Are you a Czech or Slovak living in the US or UK? Or a significant other of one who wishes to cook and bake some Czech/Slovak specialties for your family? You may 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 US east coast to parents of mostly Anglo-Irish background. My first exposure to Czech cuisine was during a trip 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 visit. The only Czech foods I remember consuming, besides beer and wine (LOL!), were lots of fancy open-faced sandwiches (obložené chlebíčky), some chocolate, and one slightly nicer dinner of a beef steak with a fried egg on top. I wouldn’t be exposed to more Czech and Slovak foods until five years later, when accompanying my then fiancé back to Prague 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 lucky that our grocery stores offer a wide-variety of vegetables and other products. Our local area has a diverse population, which encourages stores to stock 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, I purchased hard to find ingredients during visits to Czech Republic. Or, 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 and a Polish deli. The French gourmet shop had Pick brand Hungarian salami, and headcheese. The Polish deli actually carried various Czech/Slovak goods, or at least Polish goods that were basically the same as ones in Czech and/or Slovak Republics. These ranged from Czech flours (hard to replicate with US flours), to special mustards, pickles, tripe soup, special 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 little known in the US. 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. Our nearby Polish deli offers it dried, in packets.
I only recently found parsley root in my local shop, and have been told it was also seen in large Asian grocery stores. Before finding it, I used parsnips, which look extremely similar. They work, but have a slightly different flavor.
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 outlets. We can also find the liquor Fernet, Slivovic, and occasionally Becherovka. 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/fish. Others do. Never hesitate to check with the meat department manager. Sometimes meat departments in smaller-scale (non-mega) grocery store chains are better bets. We’ve also located an actual butcher shop (hard to find nowadays) within driving-distance. And again, some Asian grocers have a wider variety of offerings, at cheaper prices.
Online stores selling Czech and Slovak products:
If you live far from shops offering Czech or Slovak goods, you may be able to order them online. Many sell not only food/grocery items of various sorts, but also other products.
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. In addition to food items, we’ve purchased things like calendars, special Christmas cookie molds, and even body creams. Another such grocer is in Elisabeth, New Jersey. Find their website 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 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 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 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 decide to order products in preparation for a holiday, be sure to order well in advance. In some cases, products sell out quickly, or sometimes the company has numerous orders that take them extra time to fulfill.
For those in the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, you may want to check out FreshDirect (an online grocer that delivers) for certain products. They are a bit expensive, but often offer coupons/promo codes that offset the extra charges. There, I find fresh sauerkraut that much more closely resembles Czech sauerkraut (kysané zelí) than the bagged or jarred stuff in regular stores. They also offer high-quality fresh meats like duck, duck breasts and veal liver, and a wider variety of fresh mushrooms (i.e. chanterelles/lišky and trumpet mushrooms/hlívy), as well as Friendship brand farmer’s cheese (tvaroch). The quality of products has been quite good from them.
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.
For some authentic Czech recipes, select “Czech related” from my Categories pull down menu.
Look for my “Czech Christmas Cookie Recipe” posts. Beginning November 11th, I will post one recipe every (or every other) day. All recipes are straight from Praha! One requires a Bee’s Nest/Wasp’s Nest mold, another metal molds in shapes of either shells or bear paws, and others cookie cutters. They are available for sale online (e.g. see links above), but often sell out quickly.