Are you a Czech or Slovak living in the US or UK? Or a spouse of one who wishes to cook and bake some Czech or Slovak specialties for your Czech or Slovak spouse? You might have noticed that some ingredients are not so easy to find in the US or UK. Well, I have a few suggestions that might help you out.
I was born and raised on the east coast of the US to parents of mostly Anglo American background. My first exposure to Czech cuisine was during a trip I took to Czechoslovakia (as it was still called in 1992) en route to a summer job in Poland. We first stopped in Prague, but it was a very short stop indeed. I think the only things I remember consuming, besides beer and wine (LOL!), were lots of fancy open-faced sandwiches (obložené chlebíčky), which were reasonably priced, some chocolate, and one slightly nicer dinner of a beef steak with a fried egg on top, maybe with potatoes. I wouldn’t be exposed to more Czech and Slovak foods until about five years later, when accompanying my then fiancé back to Prague (then Czech Republic) to meet his family.
Being the cooking and baking enthusiast that I am, I asked my husband to request and translate several of my mother-in-law’s recipes. It didn’t take long to realize that some ingredients were not that easy to find in my part of the US. Those that were, were sometimes foods I had never even heard of.
We are pretty lucky that our grocery stores offer a very wide-variety of vegetables and other products. Our local area has a very diverse population, which encourages these stores to stock a lot of foods from all over the world. For example, even just 15 miles away, you may not find celeriac (pictured), vanilla sugar packets, or farmer’s cheese (tvaroch).
Finding Czech and Slovak groceries near you:
In the early days of my Czech cooking, some of the ingredients I couldn’t find would be purchased in Czech Republic during our visits, and then brought back with us. When I didn’t have unique ingredients, I tried to use substitutions, but with varying results. We also searched beyond our regular stores. Luckily we do have some specialty stores nearby, like a French gourmet shop. We also recently discovered a Polish deli store. That was a particularly helpful find. The French gourmet shop had Pick brand Hungarian salami, and headcheese. The Polish deli shop actually had all kinds of Czech/Slovak goods, or at least Polish goods that were basically the same as ones in Czech Republic and/or Slovak Republic. These ranged from Czech flours (hard to replicate with US flours), to special mustards, pickles, tripe soup, more varieties of cheeses, and even candy bars. Does your area have a Polish or Hungarian population? If so, you may find such specialty shops near you.
My husband’s favorite herb is lovage (libeček), which is not well known in the US at all. I had never heard of it. But by luck, we found this herb in a large garden center in their herb section. We planted it in our herb garden, and it’s grown huge every year, being a perennial herb. I would think that any garden center could special order it, if requested, or perhaps the seeds could be ordered through an online garden supply company.
I only recently found parsley root in one of my local gourmet grocery stores, and have been told it was seen in a large Asian foods grocery store. Before finding it, I often used the common “parsnip”, which looks extremely similar. Parsnips definitely work as a substitute, but there is a bit of a flavor difference.
Many liquor stores in the US offer the beer Pilsner Urquell, but few others. We are lucky that Budvar (called Czechvar in the US) and Staropramen beer can be found in large beer and wine outlets. We can also find the liquor Fernet, Slivovic, and even occasionally Becherovka, which my husband also enjoys drinking. When Becherovka is not available, a simple request for it to the store manager can solve that issue. It never hurts to ask.
Some grocery stores near us do not and will not offer certain cuts of meat, or even certain meats. Others do. Never hesitate to talk directly with the meat department manager to check. Sometimes meat departments in smaller-scale (non-mega) grocery store chains are better bets. We’ve also located an actual meat markets/butchers within driving-distance. Some meats may have to be special ordered. We’ve special ordered carp for Christmas Eve in the past. Duck and goose for special meals. One meat my husband would like, which I need to ask about, is pig’s knee. We’ll see if I have success.
Online stores selling Czech and Slovak products:
If you live far from any specialty shop that offers Czech or Slovak type goods, you may be able to order them online.
In the US, we found a shop called Slovak-Czech Varieties located at 10-59 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, New York 11101 that offers Czech and Slovak products through online purchase. The web address is https://www.slovczechvar.com. I believe they may ship anywhere in the US. I’m not sure about beyond. Another grocer that offers some Czech and Slovak items is in Elisabeth, New Jersey. You can shop their online shop at https://fabko.com/278-czech-slovak-food-deli. I’ve never ordered from Fabko.
Based out of Madison, Wisconsin, there is a store called Bavaria Sausage, Inc. that allows online purchases. We’ve purchased products such as Pick brand Hungarian salami from there, as well as Wisconsin made beer cheese/kase (pivni syr), which my husband says tastes just like the pivni syr in Czech Republic. They of course also have other sausages that may be of interest to Czechs and Slovaks. Their website is at https://www.bavariasausage.com/
In the UK, there is a store located at 132 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, London SW14 8DS called The Sonam Halusky Shop. Products can be ordered online through them at https://www.halusky.co.uk/czech-slovak-foods/. Ship to zones (within the UK) are described on that site. I’ve never ordered anything from them. I also found a website listing several Czech and Slovak grocery locations at https://www.czech-stuff.com/czech-food-shops-in-the-uk-map/
If you have made any special discoveries for Czech and/or Slovak products (or equivalents) in your state or country, please be sure to share in a comment below.
I’m sorry I didn’t obtain the Czech translations for all of the food items I mentioned. Hubby is a busy man.