The carp’s journey from the fishpond to the Christmas table
For the vast majority of Czechs Christmas would not be Christmas without the traditional Czech Christmas dish – carp fried in breadcrumbs and potato salad. The process of getting it to the dinner table for a nation of over 10 million presents a serious challenge for the country’s fisheries.
The home-bred carp, raised in fishponds in South Bohemia has an important role in weaving the magic of Czech Christmas. In the run-up to Christmas it appears in large vats in Czech towns and cities from which it is sold live, to be killed and skinned on request – or taken home to occupy the bathtub until Christmas night to the delight of many children. Some families have their own Christmas tradition of going to the river and setting it free on Christmas day, which is not highly recommended since the fish rarely survive, but some families like the idea of “saving “ a carp and setting it free.
Every year from the middle of October till the end of November, fisheries clear their ponds, netting carp for the Christmas season and that event itself has become a part of the Christmas tradition for people living in the vicinity of fishponds. Whole families turn up for a day-long trip in which they brave the cold to watch fishermen in rubber suits pull in nets full of frisking carp, but also some pike and catfish. Usually some of the fresh fish is grilled at stalls on the spot for visitors to enjoy with beer or wine, and most families buy fresh carp to take home.
Radio Prague recently attended the clearing of lake Krčín, in southern Bohemia, and spoke to the head of the Třebon Fisheries Josef Malecha, who was overseeing the process.
Carp breeding is a carefully controlled process so that the fish reach an ideal weight for the Christmas season. Josef Malecha explains.
“We have detailed information regarding the growth of fish in every lake, and random weight checks are made which enable us to respond to the given conditions, whether to provide more food or different food so that the fish reach their ideal weight for Christmas and we can meet the requirements of our clients. Here we are expecting to net some 700 quintals of carp and 200 quintals of other breeds such as catfish and pike. The carp bred here is the so called European carp and weighs on average two to two and a half kilos.”
“I have to say that I much prefer carp, carp fried in breadcrumbs is my absolute favourite. I can consume eight large pieces in the course of a single meal. Of course I like other kinds of fish as well, the pike perch or catfish are also delicious, but, given a choice, I much prefer carp. Most people stick with the traditional recipe but there are many delicacies you can make from it – a colleague of mine makes carpaccio from carp and a tartar steak from it is supreme!”
Every family has its own favourite recipe for carp and carp soup. Should you decide to try this traditional Czech Christmas dish, one last piece of advice – they say that if you put a fish scale under your plate for the Christmas meal, it will bring you money and luck in the coming year.