Story and photo by Billy O’Hare
There may be a Chinese restaurant on every corner in Prague, but not all are as good as Zahrada.
It is hard to walk more than two of this city’s cobblestone blocks without squinting at blindingly fluorescent picture menus offering sub-par Chinese cuisine.
I have been told that the restaurants are mostly owned by Vietnamese entrepreneurs, and that their formula of offering cheap and identical versions of chicken bits with icky noodles, across the capital, has been financially successful.
After deciding that rubbery meat with vaguely salty sauce was not my thing, I gave up on Chinese food in the Czech Republic. But I had given up too soon. Zahrada was waiting.
Take any tram two stops uphill from Strossmayerovo Namesti in Prague 7, and this Chinese delight is only one block away, ready to wash away the bad taste of Prague’s lesser Chinese joints.
The neighborhood alone is worth a visit, with no shortage of bars and eateries. It is like a smaller version of Bleecker Street in Manhattan, but with fewer NYU students hogging space.
Outside, Zahrada looks festive— especially around Christmas, when holiday lights share space with oriental lamps. It’s no palace, but compared to the typical Czech Chinese place, Zahrada is straight up sexy.
I sat at a table with a view: an aquarium packed with exotic marine life, and beyond that, playful children engaged in a game of patty cake.
It was a pleasure to read about the dishes in a menu, instead of being repulsed by a fluorescent list of pictures. I was also surprised by the flavor. Each dish tasted as if the ingredients were meticulously chosen, not carelessly tossed in.
We started with chicken dumplings, some fried and some steamed. Both were very pleasing. There was no bad meat, flavorless sauce, or unrecognizable vegetables—this meal was looking promising.
For the main course, I ordered Kung Pao chicken. I was not disappointed.
Maybe it’s that I just don’t order the dish much, but I think that this was the best I have had in a while, not just in Prague. Each part of the plate—vegetables, chicken, and nuts—played its part magnificently. It tasted spicy and tangy, without losing either sensation in the mix.
My more adventurous friend ordered duck with pineapple and sweet and sour sauce. She loved it. The sauce and pineapple melded perfectly with the well-prepared duck breast.
After our meal, I experienced bliss. Our waiter caught us on our way out and handed us miniature bottles of plum wine, a Chinese tradition.
The gesture, though small, was powerful for me. The thought that a server in the Czech Republic would give me something, not just free of charge, but with a smile on his face, made my day. I put Zahrada on the short list of places I won’t soon forget after I say farewell to Prague.
The restaurant brings Czechs and Chinese together, if only briefly, for delicious cuisine not readily accessible in Prague. And it well exceeds the low standard set by Prague’s many Chinese eateries.
Zahrada is not out of the way, but it can take several trams to reach if you are coming from across town in Prague 2. But not to worry, the plum wine has a screw top, so you will be able to drink it on the long way home.