Christmas in Czechland Part I: The Carp Sellers

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How can you tell Christmas is coming when you live in Czechland? 

The appearence of the carp sellers. 

No need to consult Delia Smith on how best to deal with a 15kg turkey you know you needn’t have bothered buying: in Czechland, the centrepiece of the festive spread is fish and potato salad.  Or if you’re really lucky, fish head soup.

The two gentlemen in the photo above are from a village near Brno. The one on the right comes to Prague every year to sell his wares; they both had to sleep in the car to keep an eye on their goods. I tried to engage them in witty banter or rather, grammatically inaccurate smalltalk.  Disappointingly, neither of them seemed that interested in the fact that I’m an Anglicanka or that I find all this choose your own carp business very exotic.  Oh well.  They did agree to pose for the photo. 

I hope the hammer is for dispatching the fish rather than attacking passers-by.

Normally I have already flown to England before the carp sellers set up their stalls so seeing all this fishy produce on offer on the streets of Prague has made me rather snap happy.  I know someone in the comments asked for more pictures of statues covered in snow. Here’s a fish head instead.

The carp swim around in the huge buckets you can see behind the table covered in blood and guts: you choose the one which catches your eye and then either get your friendly carp seller to chop its head off or take it home and keep it in the bath until the big day and do the gory business yourself. 

On the way back to The Village, we stopped at a small town en route to meet with one of Czechman’s former schoolmates (see! I used that word!).  He pulled out his mobile phone and proudly showed us a picture of the three carp he has swimming around in the tub.  Not for much longer. Christmas Day in Czechland is less than 24 hours away.  You will, of course, receive a full report right here.  For now, another amusing tale of my efforts to communicate in Czech.

‘What do you have for dinner on Christmas Day in England?’ asked Czechman’s mum while we were decorating the Christmas tree together.

‘Klokan’, I replied. 

Laughter ensued. The word I wanted, of course, was ‘krocan’.  The only ‘klokany’ in Europe are in zoos. No doubt just as tasty as their feathered wattle-necked friends.  As for the carp, I’ll let you know.

16 Comments

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16 Responses to Christmas in Czechland Part I: The Carp Sellers

  1. Michael

    This reminds me of my favorite memory of the first Christmas my wife and I spent together. We lived in Germany about 35 minutes away from Cheb, CZ. We drove into Cheb and bought our Carp from the fishmonger outside the TESCO (love that store). They stunned the fish, gutted it and we put it on ice and drove back to Germany. When we got home we soaked the fish in warm water for 2 hours to loosen theskales and skin and whatever other reason my wife gave for doing this.
    My wife then prepares to scale the gutted fish…the first stroke of her knife against the scales of the fish sent the carp flopping all over the place. My wife jumped up and backward about 10 feet, screaming. Bloody water from the sink is all over the kitchen as the dead fish flopped all over the place. The nerves were still active apparently. It took a few minutes to whack the fish into submission, and then my wife continued her preparation of the fish and together we cleaned the mess the fish had made. The fish was excellent…and the fishhead soup was supreme. This is one of my best memories ever.

  2. There is in fact a restaurant called U papiezu which specialises in klokani maso, and jolly tasty it is too! I’ll take you and Czechman there if you like!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Viktor,
      Ooh, a dinner invite! You never know, I might well take you up on that in 2011. Perhaps we could call it Year of the Klokan?!
      Thanks for being a loyal reader and commenter 🙂
      GIC

      • You richly deserve loyal reading and commenting! And I’m up for it whenever you two are there, I’m less in Prague than I used to be, and so the best time might be once it’s Spring and we can enjoy the outside terrace.

  3. Gory business it is, indeed – my father has just murdered one poor little carp down in the garage. Fortunately, I’m allergic to fish, so I don’t have to take part in this…

  4. Am so looking forward to Part II. 🙂

    In Australia we actually do eat Klokani. Very low in fat and quite tasty actually too. Any other countries out there who eat their national emblems?

