Restaurant owner Jan Čulík urges Czechs to eat carp all year round

For the majority of Czechs, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the traditional Christmas dinner of fried carp and potato salad. Indeed, carp accounts for around 80 percent of the fresh water fish bred in the Czech Republic. However, most Czechs only eat carp once a year, on Christmas Eve, and the rest is sold abroad. Czech businessman Jan Čulík aims to change that and make Czechs eat carp not only at Christmas, but all year round. 

He recently opened a restaurant in his home town of Tábor in South Bohemia, specializing in carp dishes:

“We are based in South Bohemia, a landscape that is full of ponds, which have been here for centuries. Nowadays, however, carp consumption in this country is pretty low and Czechs eat only one kilo of carp per year.

“And because we are really interested in local sourcing of ingredients, we decided to take advantage of this. We are trying to make carp great again and make Czechs eat it more. We want to make carp meat more sexy and more cool for young people, that’s our mission.”

Jan Čulík | Photo: Jan Kopřiva,  Czech Radio

How do you want to achieve that?

“The main thing is that we are cooperating with one of the local fisheries and we have four ponds that we are converting into organic regime.

“At the moment there is no organic carp production in the Czech Republic. By doing this, we want to point out that carp farming itself is pretty organic, even when carp are not raised in an organic regime.”

So what’s the difference between organically bred carp and regular carp?

“It is actually not so big, because carp naturally live in a pretty organic environment. The main thing is to choose the right pond. Our ponds are located in a nature protected area close to Tábor, and they are surrounded by forests. The water is pretty clean there, there are no fields and no chemicals around. Also, they are not fed as much as regular carp and they are fed with bio-grains.”

How long does it take to grow carp?

Illustrative photo: Milan Kopecký,  Czech Radio

“That’s an interesting question. Normal carp takes two or three years to reach its market size. So when you compare it with chicken, which takes 40, 50 or 60 days to grow, it makes carp the meat of the future.”

What are the benefits of consuming carp meat?

“There are two main reasons. First of all, as I said, the production is located just two kilometres from here. There are ponds almost all over the Czech Republic, so the transport costs and the amount of CO2 emissions are much lower than in the case of sea fish.

“Also, carp produce much less CO2 then other animals, such as chicken or cows.”

Czech consumption of fish remains one of the lowest within the European Union. Why do you think Czechs have not developed a taste for fish? Is it because we are a landlocked country?

“I don’t thinks so. We have a pretty rich history of eating carp. There are probably two reasons behind that. We only know the Christmas version of carp, which means fried fish with potato salad.

“We want to make carp meat more sexy and more cool for young people, that’s our mission.”

“But actually, there are many other ways of preparing the fish, which have been abandoned, and that’s what we are trying to discover.

“The other thing is that people usually think that the bigger the carp, the better. But actually, the opposite is true. Smaller carps taste better because they have less fat and less of the carpy aroma, which people dislike.”

Where do you find inspiration for your carp dishes?

“Actually, that’s not my job, it’s the job our chef, Anna Vejvodová. The process usually involves finding some historical recipe and reinventing it for the present. If you give them a bit of a twist, these recipes can be a great inspiration. One of the great sources of carp recipes is the old Jewish cuisine, so that’s where we often look for inspiration.”

Illustrative photo: Ivana Šuláková,  Czech Radio

What are some of the most popular carp dishes in your restaurant?

One of the most popular dishes is the so-called Kaprovka. It is dill sauce, which is traditionally made from beef stock, but we make it with carp stock. It works very well with carp.

“The trick is to serve carp with a creamy sauce. It may seem a bit unusual, but the taste is actually pretty traditional, and the taste of dill is deeply ingrained in Czech minds.

“Currently we have come up with a recipe for smoked carp, which is conserved in a jar with pork fat. The combination works really well together. But we actually change the menu every week so it would be a very long list.”

And what is your favourite carp recipe?

“One of the great sources of carp recipes is the old Jewish cuisine, so that’s where we often look for inspiration.”

“I like carp with a bit of acidity. We also serve so-called kapřenky, which is carp marinated with salt and vinegar and lots of pepper. It is very versatile, you can serve it with caraway seeds and mayonnaise. So anything acidic with carp work well for me.”

What are you plans for the future? As far as I know you would like to obtain an EU certificate for organic fish farming.

“Yes. In cooperation with the local fishery in Tábor we would like to launch a standard production of bio-carp. We want to spread the word about bio-carp, sell it to other restaurants and not to keep it just for ourselves.

“So that’s the mission for next year, to increase the production of organic carp. South Bohemia is famous for its carp production but you can hardly find it on the menus of local restaurants, so I would like to see the carp being served in more restaurants, especially in South Bohemia.”