Get ready for some unusual shopping.
Michael and I needed some fresh coriander for a recipe we wanted to make. While Prague has some large and wonderful supermarkets such as Tesco, Albert or Aldi, none had fresh coriander a.k.a. cilantro. However we had heard, via the grapevine, of a great Vietnamese market – someplace out of town. So the challenge was on! Where on earth was this market? And what was it called?
My “beagle nose” went directly to the internet and asked Google. WOW! That was almost too easy! Words like “Little Hanoi”, “Vietnamese Markets”, and “SAPA” flew onto the first page. From then on it was easy. Using my “how to get there” notes from the SAPA site our evening was spent analyzing the map of the Metro stops and bus lines. We were excited as it was billed as the Largest Vietnamese Market in Prague.
It turned out to be easy to find the correct Metro and then get the bus, but somehow WHERE to get off left us slightly bewildered. During the trip many Vietnamese also got on and Michael smartly said, “Where they get off, we will too”! HIS beagle nose was working! And he was totally correct! The entire busload of Asians got off and we did too. I saw the huge sign: SAPA!
It was a short walk from the bus to the entrance which was not very pretty being mostly sheet metal walls and the first block seemed mostly to be empty buildings. The day was cloudy with the constant threat of rain and I was fighting the feeling of wishing we hadn’t come. Suddenly we turned the corner and found ourselves standing before streets of tiny buildings and a huge area of canvas type stalls. WOW!
The fish markets were full of strange looking fish. Most of which were alive and swimming in deep vats. Some were on ice. Some were dried. The smells were a bit overpowering at times with aromas I was not use to.
Next were the green grocers and little markets, row after row of them. Selling the most interesting items which looked very strange to my eyes. However, it was in such a shop that we found our fresh coriander!
Next came acres of clothing stalls . . . all under canvas roofs. It almost felt like the fair grounds I use to go to at the Oregon State Fair. Each stall seemed to be independent from the other. The owners (or helpers) were standing in coats and gloves with only a small heater to warm them. Many got delivery service from the local restaurants such as hot tea and bowls of soup. I imagine it made a cold day seem better! And as in most family businesses, little kids were playing around.
These stalls sell amazing things – all on the affordable/cheap side. Perfect for me because I only wanted a simple knit hat to match my winter jacket. I found not only one but two that were perfect! Most of the Vietnamese do not speak English, and very little Czech and I don’t speak Vietnamese or Czech, so language was a slight problem. Bargaining is expected which for me is not a pleasant aspect of any purchase. Imagine trying to come to an agreeable price using strange languages and an adding machine! But I managed to knock off a few koruna! We walked for what seemed like miles, looking at clothing, knockoff perfumes, household items, toys, Vietnamese music and newspapers, most of which is imported either from Vietnam or China.
After all that walking we began to have hunger pangs and realized we were quite late for lunch. I learned when reading about SAPA that the restaurants here offer some of the best Vietnamese food to be found in all of the Czech Republic. The smells coming out of the tiny restaurants were to die for! We chose one and ordered a Vietnamese specialty: a bowl of Pho, which is soup in a fragrant broth with rice noodles, floating with pieces of either beef or chicken pieces, cilantro and spring onions. Delicious!
It was a great day full of interesting discoveries and we hated to leave but told each other we would definitely come again. I would suggest this as a site to see in Prague!
Later Discovery: SAPA occupies the grounds of a former slaughterhouse and also houses a primary school and a Buddhist temple, beauty salons, a casino and travel agents for various Asian countries. It is named after a town of the same name in northern Vietnam.
How we went: Take bus 113 from metro Kacerov or bus 198 from Smichovske nadrazi bus station to Sidlisce Pisnice.
SAPA is open daily from 9:00-20:00