Being born and raised near San Francisco and living among its sizable Chinese population for most of my life, indulging in spicy Sichuan cooking, the sophisticated flavors of Cantonese, or the mouth-watering texture of delicately prepared Dim Sum was a regular part of my routine. Unfortunately, this is just not the way with Čínské bistros (many of them Vietnamese-owned) in Prague, where quality and authenticity takes second billing to cheap, substandard food. I’d almost given up on eating proper Chinese here, but after asking around a bit I learned of a few spots that were rumored to serve authentic, delicious Chinese food and went out searching for a taste of home.
Pujmanové 10, Praha 4
Open Daily 11:30-15:30;17:30-23:00
Peking Restaurant was described to me as “that huge Chinese place way up in Pankrac.” With 700m2 of space, it has got to be the biggest Chinese restaurant in Prague and perhaps the biggest Chinese restaurant I’ve ever been to. The menu had a nice variety of unique items. I started with the Fried Dumplings Filled with Pork (75 CZK for five pieces). These were wonderfully prepared, steamed then fried until crispy on the bottom, filled with a juicy ground pork meatball flavored with green onion and ginger.
The Crispy Lemon Duck (299 CZK) was a big step up from most Czech Chinese duck dishes, but still not a complete hit. It was crispy, as promised, but the flavor of the meat didn’t stand out, being a bit gamy and dry, and the lemon sauce was bland. The Sichuan Beef Boiled in Hot and Spicy Bouillon (199 CZK) was tender pieces of beef strips in a red broth with boiled Chinese cabbage. The only issue was that it lacked the spicy kick that one expects when eating Sichuan food. I have little doubt that this lack of spice reflects the typical Czech reluctance to eat anything that rates on the Scoville Scale.
Chinatown factor: The dumplings brought me back to my glory days of eating Chinese food in California, which made it worth the visit. Go to marvel at its sheer gargantuan size and neat koi pond.
Kyjevská 14, Prague 6-Dejvice
Open daily 10:30-22:30
Its non-descript exterior and abundance of generic Chinese wall art hardly distinguishes Guo Ji as a restaurant trying to lure customers in for quality food. But it came highly recommended, so I gave it a try, starting with the Peking Spring Roll (35 CZK for five pieces) and Fried Won Ton (45 CZK for seven pieces), items I had been looking forward to as they were favorites of mine back home. The spring roll looked like something you’d find in the supermarket frozen food section and was tasteless and without texture. The won ton was an unmitigated disaster, oily, burned, and unappealing.
But the main courses were a pleasant surprise. The Chicken with Roast Almonds (145 CZK) was crispy and delicious. It was delicate with an interesting sauce that was both salty and spicy, with an almond-flavored undertone. The best dish was definitely the Pork Satje (159 CZK), strips of succulent pork cooked with ginger, chili, sautéed onions, and pieces of broccoli that soaked up the flavors.
Chinatown factor: Guo Ji lower expectations from the beginning and then pleasantly exceeds them with well-prepared main dishes. I walked out happier than when I came in.
Yui Hui Sun
Open daily from 11:00-23:00
Sichuan flavors are characterized as bold, spicy, and unforgettably delicious, and as Yui Hui Sun was described as the place to get authentic Sichuan cooking, this was the restaurant I was most excited to try, my taste buds piqued by what was to come. Unfortunately what was to come was bad food. Starting with a simple dish of Shui- Tiao Stewed Dumplings (59 CZK for eight pieces), I was served cold dumplings filled with pork that seemed to be undercooked. I asked the waiter if this was normal, and after inspecting the plate and walking away with it, he decided that it was okay, and brought it back to the table. I didn’t risk taking a bite.
The Shredded Pork Szechuan Style (129 CZK) was a festive looking dish when it came out, with fresh green onions and red chili sprinkled over strips of pork. While the pork was fairly tender, the sauce was vinegary, not spicy, and had that gloopy texture that defines Chinese food in Prague. The Shacha Chicken (139 CZK) also looked promising, with chicken, carrots, and sautéed onions on a bed of crispy vermicelli—a welcome accoutrement I hadn’t seen in years—but the chicken was rubbery and the sauce basically thickened soy sauce.
Chinatown factor: The worst food and the most disappointing Chinese restaurant I’ve visited. Stick to the sweet and sour pork with French fries at your local Čínské bistro.
Anglicka 551/6, Prague 2
Open daily 10:00-22:30 (Sundays from 17:00)
The first thing you notice upon opening the massive leather-bound menu at Shanghai are the exotic dishes: Pork Lungs in Chili Sauce, Jelly Fish tossed with Scallion, Squirrel Shaped Steamed Reef Cod, Fried Eel Back. These were just a few of several items that caught my imagination, but unfortunately not my courage. I started with the Seafood Soup (65 CZK), an assortment of tasty sea creatures that revealed themselves in each spoonful, including mussels, crab, shrimp, and squid. It tasted of the sea, which is what you hope for when eating such a dish.
A bountiful plate of Beijing Duck (338 CZK) had crispy, savory skin and juicy rose-colored breast meat. It came with the typical julienned cucumber and spring onion, a bowl of sweet bean sauce, and the Chinese pancakes needed to pack in every ingredient before eating with your hands. The Pork with Preserved Vegetable (280 CZK) was a little too strange for my palate. The grayish slab of pork belly on a bed of black, undistinguishable chopped leafy vegetables was in a word, “sad”, both in appearance and taste. The Sichuan Spicy Boiled Fish (280 CZK), a bowl of bright red broth highlighted by the spicy trinity of chili oil, dried chili, and fresh chili, wasn’t overwhelmingly hot, and the delicate carp and refreshing crunch of fresh bean sprouts could still be enjoyed amidst the spice.
Chinatown factor: Anyone looking to go on a food adventure with a few wrong turns, as well as some unique discoveries should visit to Shanghai; super-exotic Chinese, perhaps beyond my pay grade as a humble Westerner.