The Czech Republic has a large Vietnamese community and today Vietnamese-run open-all-hours corner stores are to be found throughout the country. Indeed, a new report by market analysts Nielsen says that one fifth of Czech food shops are now Asian run. But what does the boom in Vietnamese stores mean for consumers? That’s a question I put to leading Czech food writer Petra Pospěchová.
“I suppose that people appreciate that and they’re aware of the fact that probably no other community than the Vietnamese would run such a late-night business. Because it’s probably hard work, I would say.”
How do you think the quality of the food compares to what you find in other Czech shops?
“As far as I know, they usually take goods from big vegetable markets on the edge of town and from wholesalers like Makro.
“It’s no worse quality than the supermarkets have. Sometimes you can find vegetables or fruit that are not in the best condition, let’s say, but I’m afraid we can say the same about normal supermarkets like Billa, Albert and Tesco. So I’d say the quality is more or less the same.”
Have they introduced new foods to the Czech market? There’s one I can think of, the persimmon, the kind of rubbery orange fruit, which I hadn’t seen before. Are there other foods that they’ve introduced that weren’t so common here before?
“I’d say they’re really part of the widening of the range of Asian ingredients as a whole.
“Now you can buy rice paper, rice noodles, different kinds of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, the fruit you talked about – all of those are goods from the big Vietnamese markets on the edge of town, like Sapa in Prague or Olomoucká in Brno, where there is a big range of this stuff.
“They take most of the goods from there and sometimes they probably try to experiment and if it works they keep that food in their range.”
Is there any downside to the fact that today one in five shops are Vietnamese?
“For me a little negative side developed over time, because in the past the Vietnamese shops were owned by families, really private owners.
“The broadness of the range and the service also went down. Because if you have a family shop, you really take care of your goods and of the people who come in. Now it’s more like shop assistants than owners sometimes, and you feel it.”