Wine Food Market

This Smíchov store/bakery/market shows there's more to Italian food in Prague than pizza

Ask any Czech person about their favorite cuisine and inevitably you will hear more than one say, in a self-assured voice, "Oh, I prefer Italian cuisine -- I love pizza."

But there's far more to Italian cuisine, of course, than a trip to the local pizzeria. Italy is a diverse land with a diverse people, which has always been at the forefront of culture, history, and food.

Fortunately, though, there are places in Prague where you can pick up a much broader range of Italian specialties.

You can, for instance, transport yourself to a world of lush vegetables, fresh seafood, and meats sliced from the bone, plus cheeses with an aroma and flavor so strong you'll swear you were in a farmhouse in the Piedmont or Tuscan regions of Italy instead of in a reconstructed riverside warehouse in Smíchov. Known simply as Wine Food Market, this gourmet Italian food store also offers wines in abundance, many of them hard to find outside their home regions, along with various types of imported pasta, flour, risotto and coffee, making your dining experience that much more authentic.

Suggestions: Start in the main, U-shaped building, and try out the self-service olive oil stations. A serving of 1.5 liters costs just 310 CZK and is perfect for the olive oil aficionado in your life. There's also a cheese and meat counter that will set any foodie's heart afluttering. Prepackaged buffalo mozzarella starts at around 40 CZK, or you can try the fresher, smaller version, which is priced according to weight.

Olives -- pitted, non-pitted or stuffed -- are also available in brilliant or muted greens and crisp blacks depending upon the variety you choose. Expect to pay about 30 CZK per 100 grams.

Check out the wine section, which includes favorites from Barolo (prices range from 800 to 2,000 CZK) or taste true Chianti wines (from 219 CZK a bottle).

Once you've picked up multiple bottles of wine, head round the corner to the pasta section. Be sure to stay clear of the colored pasta, which is more than a little gimmicky and doesn't offer much in the way of "exotic" flavor. (Helpful hint: If you want colored pasta, I suggest making your own at home using say, beetroot, to add a vibrant red instead of food coloring.) The brave-of-heart can pick up flour for making their own pasta here. (We follow the instructions in Katie Caldesi's book The Italian Cookery Course, which is available from priced £23.)

Having sampled the meats, I can highly recommend the San Pietro prosciutto, which is 98 CZK for 100 grams -- a steal compared to the prosciutto one would find in Tesco, which comes wrapped in plastic and carrying the distinct taste of warehouse and cold storage. A Spanish-style salami is available for 59 CZK per 100 grams, and has the spice and a quantity of meat that ensures even the pickiest salami addict would be proud to serve it on their "Tuscan-inspired" table.

Finish your experience inside the small café, which has Italian books aplenty on the makeshift bookshelf near the front. Paninis and piccolo espressos are at the ready, and the friendly staff is happy to help and make suggestions on the day's sandwiches. I can recommend the artichoke with ham.

Exit toward the meat coolers and eye the carefully selected joints of meat on display before heading into the dining area. Open skylights shine down upon large picnic tables, and on secondary colors of red, green, and blue placed haphazardly around and on top of the table. A bar, serving spritz, wines and soft drinks, and a cashier are stationed near the entrance to the food courtyard. This is also the place where you pay for the produce, seafood and meals you can pick up at the adjoining stalls.

Much has been said with regard to the produce available from the big three supermarkets: Tesco, Billa and Albert --mainly that it is of poor quality. If you enjoy rocket (rucola) lettuce on a regular basis, for instance, the version you can buy in Prague supermarkets is usually wilting and often downright appalling. At Wine Food Market, the rocket lettuce is far superior in price (39 CZK) and in quality. It's crisp, fresh and has the distinct peppery taste that has earned this leaf worldwide renown. Hard-to-find items like courgette flowers, raddiccio, Sorrento lemons, fresh basil, and tomatoes -- with character but without bruise marks -- can all be found in the fresh-food stall at prices similar to those you'd find in "bio" organic food shops in Prague. I have found that Thursday, when the "fairy god-truck" seems to deliver all of her fresh produce, is one of the best days to visit.

I am a stickler for fresh seafood. I am what one might characterize as a seafood snob. I can only assume this is what naturally happens to people who have lived by an ocean for most of their lives. Mussels, clams and shrimp are in abundance at Wine Food Market but it's better to call ahead if you fancy a certain delicacy that evening -- no one wants to leave empty-handed. Salmon and fresh-looking smoked halibut are available but for anyone who wants the very best quality seafood, I recommend calling ahead or asking the fishmonger the exact day when the seafood is brought in. When we visited on a recent Saturday, the fish was already starting to turn opaque.

Having filled your basket full of grandmother's-garden-quality veggies, glide past the strange squawking parrot and into the bakery to find fresh ciabattas, baguettes, olive rolls, freshly made pizza and other varieties of warm, fresh bread. Be aware, however, that the bread is priced by weight and not per item: Expect to pay about 30-40 CZK for a fresh ciabatta. There is an oven onsite, along with a knowledgeable staff that can help you decide which bread would best complement what you are planning on serving. Cannolis and other traditional Italian sweets are stored in a cooler and are priced either by weight or per piece. As always, there is an espresso machine at the ready should you decide to take a small break while you savor your perfect cannoli.

I recently asked a good chef friend of mine how to make superb Italian cuisine at home and his answer was simple: "It starts with good ingredients and that's really it. Buy the best that you can with your money and you will immediately see the difference." And, price aside, he was right. When we want good wine for cooking or drinking we head for the Chianti. Should I want a real caprese salad I run to buffalo di mozzarella with open arms, and the beef tomatoes are so plump that you will think the weaker variety at Tesco is good only for soups. Sure, the market is, in some areas, exorbitantly expensive and you could, of course, find everything cheaper a seven-hour drive to the west -- but for those of us who can't gallivant around Europe but want Italian quality, this is certainly your ticket to la dolce vita.

Wine Food Market
Strakonická 1, Prague 5
Phone: (+420) 733 338 650

Opening Hours
Shop: Mon to Sun 09:00 - 21:00
Bakery: Mon to Sat 07:00 - 20:00; Sun 09:00 - 20:00
Bar: Mon to Sat 07:00 - 21:00; Sun 09:00 - 21:00

Wine Food Market also has three smaller locations in the Prague area:

Wine Food Market Ovocný trh
Phone: (+420) 246 050 160
Ovocný trh 12, Prague 1

Opening Hours
Bar: Mon to Sun; 08:00 - 21:00
Store: Mon to Sun; 10:00 - 20:00

Wine Food Market Dejvice
Národní obrany 29, Prague 6
Phone: (+420) 252 540 660
Open: Mon to Sun 10:00 - 20:00

Wine Food Market Průhonice
Květnové nám. 34, Průhonice
Phone: (+420) 267 915 267
Open: Mon to Sun 10:00 - 20:00

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