Cold Comfort

Hearty food as self-medication for the long winter.

Yep, it’s cold. Friggin’ cold. There’s a dry, arctic chill seeping into your bones.
The sky outside reminds one of Chernobyl. To make matters worse, you have a hacking
cough and your own personal cloud of smog follows you around. The celluloid charm
of snowflakes falling silently upon a hundred spires wore off sometime after midnight
on Jan. 1, and I’m afraid the sun’s not coming out until May. Welcome to Prague
flu season.

Perhaps you really do have the flu. Or perhaps you suffer from sunlight deprivation,
or carpal tunnel syndrome, or a really nasty hangover, or an acute case of the
blahs. Whatever. Times like these call for one thing: comfort food.

Yes, you could try one of the homegrown remedies: chicken soup, ginger ale, Becherovka,
Benedryl, nine cloves of raw garlic followed by nine hours of sleep. But for all
they’re worth, these will only serve to reinforce the idea that you’re sick. (Besides,
you can’t get Benedryl here.) I heed the advice given to me when I moved to Prague
by an American expat from Warsaw, a city with a Stygian gloom that makes Prague
seem like Casablanca: Never admit that you’re sick, and you’ll never get sick.
It works. In six years of living in Prague, I’ve been laid up in bed with fevers
so high you could fry an egg on my forehead. But I’ve never been sick.

Subsist not on microwaved Herme-lín and frozen pizza. Get yourself to a warm,
comfortable restaurant, a tried-and-true mainstay, or a forgotten favorite. Avoid
anything too out-of-the-ordinary, or the crowded here-to-be-seen hotspots, lest
people actually see you and remark on your ashen countenance. The best way to
make yourself better is to make yourself feel better, and the best way to do that
is to put good food in your tummy – warm, hearty food that will stick to your

Lipids are okay, but don’t make your digestive system work too hard. Don’t fret
about nutrients and all that new-fangled crap, but also don’t try to drown your
viruses in alcohol, either. Strike a balance. Enjoy a drink or two, at most, and
take Mattoni or juice for the rest of the evening. And remember, it could be worse.
You could be in Minsk.

Radost FX

Bělehradská 120, P2

Tel.: 222 513 144

Open daily 11am-around 3am

If you’re intimidated by contrived cool, you may already deem Radost FX too hip
for its own good. But after all these years, this is still one of my all-around
favorite restaurants. Radost knows the hallmarks of a good menu: short, navigable,
with dishes ranging from the tempting invention to the tasty standard.

Radost still boasts one of the only full-on meatless menus in town. Talk about
striking a balance: A rich, flavorful veggie meal like the FX Tofu Sloppy Joe
makes you feel both healthy and alive – a stunning achievement. Mind you, far
from perfect, lest the knowledgeable reader think I’m being overly generous.
The kitchen sometimes overcooks the tofu until it has the consistency of rubber,
but the heartiness of the dish, topped with raw onions, more than compensates.
The service is wildly inconsistent – same as it ever was. Don’t expect to leave
in a hurry. But then, if life were perfect, you wouldn’t be sick to begin with,
now would you? (Oops! Sorry. You’re not sick. You’re just feeling a bit icky,
that’s all.) All-out disasters are few and far between, and prices of most main
dishes fall well below 150 Kč.

If you’re convinced that tofu is for wimps, try one of the black bean dishes,
Thai vegetables or the Medi-terranean baked bread. The latter features all the
best things in life – roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, black olives and rich
sheep’s cheese – drizzled with olive oil and layered on focaccia bread. Take one
of these together with one of the daily soups. Soup, true to Campbell’s propaganda,
actually is good food, especially when your system needs a thaw or the main objective
is getting it down your esophagus.

It’s best to give yourself some space here. Avoid the overcrowded front dining
area in the front, where you’re sure to infect one of the other guests, and rest
your cold and aching bones on one of the sofas in the back lounge.

Chez Marcel

Hatalská 12, P1

Tel.: 222 315 676

Open Mon.-Fri. 8am-1am, Sat.-Sun. 9am-1am

New location in Vinohrady:

Americká 20, P2

Tel.: 222 514 165

Open daily 11am-midnight

Chez Marcel is arguably the most “authentic” ethnic restaurant in Prague, for
lack of a better word. The vibe is that of a family-run neighborhood bistro anywhere
in France – nothing more, nothing less. You’re likely to find the manager and
owner, Alberto, playing backgammon at one of the tables. Alberto’s an old hand,
running Chez Marcel for eight years now. He’ll mostly leave you to your beer and
frites, but the man has eyes, and a memory: He surprised me recently by asking
if I was still writing for Prague Business Journal, a stint that ended eons ago.

Critics have accused Chez Marcel’s kitchen of cooking the life out of its food.
It’s true that the owners’ forays into haute cuisine, such as nearby Le Jules
Verne or Brasserie Le Moliere (formerly occupying the space in Vinohrady) have
not been gastronomic successes. But that’s not what Chez Marcel is about. This
is humble noshing in relaxed surroundings, with a selection of simple sandwiches,
moderately prices quiches, chicken and fries, or grilled steak, with prices topping
out at about 200 Kč. If it’s on the specials board, settle into one of the cushioned
booths and go for the moule frites with a glass of table wine or Cote-du-Rhone.

Molly Malone’s

U obecního dvora 4, P1

Tel.: 224 818 851

Open daily 11am-2am

Representing the Anglo-Celtic contingent, Molly’s weighs in as one of the oldest
Irish pubs in Prague, long forgotten by many long-term expats. Despite being somewhat
overpriced, she’s ripe for rediscovery, especially on days cold and drear.

Hidden on one of the more forlorn streets in Old Town, you’ll find Molly’s well-nigh
empty around mid-day, but for a delightful Czech-Scottish waitress named Petra
who calls you “luv.” It’s a cozy nook, decked out with the trappings of the “traditional”
Irish pub: wooden benches, sewing machines doubling as tables and the exhortations
to drink more Guinness. But with its worn wooden floors, fireplace and inviting
loft, there’s a country-cottage warmth about this place that’s lacking in other
pseudo-Gaelic joints.

Most importantly, somebody there knows how to cook. If you can stomach the pork,
warm up to an Irish stew, thick with chunks of meat and potato. Or try the fish
and chips (expensive, at 200 Kč, but worth the splurge). It’s not the traditional
recipe. The classic is battered, not breaded like this one, but it does make for
less unwanted grease. Molly’s fries, cut by hand with the skins left on, are probably
the best between here and Vladivostok – an honor I previously would have bestowed
on Chez Marcel.

This is also one of the only places in Prague that makes a proper English/Irish
breakfast, served all day (250 Kč). Homesick Brits and Hibernians can browse a
selection of British and Irish Sunday newspapers. It’s enough to make you feel
like you’re back home with Mum, idling in your slippers and bathrobe, eating blood
sausage and toast with Marmite.

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