Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's just not Christmas without carp!

 A traditional Czech Christmas dinner just wouldn't be complete without carp.  Yes, carp.  Fried carp served with potato salad.  It's the main dish really, and believe it or not, it's quite good!  Although I love fried carp, I like to have carp 2-ways at my Christmas table ...fried and baked carp, aka Gypsy carp ("kapr po cikánsku") - it's delicious!!

Traditional Czech Christmas dinner... fish soup (carp), fried carp and potato salad 

Right about now you'll see fishmongers with their large tubs of live carp throughout Prague and other cities in the Czech Republic.  

 The Třebon Fishery, located in the south Bohemian town of Třebon, is one of the country's main producers of carp, harvesting roughly 2,200 of the company's yearly output of 3,300 tons in the fall.  The country has a long tradition of carp farming that started in the early 14th century.  "Our method of fishing has remained largely unchanged, apart from a few innovations," says Aleš Kříž (no relation to me... that I know of!), the company's head fish-breeding technician.  "First, we drain the pond, which can take anywhere between a week and a month, depending on how deep it is.  The fish move to the deepest part of the drained pond, and that's where we catch them, with boats and nets.  it is hard physical labor that hasn't changed in the past 500 years." 

Třebon Fishery

Třebon Fishery, which has 388 carp ponds, employs 95 fisherman, but seasonal workers as well as carp-fishing aficionados who come in when the main season kicks off to help out the staff.  After carp is fished, the specimens are divided by size and the smaller fish are returned to ponds while the bigger ones are moved to holding facilities from where they are delivered to retail outlets.  Czech carp are sold when they are 3-4 years old, so it's a long process.

The country's total output of carp averages 20,000 tone yearly, 70% of which is exported to countries such as Slovakia, Germany and Austria, but also to more remote importers like Spain and Italy.

In recent years, salmon and even poultry and pork-based dishes have gained popularity as viable replacements for carp at Christmas, which the younger Czechs view as too heavy a meal.  However, carp remains the undisputed favorite for most families.  Some families have tried salmon or something else one year, but they always come back to carp realizing that it's just not Christmas without carp!