I remember one of the first times I stood confidently in line at the deli section of Albert waiting to order some ham and cheese. While the women in front of me made their selections, I studied the options carefully (and there are many; Czechs like their ham). Something caught my eye that was weird. It was a tag advertising a temporary deal on RETRO “Prague ham.”
So, in case you’re actually from the past, “retro” means “in the style or fashion of a time in the past.” Often today it’s used to refer to the American 60s and 70s. Nobody wants to return to the fashion of the 80s and 90s (maybe that’s just me). Still,
What could be RETRO about ham?
I’ve been told this ham is prepared in a style that was common during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia (1948-1989). Maybe it reminds people of their younger years.
I tried to think, what kind of meat could be considered retro for Americans? The only thing I could think of is something nobody would think of eating nowadays the same way they used to (think of American 50s home cooking)… which is lard.
Before Americans became deathly scared of saturated and trans fats (similar to how afraid Czechs are of a stray draught), they had no problem with lard, which in Czech is sádlo. They cooked with it and probably spread it on bread, the way Czechs do – they wouldn’t be without it. The difference was that the American version was much more likely to be processed and unnatural. It wasn’t always packaged in such an ugly way as in the picture, but I chose it because this is how I envision it, based on modern connotations. Most Czechs believe “lard” to actually be a healthier way to cook, and if it’s homemade, I probably agree.
Update: a friend reminded me of another very popular retro meat, SPAM.
Continuing with the trend of canned meats, this was introduced in 1937 and gained popularity after World War II. Its basic ingredients are pork, with ham added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar and sodium nitrite, with gelatin natural formed at the top. It became associated with “mystery” luncheon meats in general, of course the quality of which is questioned… but you can even find “luncheon meat” in English-language tins here in CZ!
Another example of a Czechoslovak commodity that’s been around for awhile is Pedro. Not a very politically correct brand, but considering the cultural isolation Communism imposed on its comrades, people were probably attracted by its *exotic* imagery of a Mexican boy.
Pedro is a brand of candy but it started out as this iconic gum, which cost a WHOPPING 1 CZK – the smallest amount of currency it possibly could cost!
Now I hear my father, who told me once about buying massive amounts of bubble gum in the 60s for pennies (1c, also the lowest American currency) and nickels (5c). Back then, that was “a lot of money” (for kids) and perhaps Czechoslovak children saw it the same way.
Pedro is still around, with an updated marketing image:
What child wouldn’t be seduced by a tattoo?! That reminds me of my favorite childhood gum, which has also been around for quite some time – Juicy Fruit, made by the famous chewing gum company Wrigley’s. Here’s its history of retro-ness:
The modern one, I think we can all agree, is definitely the most eye-catching and attractive. Nice job manipulating children, and all the children inside us, Wrigley’s! 🙂
Last but not least is my favorite retro pick in the supermarket – Melta.
Melta was a coffee substitute when coffee was hard to come by. When I was in Leipzig in June, I went to a Coffee Museum and it was actually very interesting how the Communist government innovated. There were sometimes problems with the coffee harvest in Brazil (where the beans typically came from), so they strategically shifted their import relationship to Ethiopia and Vietnam because they knew people couldn’t live without their brew, their Joe, their black gold. It was during this time that the first decaf was invented – the West and East even competed in their methods of decaffeinating coffee. (As big as sending a man to the moon, and as small as beans. Literally.)
Melta is a mix of chicory, sugar beet, barley and rye with some other proprietary spices. It comes either loose in packaged bag form, or in teabags in the box form. It’s stronger-tasting than other typical coffee substitutes. When it’s brewed with tons of milk and sugar, it’s called “White Coffee” or “Kids’ Coffee.” And it’s fantastic. It makes my whole day when they have it in the cafeteria 😀
I became temporarily obsessed with Melta my first year in CZ – I was going through boxes like it was chocolate. It’s great for kicking a caffeine habit while you still actually enjoy what you’re drinking. Plus – it’s a drinkable history lesson. 🙂
And as for American retro coffee?
It warms my heart to see the blue Maxwell House can on the top right. It’s obviously been updated, but it’s been around quite a while. The coffee is absolutely horrible today – I don’t know if back then – it’s very standard, but it’s what my Grandma used to drink religiously, and I always obliged a cup because of childhood memories, and also coffee addiction.
What “retro” foods do you remember from your childhood?