The World According to Carp

Photo: CTK

A Czech carp meets a swift end under the club and knife of a Prague seller - one of many on Prague's streets hawking the traditional Christmas fish - ahead of Christmas Eve. The seller, whose name is Josef, tells me Czechs have been eating carp for generations. It simply wouldn't be Christmas without carp on the plate.

Photo: CTK
"These carp come from the famous ponds region in Trebon. We've got about five tanks which aren't completely full - yet - but will be by Christmas. There are more than 200 kilos per tank, around a hundred fish."

The ideal weight of a carp ranges from 2 to 2.5 kilos. After being weighed the fish is quickly dispatched. Of course it doesn't feel a thing: the rules on this are very precise.

"You stun the carp with a quick blow from a club and then cut through the spine. It's dead within 2 seconds and that's it, you're done."

Photo: CTK
But, not all have their fish killed on the spot: some families, especially those with small children, still prefer taking their fish home. Presumably to watch it swim around in the tub for a few days.

Our seller Josef, however, says there is less and less of this; and he says that's a good thing.

"Some families take their carp home to leave it in the tub for a few days before they kill it. I don't think that's good for the fish. The water's too warm: carp need to be in the cold. I think the fish suffers if it's left if in a tub for three or four days."

We spoke to some people on the street and asked them how they felt about eating carp.

"I have carp every year, every year it's carp!"

"The carp are good - especially the ones from Trebon - they're famous and taste good. They're great because they don't really have that 'fishy' smell."

One elderly lady we spoke to did remember a time carp were hard to get:

Photo: CTK
"Yes, it was during the war. No carp, we had to eat horse meat instead."

By contrast, there are some families that continue to go without: the difference is they do so willingly, granting their carp a "reprieve": instead of eating it, they set it free in the muddy waters of the Vltava River.

But, sellers like Josef tell us attempts like this are a lost cause: such fish never live for long.

"Fewer people now try to free their fish. Most people know that the carp is a creature of the pond, and have learned if they release it into a river, the fish will soon die."

So, save your carp for Christmas dinner and - as always - do mind the bones!