophia’s team blending their own spices and making the curry paste.
Sophia has taken Sexy Curry to the Prague Food Festival, located in the grounds of the fairytale-looking Prague Castle. Their first year they were one of the top three restaurants.
The James Joyce Irish Pub was recently sold, making the Sexy Curry Company temporarily homeless. Due to popular demand there is no doubt Sexy Curry will find a brick-and-mortar residence in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled for this.
It’s easy to understand why Sophia loves living in Pragua. The historical capital of Bohemia, it’s one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, with sites like the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, the Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, and the Jewish Quarter. The stunning architecture includes the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras.
Compared to the frenzy of London, Sophia’s life is a lot less stressful. It only takes her a half-hour to get to work, and the transportation system is great.
One of her favorite things about Prague is the abundance of food and drink festivals which seem to happen “every five minutes.” Event focuses range from cheesecake to beer to finger foods and beyond, with any given ingredient seemingly celebrated at some time or another.
“My favorite is The Street Food Jam at Cross Club,” says Sophia. “It’s funky, there is live music, and people just hang out and enjoy. And they give a percentage of their profits to charity – I like that.” The festival takes place every two weeks. While Cross Club was once considered an “alternative” area, it has been revitalized and is now clean and attractive.
A Healthy Future For Prague
Sophia’s light cooking style pairs perfectly with Prague’s focus on wellness. Yoga is particularly popular, with over a dozen yoga studios within a 15-minute walk of Cafe Buddha. Yogaspace offers English classes that are mainly Vinyasa yoga flow, and the Iyengar Yoga Institute uses a teaching method of Hatha yoga that is known worldwide as Iyengar yoga.
There are also more than 200 miles of cycle routes and about 75 miles of cycle paths zig-zaging through Prague. Among the many enterprises that focus on cycling in Prague are Cyklojízda and Auto*Mat, both of which exhibit great enthusiasm and support for this type of transport.
“I am intoxicated by people simply enjoying themselves,” says Sophia.
And she’s doing a great job making sure the locals and tourists in Prague do that very thing; enjoy themselves to the fullest.
What are your favorite restaurants in Prague? Please share in the comments below!Did you know #Prague has a #healthy eating & #wellness side? Click To Tweet
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