Written by Laura Baranik
You´re strolling down the aisle in your neighborhood Delvita when an unfamiliar product label catches your eye. You examine the box/bottle/tin can, but you can´t really figure out exactly what´s inside without consulting your dictionary. Everyone else seems to be picking it up though, and it is cheaper than the German equivalent sitting just nearby. Do you risk purchasing it and taking it home? Or do you place it back on the shelf and buy the safe Western product you know so well?
Since the Velvet Revolution, native Czech products have become increasingly scarce - though a few of them remain popular classics to this day. To help you recognize which ones to grab and which to avoid, Expats.cz has compiled a list of some of the most common Czech favorites.
The dairy industry is one of the areas where Czech products have retained much of their presence. Brands such as Olomouc-based Olma make yoghurts and yoghurt drinks as well as milk and butter. As far as sýry go, there are a few different types of Czech cheese: parenica (string cheese that comes either smoked or unsmoked), tvaroh (quark), and olomoucké syrečky (round moldy cheeses), all produced by various brands. Lučina is a close equivalent to American cream cheese (though Gervais, made by French company Danone, is also a good substitute).
Many Czech parents serve their kids tvaroh-based puddings as snacks. Some of these are Pribináček, Termix, and Tvaroháček. Another popular children´s dessert is Bobík, made by the company Kapucín.
Chocolates and Sweets
The most famous names in Czech chocolate are Orion (known as the “blue star”) and Opavia, though Orion is now part of Nestlé and Opavia has been bought by Danone. Candy bars such as Margot, Milena, and Kofila are still sold under the Orion name; Lentilky, which are equivalent to Smarties in the U.K. and Canada, are also sold by Nestlé. Opavia manufactures Fidorky, a round, chocolate-covered wafer, Tatranky, a rectangular chocolate-covered wafer, and childhood favorite Dětské Piškoty, which are small, ladyfinger-like cookies. Figaro is a popular brand of bonbons here, though the company is actually Slovak.
A few classic Czech ice creams still remain, among them Lednáček, Eskimo, and Míša (made by the company Nanuk). These are all milk ice cream bars, but Agrimex makes Jahodová dřen (strawberry pulp), a delicious sorbet that comes in little cups, and a bar called Jahody v čokoláde (strawberry sorbet in chocolate).
We all know that beer is the national beverage, but what about non-alcoholic drinks? Mattoni is the ubiquitous Czech mineral water; more and more, however, it is being replaced by brands such as Coca-Cola´s Bonaqua. Other Czech waters include Dobrá voda (Good Water), Korunní, and Poděbradka.
The national alternative to Coca-Cola is Kofola, which comes in original and citrus flavors - but it might taste a little odd to foreigners used to the big Western cola brands. Kofola also makes a soft drink reminiscent of champagne called Top & Topic.
Czech juice brands such as Toma and Hello tend to be rather disappointing; you´re better off sticking with the German products here. But Kubík makes various tasty juices and nectars for children, often mixing carrots with other fruits and vegetables.
Other Food Products
Czech ketchup (kečup) tends to be different from Western brands like Heinz - they are usually sweeter and more watery. There are some good mustards though, such as those made by Kand, which come in sweet, French, herbal, or extra-spicy varieties. The most typical kind of Czech mustard, though, is kremžská, which is made with horseradish. Companies such as Vitana and Maggi are known for their instant soups and bouillon cubes (in Czech, a “Maggi kostka” is synonymous with “stock cube,” just as brand-name “Band-Aid” is used interchangeably with “bandage” in English). Bohemia Chips are Czech potato chips that are cheap but rather greasier and saltier than most Western brands.
Beauty and Toiletries
There are many excellent and generally inexpensive Czech toiletry products. One of the most classic is Alpa´s Francovka, a sort of general cure-all rubbing water that many Czechs still swear by. Indulona is a great cream for hands that is also a traditional Czech favorite.
Karlovy Vary-based company Vřídlo makes various herbal toiletries, including arnica and camphor creams, while Dermacol produces a full range of creams and make-up. Astrid specializes in sun block and various other creams and lip balms. For young children, Milli makes excellent, gentle products such as baby oil, baby powder, and baby shampoo.