Hot or Not: Test Your Curry IQ

What's in a true curry? What exactly is"kari"? Where is the oldest curryhouse in Prague? Staff

Written by Staff Published on 06.06.2014 09:21:41 (updated on 06.06.2014) Reading time: 3 minutes

Despite the fact that, for many Czechs, curry was, before 1989, primarily a non-descript powder (“kari”) used to color rice, Indian cuisine in the Czech Republic and especially Prague, where Indian restaurants thrive, has many devotees today.

H.E. Mr. V. Ashok, the Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic, chalks this up to the many common threads shared between Czech and Indian culture. “Czechs are very fond of all things Indian including spiritualism, yoga, Ayurveda, music, dance, and, of course, cuisine. The large number of restaurants serving Indian and South Asian food is testimony to the growing Czech appreciation of the cuisine of the region of South Asia,” he says.

Vintage Czech curry powder
Vintage Czech curry powder

One of the first Indian restaurants in Prague, Indicke Restaurace Mayur, on Štěpánská, recognizable for its bold facade next to the elegant Art nouveau Palác Lucerna, was opened in 1978. A few pricey Indian restaurants followed in the 1990s, but some of Prague’s best Indian restaurants have only opened in recent years (2001-2005) with The Pind (2011) laying claim to being the first “5-star Indian restaurant in Prague with an ‘authentic’ chef”.

To date one can find in Prague sit-down Indian curryhouses and buffets, Indian take-out counters, and plenty of vegetarian Indian restaurants – which makes sense given that the most frequent patrons of the city’s curryhouses, in addition to some of the local Indian community’s 500-plus members, are Czech vegetarians. There are now upwards of 30 Indian restaurants in Prague, most of them serving the dishes of the north, prepared in a sauce with herbs, spices, and chilies and given the generic name “curry”: butter chicken, korma, vindaloo, rogan josh.

Indian restaurant Mayur is one of the oldest in Prague
Indian restaurant Mayur is one of the oldest in Prague


“The way I see it, there are [two groups of Czechs],” says Prague-based Indian food blogger Aditya Bhagat who started his blog My Indian Kitchen in response to what he saw as an overwhelming increase in interest toward Indian food among his friends. “One group knows the basic terms and tastes of Indian dishes and where to shop for ingredients. Others think that all Indian cuisine is spicy and may cook an Indian-style dish at home which the help of ‘kari’ spice.”

But Aditya defines true curry as, “A gravy or sauce made by cooking meat or vegetables with a thickening agent and a combination of spices.” He says that the variety of spices used can be extensive but that chili, cumin, coriander, and turmeric are the most common. Other basic ingredients are a paste of garlic, ginger, and onion, or yoghurt, cream, and ground nuts.

A classic curry: murgh makhani, or butter chicken
A classic curry: murgh makhani, or butter chicken

Czechs – and expats – who fall into that second category, might be surprised to discover that traditional Czech and Indian cuisinses aren’t so dissimilar. Says Aditya: “In Czech cusine spices are also important. These spices are not as strong as the Indian ones but still give good flavour to the food. The sauce is similar, too. And Czech dishes are often served with a nice aromatic and tasty sauce.”

He sees rogan josh (a deep red curry of braised lamb chunks cooked in a gravy of onion and spices) in particular as strikingly similar to that mainstay of Czech pub menus, goulash. “In Czech goulash, bell pepper is used to make the gravy which is not common for us but the final dish bears a strong resemblance to rogan josh and can be served with rice.”

Czech goulash cousin rogan josh
Czech goulash cousin rogan josh

While the Czech capital may be in the grips of India-mania with food, culture, and Bollywood film fests taking place annually, new tour companies specializing in trips to India on motorbike, and rickshaws tooling around Prague, the kinship between the two cultures runs deeper than just a passing trend (Ambassador Ashok notes the similarities in grammar and words in Czech and Sanskrit and the Czech practice of removing their shoes upon entering the house). But it is definitely curry that ignites the country’s passion for the Asian subcontinent. 

Expats, too, especially those who hail from Britain and other countries with a sizeable Indian population, have enthusiastically greeted the rise of Prague curryhouses and opinions on this site and elsewhere over the city’s best curry are often debated with as much heat as a proper vindaloo.

We invite you to join the debate by voting in our Best Curry in Prague poll, the second in our “best of” series. Your vote automatically enters you in the running to win a 5,000 CZK gift voucher to the Indian-inspired furniture showroom Navsarishop, a trip to Berlin, or vouchers for the winning Indian restaurant.

Vote today!

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