Carp - traditional Czech Christmas meal


Almost every country has slightly different Christmas traditions, and that includes Christmas meals. Many people around the world are now busy preparing to roast a turkey, for example. The traditional Czech Christmas meal is fried carp, potato salad and fish soup. Pavla Horakova tells us more about the tradition of carp breeding and cooking in the country.

In this part of the world people once used to fast at Christmas. Later they started to cook meatless dishes, such as sweet porridge with dried fruit or various cakes, and later fish became the most common fasting meal. The Czech Republic is a landlocked country and the most common and affordable breed of fish is carp. This soft-finned fresh-water fish inhabits ponds and sluggish streams and feeds chiefly on vegetable matter.

In the Czech Republic carp is bred in artificial ponds mainly in South Bohemia, and almost exclusively for the Christmas table. The price of Christmas carp has gone up since last year owing to a relatively cool summer, which meant that carp didn't put on so much weight. The Czech Republic also exported a considerable amount to Germany where in some regions the tradition also exists. The most desirable weight of a carp is 2.5 to 3 kilos, and a family of four will usually buy two fish. Traditionally, the carp is sold in barrels on the street.

What you just heard was the sound of a carp thrashing about while being weighed on scales and then being killed with a club. Men in rubber aprons - these ones were standing around the corner from the radio building - fish out the carp with a net and then weigh it and kill it for you if you wish. It's done very quickly and the carp's head is immediately cut of. It can be later used for cooking the soup together with some of the entrails including soft and hard roe.

Some people, however, buy the fish live and keep it in their bathtub until Christmas Eve, and then kill, scale and gut it themselves. Some families, especially with little children, will buy a live carp, keep it in the bathtub for a few days, and then go to a river or a pond in the morning on December 24 and release it back into the wild. Then they cook and eat a second carp - which someone else had killed for them. But experts say it is not the best idea to release the carp into rivers and streams, since the carp almost always dies soon afterwards.

After Christmas many Czechs keep one or two scales of the Christmas carp in their wallets, because they believe it will bring them good luck and lots of money in the new year.