  5. misunka

    I’m Czech experiencing my first Christmas (and maybe even last ones) in New York but I just do love your blog and every single post makes me laugh cause I love your perspective on things!!!

    Please I can’t wait to read what do you think about Czech Christmas “ceremony” itself haha…

    Happy Holidays,
    Michaela

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Michaela,
      Hope you’re enjoying your first American Christmas. Hope post number two lives up to your expectations 🙂 All best wishes for what remains of the festive season and 2011.
      GIC

  6. Hey, I didnt know the fishhead soup was only for the lucky ones?! My mom once sent me for a carp head for the soup. So after I cought a movie with my best friend, I bought the head and took the subway home.
    Poor carps!

    • girlinczechland

      I can’t really comment on the fish head soup as Czechman’s mum is not a fan so I haven’t tried it. I’ve heard it’s tasty though when done well so until I taste it for myself I’ll try to reserve judgement. Still, it doesn’t sound all that festive to me I must confess…
      GIC

  7. Jiha

    The carps actually do not swim around in these buckets in the sense of people not walking around inside trams during rush hour. And that’s not the only thing about this strange custom. I hear and believe that this whole carp selling business is not very nice and that it’s a matter addressed by many animal welfare activists. More here: http://www.goveg.cz/bloodychristmas/background.jsp?section=againstNature

  8. Cokonova

    Im expat aswell living now 5 years in Prague. In this special time I just miss the delicious and sorted (veggies, meat, fish, fruit) of my mediterranean country.
    First year I tried the carp.
    This tradition just shows the poverty in the excommunistic countries (plus Cz is a country with no sea). Fish is almost impossible to eat for the czech people during this poor past, so in Christimas time, as special eve, special dinner is offered – with fish.
    Unfortunately river fish, not sea fish.
    OK. Its a tradition. For ONE night I can eat it. BUt…please, really?
    Why torture your body with dirty fish from river the rest of the year? Despite the lack for foodbrain in this country (price of a small tunafish can is 300% more expensive than in a sea country) and (300% less quality), you can always try to find frozen fish in Makro.
    Specially if you have children (considering the importante of a good alimentaion and fish, it is) I encourage all the expats (and czech whynot?) parents to introduce in their kids weekly alimentation the fish. (real fish, not pangasius or carp).
    I just love this blog, but I take the chance to complain the lack of fish selling in this country. I just simply dont understand why the fish trucks can arrive till Dresden and not till main country capital Prague.
    Ladies & gentlemen: no excuses! Madrid is 8h road from sea and we have daily fresh fish in the markets. Encourage your family, friends and local markets to sell fresh fish!
    Your body & brain will thank you 😀
    Vesele Vanoce

    • Meky

      first I’d like to thank GIC for such a lovely blog – I’ve found it recently and have it read from the beginning so far and I’m really enjoying it 🙂
      I didn’t ment to react on such old posts at first but I’m sorry Cokonova – you made me to do so 😉
      What makes you guys spoilt westernies 🙂 think that the river and pond fish are dirty? Seriously – that’s what I can’t understand… all the dirt you assume there is in the rivers will end in the seas finally. There is a lot of delicious fish species living in our rivers including solomons f.e. (yes, their life starts in rivers), trouts, tenches, pikes, eels, catfish etc
      here are some useful websites unfortunatelly only in czech 🙁
      http://www.rybadomaci.cz/
      http://www.ceskaryba.cz/

      btw eating a carp for Christmas Eve dinner has nothing to do with communism – it goes far more further in the past… deep in the Middle Ages and maybe even further. As baby Jesus was born at midnight, the celebration started after the midnight Mass. The evening before, the 24th of December was still part of the Advent and the period of fasting. The dinner then had to consist of Lenten meals – peas, groats with mushrooms, potatoes and the only allowed meat – a fish. The true festive meal was the 25th Dec lunch with roast goose or duck and later also a turkey.

      Sorry for my English – haven’t been practising for a long time, finally google had to help with some translation – hope it’s ok 🙂

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