For Foodies: Farmers’ Markets in Prague

Grocery shopping with atmosphere
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Fried fish, homemade honey cake, and fresh apple-carrot juice—an odd yet extremely satisfying breakfast. I was at the farmers’ market in Kubáňské náměstí, hobnobbing with the local chapter of the Silver-haired Comrades’ Club early one Saturday morning in April. It was the kick-off to my sojourn into the farmers’ markets of Prague. My goal: to find out where the products actually came from and to see how the markets stacked up against each other.

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Throughout my month-long exploration, I discovered that, for the most part, Filip the farmer wasn’t hauling his family’s vegetables to market by cart and horse—it’s become a much more sophisticated and commercial affair, not to mention cosmopolitan. In fact, I was disappointed that many of the stalls were “chains” that I saw in every location.

That said, I did uncover some traditional, family-run stands, and if nothing else, each market offered a unique atmosphere for whiling away a Saturday morning.

Kubáňské náměstí – Prague 10

The Kubáň market seemed the most functional to me—customers breezed in, picked out their carrots and koláče, and then went on their merry way—yet it remains one of my favorites for its little quirks. First of all, away from the main market area, a Mléčný automat dispenses gently pasteurized milk at 20 CZK per liter. How cool is that? One woman brought an empty Coke bottle to fill (talk about black humor), but you can purchase a plastic bottle for 5 CZK too.

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Besides that, the sellers in Kubáň have an extra twinkle in their eyes—watch out for the guy selling mushrooms, he’s a real gabber. When he found out I was American and from Minnesota, all he wanted to talk about was hockey. I did manage to steer the conversation back to mushrooms long enough to find out that they’re grown in Prague 9 and that in summer they offer wild ones from the forest. Other interesting items on sale were bear’s garlic and a special drink called kombucha.

The young man frying up the fish at Rybářská bašta was quite a character as well. He comes from a long line of proud fisherman. His brother mans a booth in the Náplavka market, though he good-naturedly grumbled that his brother’s locale is much nicer than his. They used to provide all the fish themselves, but when demand grew, they started buying it from a hatchery in Horovice.

I’m not big on sweets, but I would go back to the Kubáň market just to get another piece of medovník (honey cake). This version was topped with crunchy, caramelized walnuts and had a generous portion of butter frosting dividing the moist layers. Look for a slightly portly man with a ruddy face behind the Domácí pečivo stand. He and his wife bake all the pastries and cakes at home, following traditional recipes, and his mother helps out too.

Jiřího z Poděbrad (JZP) – Prague 2

After visiting Kubáň, I headed over to the market in JZP. I had been there many times before, but now I was viewing it with a more critical eye—it didn’t quite measure up this visit. Yes, the atmosphere is pleasant, with the church and sometimes even live music in the background, but it’s cramped, overpriced and decidedly quirk-less. The cakes cost almost double the ones in Kubáň (and didn’t taste as good) and I had to wait for the lady to finish her phone conversation before she took my order.

I passed up and down the market three times and only spotted a couple of interesting places. Way at the far end, heading away from the church, a fishmonger displays his goods on ice. After parlaying a bit in heavily-accented Czech—he’s Croatian—we switched to English. He boasts fresh fish, which he buys directly from the boat with next day delivery, approximately 70% from Croatia, 20% from Italy and 10% from Scandinavia.

On one of my laps the sound of sizzling meat on a grill drew me closer to the Balkan Burger stand. The Bosnian vendor was flipping some pljeskavica—a typical meat patty from the Balkans. He also sells jars of ajvar (a kind of red bell pepper relish) and homemade burek (a savory cheese-filled pastry), among other things. The burger tasted pretty darn authentic and went down well with a .5L of Bakalář beer (brewed in Rakovník) that I bought near the top of the market.

Kulaťák – Prague 6

The next week, I finally retired my winter jacket for the season. In fact, I applied a layer of sunscreen and dug out my shades before heading over to Vítězné náměstí in Dejvice. Coming up the metro stairs, I could hear shouts and boisterous laughter over the buzz of voices. When the farmers’ market finally came into view, I understood why. It was huge—more like a festival than a market—and already packed at 9:00. There’s even a tent set-up as a dětský koutek (kid’s corner).

