Retro is back

Milk in a bag, Gothic salami and deer lip balm

With the current trend on going “retro,” even the food sector has begun to take advantage of the movement. From Tuesday, March 29th one of the Czech chain supermarkets (Lidl) is offering a “retro týden” to bring special editions of products from 30 years ago back to the market in their original packaging. Although most of the retro-edition products appear today on the Czech market in updated 21st century packaging, others, like milk in a bag, are making a come-back after years of being forgotten.

Running the gamut from 1960s style cans of Budvar to retro editions of Májka potted pork, from Pedro bubble gum to lip balm made from deer fat, the 70-some retro products offer a flashback of what was available in the Czech Republic years ago.

Items like Hermelin cheese from the Central Bohemia town of Sedlčany, sweet and spicy Znojmia pickles from southern Moravia and “Vysočina 1967” sausages are still mainstays of the contemporary Czech food market. In this week-long promotion, however, the retro-edition meat products are produced according to their traditional recipes. For those who complain that modern day sausages don't taste like they used to, here's the chance to conduct your own taste test. In addition to savoury products, retro sweets are also included, like the popular vanilla ice cream bar called “Ruská zmrzlina” or Horalky brand wafer cookies, both products on the market today.

Perhaps the most outstanding novelty product, at least from a foreigner's perspective, is “milk in a bag.” For the retro event, fresh milk is sold in a 1L plastic bag, just as it was years ago. For someone who didn't live here then, it's hard to envision transporting a full bag of plastic milk in your shopping basket without spilling it on the way. Then, imagine cutting the bag and pouring milk from the slippery, unwieldy bag into a mug. In the past, Czech kitchens were equipped with a plastic milk holder, complete with a plastic handle. The plastic holder was placed over the plastic bag to keep it standing upright. A hole was cut in the bag and voilà-- the milk was poured without spilling. As long as the plastic bag didn't get a puncture on the way home, the system worked.

Apart from bringing back memories, some of the cleaning and personal hygiene supplies from this time are touted as legitimately good. One Czech friend says he used the shaving foam “Diplomat” long after the Revolution, because it worked well. Another Czech girlfriend told me she found a slew of retro cleaning products in her grandmother's closets when she did a spring clean. Indulona hand cream has a long-history of smoothing dry hands in the Czech Republic. “Jelení lůj” is a classic protective lip balm made from deer's fat, which has been produced since 1962. Although the lip balm product is offered today in a variety of flavours and sizes, the massive 28g original version should be large enough to moisturise your entire family's lips, even through a tough Czech winter.

For a retro sweet, there is the well-known Metro dessert dating from 1974, with alternating white and black pieces which look like wagons. The candy was first produced in honor of the opening of the public metro system in Prague in the spring of that year. Production of the Metro candies was stopped after the revolution although it started again later. I'd never seen the Metro candies on the market before the retro week, but I'm looking forward to tasting them with my children.

If you have a hankering to try out some old-school Czech products, don't miss this opportunity. Remember, if you do decide to buy the milk in a bag, turn it first on all sides to make sure it doesn't have a hole, before you put it in your shopping bag.

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