Whether you’re relocating to Prague or just visiting, there’s a good chance that at some point, you’ll need to buy some food. That point came for me after three days of being here, when I realized that I was already over Czech cuisine. Don’t get me wrong – I love meat, cabbage, and dumplings. But after a few 2000-calorie meals, you need lighter options.
There are three major grocery chains in Prague: Albert, Billa, and Tesco. And they all employ the least friendly people in the entire city. Though of the three, Tesco is probably the most expat-friendly. This can make grocery shopping a little disorienting and frustrating. But if you keep a few important guidelines in mind, you’ll be fine.
Shopping carts and baskets
You’ll notice upon walking into the grocery store that all shopping carts are chained together. In order to unlock one, you’ll need to put a 5 or 10 CZK coin into the slot on the handle of the cart. If you’re only picking up a few things, you can grab a basket which doesn’t require a coin.
Since there is a farmer’s market four days out of the week in Jiřák, and one in Náplavka on Saturdays, I’m not sure why anyone buys fruits and vegetables at a grocery store. But if you do, you have to make sure you weigh and label them yourself before going to the check-out line. Trust me. You do not want to have the cashier see those bananas without a label. They’ll just yell at you in Czech, everyone in the line will be annoyed, and you’ll decide you don’t need bananas anyway. The machine is fairly easy to use. Just put your goods on the scale, select the item, and stick that label on like you know what you’re doing.
Throughout the day, the bakery will be restocked with freshly baked breads and pastries. It doesn’t matter if you go to Tesco, Albert, Billa, or a liquor store on the corner, you’re going to find the exact same pastries and donuts at every single one of them. I don’t why or how that is, but they all make them the same way. If you want something slightly different, get your baked goods from the farmer’s market.
Meat and Poultry
You can buy beef, pork, and poultry either packed or from the butcher. In any case, good luck to you. This is not the prime cut you’re probably used to. In fact, the only distinction you’ll usually get about a cut of meat is whether it comes from the front or rear of the cow. There is a UK butcher shop called Robertson where you can get higher quality meat and where you don’t have to worry about accidentally asking the Czech butcher for pig anus.
The dairy aisle is full of chocolate. Every time I intend to pick up some milk, I end up with 12 containers of chocolate mousse, chocolate yogurt, and chocolate shakes. I never even know which is which, but it doesn’t really matter; they’re all delicious. I’m used to drinking non-fat milk because I’m semi-lactose intolerant. That doesn’t exist here. You can only find two kinds of milk, 3% which is always in a red container regardless of brand; and 1.5% which is always in a blue container. Even though I’ve been drinking 1.5% milk, I’ve been fine. So I’m going to assume is that my lactose intolerance has nothing to do with fat content; but with whatever growth hormones they’re pumping into those cows in the US.
Alcohol and Candy
No matter how small your grocery store is, you will find two or three entire aisles dedicated to candy and three others dedicated to booze. These are a people after my own heart. The amazing thing is that it’s all incredibly cheap. Some of it tastes cheap, too. But occasionally, you’ll find a decent Spanish bottle of wine for around $2. I’m not sure what kind of trade agreement Spain and Portugal have with the Czech Republic but their wines are cheaper than water here. Once you’ve given up on cooking meat, you can fill the void in your food pyramid with extra Milka bars.
In the Czech Republic, you have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store. You also have to request them, because even if you didn’t bring your own bags and you’re juggling your 12 items like a circus clown, the cashier will not offer them to you. So bring a tote! Or walk down the street with your toilet paper, whatever floats your boat.
Other Helpful Grocery Tips
- Don’t use the self check-out lane unless you’re using a debit card. The machines are not meant to handle transactions that require a signature, and everyone will be really upset with you.
- The farmer’s market offers better options and it’s generally a more pleasant experience. And of course, everything is fresher. You might even be able to pick up a Clefairy with your potatoes.
- Food goes bad. I go grocery shopping 3 or 4 days a week. There are no preservatives and nothing sits well in the fridge for more than a couple of days. But it doesn’t matter, because there is no better feeling than waking up in the morning and buying all your groceries for the day.
- Don’t get too hung up about the attitude. They’re not trying to be rude; they just don’t give a fuck. And the best way to handle people who don’t give a fuck is to give less of a fuck than they do.
- If you’re really jonesing for comfort food and snacks from home, try The Candy Store.