Written by Elizabeth A. Haas
Cooking in the Czech Republic can either be liberating (who needs a recipe when you don´t get the metric system?) or maddening (so many substitutions can spoil even the most tried-and-true dish). I cast my vote for the former - these little challenges make for better chefs - but certain styles of cooking demand the real deal. When you can´t bear to substitute a spice, sauce, or other ingredient, specialty food shops are the way to go.
That said, Prague´s supermarkets stock an okay array of international goodies, things like Mexican fixings (tortillas, salsa, fajita kits) and standard Asian; bottled and packaged flavors from far-flung places. These days you can even get coconut milk at the city´s most out-of-the-way Albert and, on an even more exotic note, Campbell´s Tomato Soup. Tesco´s International Foods aisle edges out the supermarket competition; you´ll also find baking staples like vanilla extract here.
Other Prague mainstays are also a surprising source of imported sweets and savories. Though its primary business is clothes, Marks and Spencer (Václavské náměstí 36) boasts a gourmet treats department; here you´ll find delicious pasta sauces, Fairtrade coffee and tea, English biscuits, marinades, and frozen food. Vietnamese-run greengrocers are also hot spots for specialty fare. Mini Market (Dejvická 8) in Prague 6 sells huge bags of jasmine rice and other Asian favorites - noodles, fish sauces, and the like.
Dejvická is actually a random melting pot of specialty food shops. Hop off Metro Line A at the ‘Hradčanská´ stop and take a stroll down Bubenečská. Falafel take-out/ grocery joint, Marhaba Gril (Bubenečská 10), stocks staples of Middle Eastern cuisine like tahini. Overpriced Russian liquor and delicacies - and bootlegged DVDs - await you at the Russian Shop (Jaselská 8). Head up the street a stretch to JAPA (Puškinovo nám. 10, www.japa-shop.cz), for sticky rice and other key ingredients required for DIY sushi.
Spice seekers should stop off at Žizkov´s Shalimar (Lipanská 1), a Pakistani shop that carries mustard seed, curry leaf, corriander, and more, whole instead of ground. Botanicus, (Týnský dvůr 3; Michalská 2, www.botanicus.cz ) known best for it´s sweet- smelling lotions and potions, also devotes shelf space to spices. The city´s organic food stores (see our article here) carry a modest selection of spices but you´ll pay a bit more. The inventory at Thai´s Asian Food Store (Gorazdova 3, www.asianfood.cz) represents a diverse number of countries -Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and India - and goes well beyond the spice trade: pick up rice, noodles, canned goods, sauces, oils, and hard-to-find fresh herbs and veggies like cilantro, Thai basil, sweet basil, fresh chili, banana leaf, and Asian okra. Farah Oriental Market (Myslíkova 5, www.ita.cz/farah) is a fabulous find: bins brimming with spices of the Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Indian variety, shelves sagging with canned goods and sweets, and deli cases stocked with fresh, glistening
meat (the lamb chops are popular among shop-goers)! The carnivorous will also salivate over English butcher Robertson Fine Foods´ (Jugoslávských partyzánů 38, Nuselská 60, www.robertson.cz) staggering selection of imported meats. Everything from bacon to Oxtail to stewing beef as well as chops, steaks, and sausages. English expats will appreciate the extensive offering of pickle, imported cheeses, spreads, and beers and bevvies. For those who keep kosher, The Jewish Community Center Kosher Butcher (Maiselova 18) can accomodate you given 3 days notice. Fresh seafood, on order from Japan and France, is the name of the game at the Seafood Shop (Zborovská 49, www.seafood.cz).
When the munchies take hold, load up on comfort food, and rent a movie to boot, at Video Gourmet (Jakubská 12, opposite Red Hot and Blues). American junk food (Oreos, Duncan Hines mixes, Crisco, root beer, and bacon) round out the offerings. Also one of the few places where you can pick up corn tortillas, albeit frozen ones. Gourmet deli and imported foods shop Culinaria (Skořepka 9, www.culinaria.cz) is a bit more upscale in its snackey selection (though I hardly believe that V8 qualifies as an ‘artisan´ drink as suggested on their web site) with American favorites (peanut butter and Kraft Dinner) - as well as French and Italian yummies - luring hordes of homesick expats inside.
The wine and cheese set won´t want for much here in Prague. U Závoje (Havelská 25, www.uzavoje.cz) is a syr-lover´s paradise. Choose from over 80 varieties of cheese from France (Brie de Meaux, Comté, Morbier), Italy (Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Parmigiano, Asiago, Fontina) and beyond (smelly Stilton from England, Denmark cheddar, Greek feta, etc.). The staff will help you pair your selection with a nice vintage from Italy or France. ReGourmet (Římská 29; Italská 12, www.regourmet.cz) stocks similar wares alongside imported pasta and espresso. The pioneers at Fruits de France (Jindřišská 9) were the first to import quality products from abroad post-Revolution. Still a thriving business today, this little-shop-that-could is an oasis of fresh produce, cheese, and wine, with a handful of tables at the back for sipping and nibbling. Pricey, but if good eating is a top priority, a worthwhile splurge.