Editor’s note: this is the first in a new series of articles on Expats.cz taking a looking at sources of international food in Prague, from specialty food shops to world cuisine corners in supermarkets. Keep a lookout in the coming months for more great tips on where to get food from around the world in Prague.
Simplicita, tradizione, passione. These are the three tenets to achieve great Italian cuisine according to the proprietors of Aromi La Bottega, one of the premier Italian food shops in Prague. Simplicity comes with honoring the flavor of something as naturally delicious as a ripe cherry tomato grown in sunny Southern Italy. Tradition can be seen in adhering to the same ancient family recipe to create an immensely delicious Prosciutto Crudo. Passion can be tasted in the zing of a perfectly balanced, spicy Arrabbiata sauce.
Aromi La Bottega brings the joys of Italian food to Prague, and their dedication to quality becomes apparent to all of the senses when one walks through the door of their elegant but cozy shop in Vinohrady. The aroma of rich salami wafts through the air; the sight of fluorescent colored vegetables takes control of your eyes; the shelves of countless colorful glass bottles containing a variety of wines, olive oils, and vinegars makes your mouth water; the sounds of enthusiastic discussion in Italian over Mozzarella and Pecorino and Parmigiano whisks you away. Amidst the presence of all of these sensations, one can´t help but feel like they´ve been transported into a different place, as if a small piece of Italy has magically found its way into the Czech Republic.
Store Manager Katerina Balandina explained to me the inspiration behind creating such a store.
“It all started with chef Riccardo Lucque and our owners wanting to bring the authentic taste of Italy to the people of Prague. At first they opened Aromi restaurant and after achieving success they decided they wanted to offer Italian products outside the restaurant, as well. And this is how La Bottega was started.”
Four years later, the shop is known as one of the preeminent gourmet food stores in the city. Balandina explained how they go about finding such amazing and unique items.
“Our owners and chef regularly return to Italy and travel in search of great products to sell in our store. They visit mostly small, family-run farms and food producers, trying to find the best available wines, meats, and cheeses.”
This tireless effort can be seen in the tremendous quality of items on offer in the store. Legs of Prosciutto San Daniele hang on the wall waiting to be cut into paper thin slices. Nearly a dozen varieties of salami pile up in a savory pyramid with flavors that incorporate truffles, garlic, and wild boar. Three kinds of pancetta, Lardo di Collonata, Beef Bresaloa, and fresh Italian sausage all beckon to be tasted.
I sampled the Prosciutto Culatello, which in Italian means “little backside” and is considered by many to be the premier variation of all Prosciutto, often referred to as the “filet” of the genre. It´s flavor is delicate due to its prime cut, but powerful due to the saltiness and the cured layer of fat that runs through each piece, while at the same time possessing a bit of subtle sweetness. Culatello is a better version of the already amazing San Daniele Prosciutto, which is really like saying it´s a more perfect version of perfection.
Just over from the dried meats section, one can see fresh fish, filet mignon, veal, pork chops, and shellfish chilling on ice. The seafood is the main feature, with lobster, scallops, and oysters fished out recently from Italian seas such as the Bay of Liguria or Napoli.
The cheese selection is as immense as it is mouth watering. Lumps of Mozzarella di Bufala and its more creamy relative Burrata sit in milky water to stay fresh. Next to the Mozzarella are large hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged either 24 months or 40 months. Sheep cheese variations that one didn´t even know existed can be found, including a very special kind known as Pecorino Foglie di Noce which is produced in the hills of Tuscany and achieves its special flavor by being rubbed daily with olive oil and then wrapped in Walnut tree leaves. In total one can find between 25-30 cheeses on offer at any given day in Aromi La Bottega. And the selection changes constantly as the owners and managers find even more delicious variations to offer.
I tried the Pecorino Foglie di Noce, a dry, tangy, somewhat sour sheep cheese which had an earthy flavor of walnuts and a musky scent. For those that enjoy sheep cheese, this is seen as perhaps the pinnacle of flavor. Next was the 40 month old Parmigiano. What else can I say except that this was the best cheese I´d ever tasted. It was a great balance of salty, sour, smooth, crumbly, and with those delicious crunchy bits in every bite. The flavor lingering in your mouth once you´ve finished can drive you mad with hunger after you´ve left the store.
Approximately 15 to 20 of Italy´s finest olive oils are sold, each with its own complex flavor. Vinegar from Modena ranging between one year old and the more thick, syrupy variation of 25 year old balsamico is available, including vinegar made exclusively for Aromi clientele.
A tremendous selection of wine from every region of Italy is available and Aromi´s shopkeepers will happily advise you on which one is best paired with the meal you will be making. I took a bottle of Montepulciano d´Abruzzo, a velvety, peppery, bold, but easy to drink red wine that reminded me of my favorite Pinot Noirs from France. It is so delicious that it basically goes with anything, but specifically it went great with the sweet tomato Caponata tomato sauce mixed with Mozzarella di Bufala and the Parmesan cheese wrapped in Prosciutto that I was snacking on.
Vegetables and fresh herbs are brought in direct from Italy on a weekly basis, which should bring excitement to anyone that has tasted a lush, juicy, sun kissed Italian tomato. Depending on the season Aromi offers such treats as zucchini flowers, porcini mushrooms, and three varieties of truffle.
Finally we get to the much revered fresh pasta section at the front of the store. Plates of neatly stacked rolls of Pappardelle and Spaghetti doused in flour, flanked by plates of ravioli stuffed with Quattro Formaggi or ham and Gorgonzola are all lit up under glass like stars of the show. These pastas are made entirely with Italian ingredients and are best served with Aromi´s homemade sauces such as their thick Bolognese or the thin Arrabbiata.
I took home both kinds of ravioli and prepared them with the Arrabbiata sauce. The sauce was tremendous in its ability to combine sweet and savory, although it could have had a bit more of a punch in the spicy department, as I´m accustomed to the chili peppers taking a major role in the flavor. But it still went very well with the four cheese ravioli which simply melts in your mouth. The freshness of the pasta is apparent in its doughy, soft texture. The Gorgonzola and ham ravioli was decent, but tasted like it had been on the shelf perhaps a little bit too long, as the meat had too strong of a flavor. I topped each dish with some finely grated 40 month old Parmesan cheese from the store, which brought the pasta and sauce to another level.
For side dishes or appetizers Aromi has plates of marinated artichoke hearts, olives from Liguria and Marche, sundried tomatoes, and a sweet Caponata sauce comprised of tomatoes and eggplant. Ciabatta bread that is half-baked in Italy and finished in the store can be bought fresh.
As seen by its vast selection of top quality, authentic Italian products Aromi La Bottega offers not simply a taste of Italy, but a great mouthful. For those in Prague wishing to be carried away to the charm of an Italian market offering the best in Italian cuisine, this is your place to visit.
Aromi La Bottega
Mánesova 83, Prague 2
Open Mon – Fri 11 – 20:30, Sat 11 – 19, Sun closed
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