Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Culinaria

"To enjoy the things we ought, and to hate the things we ought, has the greatest bearing on excellence of character."

-Aristotle
Culinaria is a fancy food shop that people hate to love and love to hate.

At least the people I know.

The gourmet emporium has a long list goods for sale, especially American and British, that are hard or impossible to find anywhere else in Prague.The list includes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Doritos, Newman's Own salad dressings and tomato sauces, Hershey's chocolate syrup, Oreos, Cheerios, HP Sauce, Coleman's Mustard, and Walker's crisps.

I saw a small bottle of vanilla extract, which we use in a lot of recipes, for 200 CZK.

This list just scratches the surface. For example, they also carry a few Asian items. There is a longer rundown of goods on the website under the "Other Products: Imports" menu.

This type of selection is a dream come true for many expats. So, what's not to love?

Well, since Culinaria has a near monopoly on the sale of some of these products in Prague, they are priced accordingly. While I understand the mostly astronomical prices, I can also hate them.

One day, I had a powerful desire for Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Culinaria was selling small tubs of the spreadable version, imported from Italy. The price: 129 CZK.

Oof! White gold.

Confession: I bought some. But only because I already had a bag of cinnamon raisin bagels from Bohemia Bagel Express. I had already visualized toasting them in the oven and covering them with real cream cheese. A Czech cream cheese substitute was not part of the dream.

Unfortunately, I was recently told that Philedelphia brand cream cheese has started appearing in regular markets around the city at a fraction of the Culinaria price.

Since I was in the full throes of an American breakfast obsession, I also bought two boxes of Bisquick to make American pancakes.

They were 99 CZK each, which was a little easier to swallow. You can get quite a lot of pancakes out of one box.

I suppose it is possible to make pancakes with regular flour, milk, eggs, salt, and some rising agent. But there is a reason they calling it "branding." That Bisquick logo was burned into my brain long ago, and it brings back some fond memories.

Culinaria also sells baked sweets. I once had a very nice cappuccino cake. It had a sinful buttercream icing that had a powerful coffee kick.

Almost all the cakes, pies, and tartes are 69 to 79 CZK. There do a variety of cheesecakes, including strawberry, peanut butter chocolate, and apple walnut.

Or you could get Black Forest cake, Death by Chocolate cake, and Devil's Food cake.

Want to tarte it up a bit? They make a caramel honey nut tarte, a lemon tarte, and even an Earl Gray tea tarte.

Feel a little fruity? How about an orange cake, a maple pecan fig cake, a banana pie, or a key lime pie.

The wildest sounding dessert on the menu is the Asian Chocolate Wasabi Ginger Cake. Personally, I wouldn't buy it without getting a sample taste first.

They also do carrot cake and a variety of cookies. Around Thanksgiving, you can get pumpkin pie and they even sell canned pumpkin. Whole cakes cost between 759 and 869 CZK.

Culinaria also makes a number of pre-prepared meals on one side of the shop to eat in or take out. I used to get some of their salads, like Asian noodle salad. But they don't seem to have the ones I like in the refrigerator case anymore.They also have more serious foods like Beef Wellington, poached salmon with dill and lemon, pork with soy and ginger, and barbecue glazed chicken thighs. I haven't really tried these offerings. I can only say they look pretty good.

On the other side of the shop, there is a coffee bar. An espresso goes for 35 CZK, macchiatos and cappuccinos are 55 CZK, and cafe lattes are 60 CZK. You can get it on ice for 55 CZK.

Next to the coffee bar is a refrigerator case with cold drinks. There, you can find exotic American beverages like Arizona iced tea and Canada Dry ginger ale. There are some very fancy bottles of water. I don't recall the prices, but it ain't cheap.In the same case, there are sandwiches. These are what I stop for most often at Culinaria. They don't have a wide variety that are ready-made -- sometimes there are just three or four to choose from.

There is a menu with a long list of sandwiches that can be made to order. But when I was told on one visit that it would take 10 or 15 minutes to make, I said forget it.

Anyway, some of the pre-prepared sandwiches are pretty good. I just have to depend on luck that one I like will be in there.

I'd say my favorite is the Chicken Toscana for 129 CZK. It is made with smoked chicken breast, Fontina cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, lettuce, and pesto mayonnaise.

The box says it was on a "crispy baguette," but it does lose some crispness while on display. It was still pretty good bread.The chicken was a little dry, but the pesto-mayo and tomato put it back into balance. And I really love sun-dried tomatoes. I'd say this is one of the best pre-made sandwiches in Prague.

The only competitor would be a sandwich at Yessi Cafe, where they can be made to order and there are a wide variety of ingredients to choose from. I wrote a post and an update on the place.

Culinaria also makes a pretty good chicken salad sandwich for 99 CZK. It comes on a good dark bread with lettuce and tomato. The chicken seemed freshly cooked and chopped.

They went heavy on the mayo, which I actually liked. I don't love a dry sandwich. The tomato slices are thick, but it does make it hard to eat, since they fall out a bit.I've heard a few comments from people that service at Culinaria can be slow or sometimes less than friendly. For my part, I've usually gotten prompt service. But for the kind of money they charge, I want to see smiles people!

V really doesn't like this food shop because, as she says, everything is overpriced, the salads she tried weren't so special, and the service was unpleasant for her.

There are things I don't like about the place. There are a few, like the sandwiches and desserts, that I do like. It is a very nice looking shop.

So, I still stop by from time to time to see if they have a Chicken Toscana ready to go or just to look at a Bisquick box. Perhaps, I enjoy it more than I ought to.

But, I wouldn't say everyone ought to enjoy Culinaria. Maybe, it just goes to show, once again, that V's character is far more excellent than mine.

Culinaria
Skořepka 9
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 224 231 017
Monday to Friday 8:30-20:00
Saturday 10:00-19:00
Sunday 12:00-17:00


15 comments:

Erin said...

Vanilla extract can also be found in the baking aisle of most supermarkets.
700 kacers for a cake?! It makes the Philly seem like a steal. ;-)

Brewsta said...

I've seen really small bottles of vanilla in markets -- but the stuff I saw wasn't quite the same mix of vanilla and alcohol I'm used to. But I haven't looked in a while.

pivobud said...

Homemade Vanilla Extract is simple, but takes a little time.

1. Buy a Botlle of Vodka and 4-5 long Vanilla beans.
2. Insert beans into bottle.
3. Place bottle in a closet for 2-3 months.

Vanilla will be extracted from beans and can be used in any recipe.

Worked for me when it wasn't available on the market.

Brewsta said...

Cool idea. I might try it if I can remember to pick that stuff up next time I shop.

Anonymous said...

i've seen philadelphia cream cheese in several stores recently. i think they finally started importing it... it was around 30 CZK. maybe a bit more, not exactly sure.

Brewsta said...

I would be most grateful if you could tell me where, especially at anything close to that price, since Culinaria charges four times more.

Anonymous said...

i saw it for sure at a 24-hr potraviny at fracouzska, called vavra, i think. first block on the right, above namesti miru (grosseto corner). i'm pretty sure i saw it someplace else but don't recall now. i'll keep my cream-cheese radar on!

Anonymous said...

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is now for sale at Makro shops. This likely means that it will start appearing in smaller shops, since Makro is essentially a wholesaler. Hoorah!

Brewsta said...

Yes! I recently bought some and the packaging had Czech text rather than Italian. Sounds like it is here to stay. That said, I also had some spreadable Lucina cream cheese and it wasn't bad.

Anonymous said...

so, philadelphia cream cheese was featured in the 'cucina italiana' magazine, as being sold in billa. i think it's officially here.
btw, a little dining tip. me and my husband ate at oliva (plavecka str.) recently. it was very good. have you eaten there? if not, give it a try. they have foie gras specials today and tomorrow :-)
b.

Brewsta said...

Been to Oliva. Did a post on it:

http://czechoutchannel.blogspot.com/2007/07/oliva-restaurant.html

Anonymous said...

Hello, I really wanted to taste the Philadeplhia Cream Cheese so I went to the mentioned store on Francouzska, but I couldnt find it. Is it really called Philadephia Cream Cheese even in the "Czech version"? Could you post a photo of it maybe, so I could better locate it? :)

Marr3wk

Brewsta said...

It looks just like the picture on this post. It says "Philadelphia" on silver foil.

Someone only told me about the Francouska market, so can't say for sure where to find it.

As someone in an earlier comments said, try Billa supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Okay, thanks, I will take a stop at Billa on my way to Robertson, where they have it for sure.

By the way, Lucina tastes the best on classic czech "rohliks".

Marr3wk

Anonymous said...

So, I can confirm that Philadelphia Cream Cheese can be found most likely in all Billas. I found it in the one on Jugoslavskych Partyzanu (map: http://www.mapy.cz/#x=133020992@y=136012480@z=15@mm=ZP@ax=133014784@ay=136008896@at=Billa@ad=Philadelphia%20Cream%20Cheese,%20125g,%2028,90Kc). 125g for 28,90Kc. It has been made by Kraft Germany.

Marr3wk