A Very Merry Fishmas
If you find yourself anywhere in the Czech Republic around the Christmas season, you will notice vendors with large tubs of live carp to sell popping up in streets all over the country in the week leading up to December 24.
Fried, breaded carp with potato salad preceded by fish soup is the traditional Czech Christmas meal. Watching buyers carefully peruse and assess the fish in the vendors’ tubs before making a purchase, or watching them go from vendor to vendor before making a purchase shows how important selecting just the right fish is for some people.
Why Fish for Christmas?
I’ve often heard people question how the carp, generally considered to be of Asian origins, not only found its way to Central Europe but also became the standard Christmas meal in the Czech lands. In truth, it’s really quite logical:
Carp are a huge family of fish ranging from Europe to Asia; the common carp, which is the species used in the traditional Czech Christmas meal, is actually native to central Europe. It always was here, nobody imported it.
The Czech fish farming industry, which dates to the early 14th century, was built around the carp. To this day, the historic fish ponds and farms of the Třeboňsko region of South Bohemia produce the bulk of carp that you’ll see on sale around Christmas on Czech Streets.
It’s not such a stretch of the imagination to see how the fish that helped build and support an industry of both modern and historical significance to the nation could become the centerpiece of at least one major festive meal in the year.
Old School and New School
Traditionally, people would buy the live carp and keep it alive in their bathtub at home until it was time to kill it and prepare the meal. While many Czech Christmas themed films feature this tradition, it is becoming less common. These days, most people are quite content to have the vendor they make their purchase from kill, clean and filet the fish for them.
I’ve met many Czechs, often younger ones, who freely voice a dislike of carp if not outright detest it for a variety of reasons and would rather eat almost anything else. Despite this mindset, carp successfully manages to retain its popularity at the Czech Christmas table.
The Psychology of Carp
I’ve met a lot of foreigners to the Czech Republic who turn their noses up at the notion of eating a bottom living fish such as the carp. Some, depending on their cultural background, extend this view to all fresh water fish.
While the carp is well known for its bottom dwelling habits, and bottom feeding habits that go with that, it must also be kept in mind that the carp sold for the Czech Christmas table are 100% farmed stock that were bred, hatched and grown in a purpose made system of well tended and maintained ponds. This ensures the chances of them eating something, even off the bottom, that a food fish shouldn’t eat are very slight indeed.
The Czech fish farming industry hasn’t survived for over 500 years by being careless and mismanaged. If you wish to sample Czech Christmas carp, do so with confidence.
For more information about the Czech fishing industry and the famous Třeboň carp, follow this link:
3 thoughts on “Carp – The Festive Fish”
Hi, I’m a ecologist working at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway. Would you mind if I used one or two of these photos in a presentation? I’ll credit you.
Hi Daniel, of course you can use them. I have some other pictures of carp as well, so if you need more please send me an email (you can find the address in the “About Beyond Prague” section in the “Blog Info” drop down menu at the top of the page.
Thanks, that is great!