Numerically speaking, the Indian community is one of the smallest minority groups in the Czech Republic. However, in recent years their presence has become more visible, due in part to the growth of Indian restaurants and increasing local awareness of India’s many cultures, traditions, and customs.
It would be unfair to reduce the 500-strong community just to food. According to the Indian embassy, the majority of Indian people here are professionals. They work for companies in the manufacturing and information technology sector.
Remember when we say India we’re talking about a vast country with a great range of cultures, customs, and languages. Twenty-two languages are given official status, either at the federal or state level, in the constitution. However, according to Manjeet Malik, the president of the Indian-Czech Joint Chamber of Commerce, most Indian people here can speak Hindi.
Malik is in a good position to offer thoughts on the Indian community. He has lived here for almost ten years and runs a consultancy firm. He is here partly for personal reasons: his wife is Czech. But he has also found other reasons to stay.
“The Czech Republic has a lot to offer. There is culture and history, and it’s a good place to raise a child,” he said. Being the father of a seven year old, Malik should know.
Having a Czech spouse is obviously an advantage in terms of assimilating. Expats from other nations already know this. When you marry into a Czech family, it can give you a foothold, not to mention a chance to learn the language.
Malik doesn’t think that language is the only key. He said, “language is never a barrier. It’s you yourself.” He went on to explain that it a person’s approach will influence how they interact in their new home.
Sanjeev Wadehra has been in the Czech Republic since the nineties. Coming from a hospitality background, Wadehra chose the Czech Republic because he saw an opportunity to start an Indian restaurant since at the time the city had only three others. He also took over the Savic Hotel and the Restaurace u Dominíka in 1995.
Wadehra found Czech essential in the early days of his stay. “When I came, I didn’t understand a word of Czech, other than dobrý den. The people in the offices didn’t speak English.” Since then, he has learned. His son, who has been here since he was six, is fluent, and the two sometimes speak Czech together.
Over time, Mr. Wadehra has seen little change in the government offices, in that he still needs Czech to deal with them. As for ordinary people, he is more positive. “The coming generation is quite well educated. They speak English.”
He admits that he experienced some xenophobia when he first arrived. Now, the situation has improved. “What I can see, it’s not a problem. The Czech market can see that if we have a business we are giving employment to a lot of people. All together I have 35 people here. With the time it’s changing,” he said.
Jayant Sarkar is a relative newcomer to Prague. He spent some time here in 2006 then returned in 2010 after a stay in London to open The Pind. “I thought to myself, let’s open up a restaurant in Prague. My view is that Prague needs some good Indian food. It’s not easy to find in Prague. Or there are some Indian restaurants, but they are really expensive.”
For Sarkar, speaking Czech is perhaps not as important. His staff is Indian and his clientele mostly expat. That Sarkar can live here and use English is also an indication of how much Prague has changed since the nineties.
All three men retain connections to their roots both in terms of language and faith. Sarkar said, “I’m Indian, I am Hindu. I respect the culture and my religion.”
For Wadehra, maintaining his faith is also important. He said, “As a Hindu, I pray every morning.” The lack of a Hindu temple in Prague is not an impediment to worship. “God is in your heart. We don’t have to go to the temple or church.”
Malik shared this personal view. He said, “In my heart I’m always Indian.”
Having said that, the men miss aspects of home. For Malik, it is the hot weather. Wadehra misses certain foods which are not readily available here, such as fresh okra (lady’s fingers), or the ingredients to make some Indian desserts.
Which leads us to food. As stated before, it would be wrong to reduce the Indian community to its cuisine. However, given its popularity it would be an oversight not to mention it. From the time of the earliest Indian restaurants in the nineties, the number of establishments have grown from three to over thirty. Some of them you’ll find here.
Wadehra thinks that now is a boom time for Indian food in Prague, but the growth has been slow. While expats have contributed to this in part, he thinks that it has also come from local demand. The proof of this is that not all the restaurants are located in the tourist areas.
His restaurant, Indian Jewel, is located in the Old Town at Týn 6, very close to Old Town Square. They apparently get a lot of business from locals at lunch, with more foreigners at night. The restaurant is cozy, the service great and the food delicious, especially the Lamb Rogan Josh, which has plenty of fresh coriander. This restaurant is one for a spicy and stylish night out.
The Pind at Korunní 67 in Vinohrady received a very positive review from Brewsta and mostly positive reviews from expats.cz members. The vindaloo is especially spicy and Sarkar always makes sure customers get what they want.
Another popular place in Vinohrady is Masala, which you can find at Mánesova 13. Many people comment on this place for its affordability as well as the taste of the meals.
This is just a snapshot of what Prague has to offer in terms of Indian dining. Which one is the tastiest or the most authentic is going to be a lengthy debate. As for where Indian people chose to dine, Sarkar said he suspected most probably cooked at home.
If you want to try that yourself, Shalamar at Lipanská 3 in Prague 3 sells a range of ingredients. Also in Prague 3 is Lahore at Husitská 34 in the same premises as a clothing shop. Both stores supply restaurants as well as individuals.
Zahid Rashid, one of the owners of Shalamar, said that they get a lot of expats, especially British people, as well as Czechs who are vegetarian.
Further options, depending on your desired location include Pakwaan, Tandoor, Dilli Delhi, and Golden Tikka all of which will also offer an authentic experience. It will then be up to you to choose your favorite.
As the saying goes, man cannot live on bread alone, even if it is garlic naan. Citizens of Prague are perhaps already partly familiar with Diwali, or the festival of lights, which this year runs from 13th to 17th of November. For the first time this year, Holi, or the festival of colors, will be celebrated with a public concert called Holi Show on March 2nd. The Indian–Czech Joint Chamber of Commerce is arranging a program with dance and music. Tickets are available through Ticketpro.
You don’t have to wait for these special events to experience Indian culture. The Embassy of India’s Cultural Center has courses on traditional Indian dance, Bollywood dance and Yoga.
For cinema buffs, the Bollywood Film Festival is set to run from the 15th to 21st October 2012. They have a Facebook page so that you can keep abreast of the latest updates. If October is too far away, Shalamar have a small selection of Bollywood Films.
Speaking of films, the Indian film Rockstar was partly set in Prague, so the two nations are coming together in more ways than one.
As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts!