For centuries, families throughout much of central Europe have relied on one simple main course for Christmas Eve dinner: the common carp.
But getting from river (or carp farm) to table is not so simple. As the tradition goes, the Christmas carp must first swim in the family bathtub for at least a day or two before being killed, cleaned and prepared.
Fish became popular for Christmas Eve dinner during the 13th century, because Catholics considered fish as a fasting food, and Christmas Eve was the last day of the Advent fast. The history of eating fish on Christmas Eve is entirely due to the fact that Catholics couldn’t eat meat during the fast.
It likely helps that the Czech Republic and Slovakia have an abundance of carp, which they harvest in freshwater ponds and export all over Europe. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in the Czech Republic, “carp is the dominant fish species accounting for almost 90 percent of total aquaculture production,” according to data published in the National Aquaculture Sector Overview.
About 40% of the total is exported, mainly to Germany, Poland, and Slovakia, the rest is sold directly to the public and to local restaurants, primarily to Vietnamese customers, who are fond of carps.
Carp at the Christmas table appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, rather in fishpond areas or in rich families. Originally, it was made so-called “na černo” (black in English), prepared for up to three days in advance, when the meat was cooked with nuts, gingerbread or plums.
The oldest recipe was written in 1810. The long preparation led to it being replaced by a fried version, drawn from Austrian recipes and already present in the cookbook Domácí kuchařka by Magdaléna Dobromila Rettigová in 1895, the first cookbook to be written in Czech language at the time of national revival.
Nowadays, carp are usually prepared in a trio of flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. This habit emerged thanks to Mrs. D. Rettigová, the foremother of Czech cookbooks, who introduced a recipe for fried carp in one of their cookbooks in 1924.
Fishing spread in the fourteenth century, when the knights returned from the war expeditions, with greater knowledge on the subject. Like in other cultural and economic fields, even carp breeding expanded under the reign of Charles IV. Attentive to the prosperity of the land, the king commissioned the construction of lakes and ponds, especially in the area of Třeboň.
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??Oh Christmas carp, oh Christmas carp–a family dinner you’ll soon be. ? Do you have any holiday traditions involving seafood? In Central Europe, carp is a classic Christmas Eve dinner dish. And the fish will live in the family’s bathtub a couple days beforehand. The idea is that since carp are bottom feeders, swimming in fresh water for a few days helps flush mud out of the fish’s system. Others note it was a practical way to store fresh fish before refrigerators. Either way, the tradition has lasted in many households, and carp dinner is about to disappear if someone doesn’t stop that cat? Thanks @lenule86 for the pic. @npr did a fun article on the Christmas Carp tradition if you are looking to read more online. Seafood Watch recommends getting carp that is eco-certified by Naturland. Happy holidays everyone! #carp #christmascarp #holidaytraditions #donteatme #hungarycat #meow #sustainableseafood #seafoodwatch
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