Everywhere I looked, something grabbed my attention—giant pools filled with live trout and carp, a man frying up salmon for a seafood tortilla wrap, a 1974 Citroen truck selling gourmet coffee, wild boar sausages… I asked the man if the wild game for the sausages was from the Czech Republic and he chuckled and said “No, from Moravia.”
 
Whoa, I would have to pace myself. I started with a simple apple juice from the Čerstvé šťávy stand (which I had seen in all the markets). This is a mother-daughter venture with the daughter’s boyfriend pitching in. It’s not bottled, like other juice stands in the market—they make it fresh every day, with local produce. All combinations are pretty good, but I’d stay away from the apple-onion one. I tried one sip and my mouth tasted like onion the rest of the day. 

Next, I sampled eight different Hare Krishna cookies baked at Farma Krišnův dvůr near Benešov. These devotees of Krishna use all organic ingredients and even make their own flour. I especially liked the pumpkin-sesame seed combination.

It took almost an hour to properly circle the market and check out each stand, and by that time I needed something more substantial to eat. After much internal debate, the raclette booth, run by a British-Czech couple, at the top of the market won out. I chit-chatted with them while they prepared a paper boat of potatoes, topped with a generous portion of melted raclette cheese and garnished with some gherkins. It’s their first year at the farmers’ market, but I think they’ll be a real hit.

Funnily enough, I didn’t buy anything else. I think I felt overwhelmed by the size and my elbows had taken a real bruising muscling my way through the crowd, plus I still had one more market to visit that day: Karlín.

Karlín – Prague 8

I made it to the Karlín market at around noon, and I immediately dug the low-key, chillax vibe it was giving off. Though quite small, the stands were set-up in an oval spanning the length of the church at Karlínské náměstí. The area in the middle had tables and benches a-la beer garden. Finally, a market with enough seating! 

One seller had managed to make last season’s carrots, cabbage and potatoes look attractive so I bought a few. I got a dozen farm fresh eggs and picked-up some Němcovi yogurt, which I recognized from the shop Sklizeno in Nusle.

To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but it felt like a true neighborhood market, not contrived to fleece its customers (like in JZP). After a quick tour around, I relaxed in the center seating area with a hand-poured filter coffee from the Můj šálek kávy stand, which was made with freshly roasted beans from the Doubleshot  roasting company. They’re so confident in the quality flavor that they don’t even offer sugar packets or cream.

Náplavka

The next Saturday I headed down to the Vltava—Náplavka has definitely cornered the market on location (excuse the pun). Judging by the hordes of people, the secret is out. On a sunny, summer day I could be tempted to go back to soak up the scenery, but again, at the risk of sounding repetitive, it’s cramped, crowded, and lacks seating.   

Right away, I spotted the Kubáň’s brother’s fish booth. Up front was a wooden barrel with a metal lid that had been converted into a smoker, which at the moment contained whole trout. My friend tried the smoked trout and liked it, but I just can’t stomach eating something that stares back at me with beady eyes. The brother also offered a delicious smelling Hungarian fish soup, though he admitted the spiciness had been toned down to suit the Czech palate.

Keeping with the Hungarian theme, a couple booths down was a young Hungarian man born in the south of Slovakia. He offered sausages galore and typical things like Hungarian paprika paste. Next to him was a friendly fellow selling bread and yeast from Opatov, Moravia—he actually gives you a recipe with the yeast so you can bake your own bread at home.

Half-way through, I stopped for a Mama café coffee and some white chocolate and cranberry cookies at a nameless stand, though the vendor said they were baked at Le Camille bistro in Anděl. The cookies were disappointingly dry, but I still wasn’t going to give them to the swans who were swimming in dangerously close.

The last stand I hit up was Mlékárna Krasolesí, which sells dairy products from the small village of Krasolesí in Vysočina. Mr. Kolman, the owner, offers a wide variety of cheese, milk and yogurt (both cow and goat). I could taste the quality and freshness immediately. He is in the JZP market on Wednesdays and in Náplavka on Saturdays.

***  

These are just a few of the many farmers’ markets around Prague. Every day it seems a new one opens, but I’ll refrain from being overly cynical on the reasons why. I’m very grateful to whatever has re-sparked the market fervor in the city—finally a push for quality over price.

What’s your favorite market to shop at in the city?

Photos by Liona Belierova

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