The sound of crackling grease mixed with the hum of the stove fan as a meaty smell filled the kitchen. I was frying up what we call back home Italian sausage, though I dare say the Italians just call it sausage. Whatever you call it, it’s a rare Prague find that I’ll savor down to the last crunchy morsel stuck to the frying pan.
I have Jiří Jelínek, owner of Wine Food Market, to thank for this unexpected treat. Mr. Jelinek has been supplying the Czech Republic with specialty Italian products—from truffle butter to octopus ink pasta—for five years now, and he’s done it with style.
In 2007, he opened a small Italian shop in Průhonice, and after recognizing its success, he opened Wine Food Market in 2010. A year later, he added on the bakery and market. Now you can enjoy their Italian food in four different locations: Průhonice, Smíchov, Ovocný Trh, and Dejvice, although the widest selection is still found in the Smíchov branch.
I decided to make the trek to Smíchov, and the closer I got to Plzeňka tram stop, the more my mouth watered in anticipation. Of all the culinary-fueled travelling I’ve done, Italy has always been near and dear to my stomach.
In the entryway, I grabbed a funky plastic shopping cart and rolled inside. I quickly realized the no-frills name Wine Food Market doesn’t do justice to the variety of products on offer. The cheese section alone boasts 120 different items. I put a wedge of 20-month-aged Grana Padano parmesan cheese (550 CZK/kg) into my cart—a safe purchase for practically any Italian recipe I chose to prepare.
I continued walking around the u-shaped deli counter, ogling the selection of cured meats, when I spotted a little plate with pieces of dried sausage. I looked back to the cheese section and saw there was one there too. Since this isn’t very common in Prague, I wasn’t sure about the protocol. I snagged a chunk of Asiago cheese and then waited to see what would happen—nothing, no shop assistant appeared to breath down my neck. I tempted fate by sneaking another one—still nothing.
But wait, it gets even better: no dirty looks or grumbling for ordering a sample plate of all the deli goodies. They actually encourage it and let you take your food over to the market area where you can sit at long, wooden tables with benches and nibble on it at your leisure. The same goes for the wine—buy a bottle from the shop, grab some bench and they’ll open it and serve it to you in proper glasses. Wow!—goodbye Albert, goodbye Billa, this is grocery shopping taken to a whole new level.
I continued my aimless wandering and found myself in the pasta section. All sorts of interesting shapes and sizes are available. I amused myself by reading aloud the different names with a heavy, Italian accent—vermicelli, scialatielli, conchiglioni, linguine, spaghetti…. I was suddenly craving some penne all’ arrabbiata (literally: “angry” pasta because of the spicy tomato sauce) so I grabbed a bag of penne pasta (85 CZK) and a couple cans of Graziella crushed tomatoes (32 CZK each).
The task of selecting a bottle of wine to go with my Italian meal was a daunting one. The whole back of the shop is dedicated to the varied types of Italian wine—around 500-550 different bottles. After my self-tour up and down the aisles of Tuscany, Veneto, Piedmont and Sicily, I chose a bottle of full-bodied, Sicilian wine, Nero d’Avola (199 CZK). Personally, I felt a bit overwhelmed, but they have an on-staff sommelier in case you need any suggestions or advice.
All that remained was to pick up some bread so I could politely sop up any excess arrabbiata sauce on my plate. I cut across the market area to get to the bakery and was impressed by the lofty space, with its high ceiling and glass skylight. The uneven cement floor betrays the building’s previous use as a tire service, and in the 1920’s it was used to park the milk wagons and horses for Parní Radlická mlékárna na Smíchově (Steam Radlická Milk factory in Smichov).
I got sidetracked looking at the seafood, gelato, and vegetables, but the aroma of freshly baked bread eventually led me to the bakery. I passed up the dessert case full of tarts and cream-filled cannoli in favor of the baskets of bread. Even though the bakery touts authentic recipes, Italian flour and an Italian baker, I found it a bit cheeky that they charge per 100g instead of by the piece/loaf. I eyed up the ciabatta and ordered a smallish loaf, which came to a whopping 47 CZK.
(Side note: Later, after biting into a slice with its crunchy crust and perfectly spongy interior, I wholeheartedly forgave them.)
I won’t lie to you. If you’re the kind of person who’s satisfied with špagety s kečupem, this isn’t the place for you. Mr. Jelinek mostly works with smaller, regional suppliers—a lot of the brands you wouldn’t even find in an Italian supermarket—and it definitely shows when getting the final tally at the check-out counter. Personally, I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is (when I convert the prices into euros, I feel better) and I get a chance to show off to my friends and family by serving them restaurant-caliber food at home.
Surprisingly, what I relished—perhaps even more than the food itself—was the liberating consumer experience. Years of Prague shopping had beaten any notion of “the customer is always right” out of me, but after a mere thirty minutes in Wine Food Market, I could feel myself shedding my timidity like a second skin, recklessly sampling olive oil, wine, and cheese and even asking random shop assistants for their input.
I wasn’t quite ready to let go of my newfound freedom, and all that grocery shopping had left me famished. I sat down in the market and patiently waited for my order of cheese-filled ravioli drizzled with melted butter and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. What’s another 149 CZK, anyways, after all I’ve spent today.
My Shopping List:
Parmesan cheese: 119.90 CZK (0,218kg)
Crushed tomatoes: 64 CZK (2 cans)
Sausage: 120.22 CZK (0,416kg)
Penne pasta: 85 CZK (0,500kg)
Ciabatta: 47 CZK (1 loaf)
Wine: 199 CZK
TOTAL: 635.12 CZK
WHERE: Strakonická 1 Smíchov
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: tram stop Plzeňka or metro station Smíchovské nádraží
OPENING HOURS: Mon-Sun 9:00 - 21:00 (market - bar, rosticceria, fishery, gelateria, fruit & vegetables), 9:00 - 22:00 (bar inside the shop, bakery)
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