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Expert recommendations and insider tips for first-time visitors and locals alike from ARTĚL’s founder, Karen Feldman, who has lived in Prague since 1994. Click on the links below for detailed reviews – from Feldman’s own unique perspective – of all the best that Prague has to offer...

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Tis the Season to Bludgeon Carp

Published on December 11th, 2014 in Entertainment

  • Praha - Christmas sale of fish, 1936 (photo courtesy of ČTK - Czech News Agency)

  • Christmas carp in bathroom, c. 1975 (photo courtesy of ČTK - Czech News Agency

  • A vendor selects a carp for a customer (photo courtesy of www.ibnlive.in.com)

  • Selecting the perfect carp (photo courtesy of czechtourism.com)

 

One of the messier, if not merrier, Czech holiday traditions is the bludgeoning of the Christmas carp. If you are not squeamish and would like to witness what I have been told is in fact a very humane killing, fishmongers and their massive tubs of live carp start popping up in Prague outside of grocery stores and metro stations in mid-December: Tesco at Národní třída and the pedestrian area near Anděl metro do a brisk business in carp killing. The endgame here is the Czech Christmas table where fish soup is followed by deep-fried carp served with a side of potato salad (also not for the squeamish)!

 

Why carp? And why, oh why, must they be prepared in such a brutal manner? Carp have been raised in Bohemia for a thousand years—first by monks as it was a staple of Christian holidays—and later by the royal Rozmberk family who cultivated the fish on a larger scale and whose ponds still produce most of the country's carp. Fun fact: The Czech Republic produces some 20,000 tons of carp every year, 90 precent of which is sold live at markets.

 

 

Left: Carp in the tub, vintage postcard (photo courtesy of http://hrubanova.blog.denik.cz) | Right: Christmas carp, c.1971 (photo courtesy of ČTK / Czech News Agency)

 

 

Much later, as the dish became a modern holiday standard, Czech families would buy the carp a few days prior to Christmas and let it swim around the bathtub before finishing it off with a wooden mallet. My Czech friends and colleagues who came of age in the '70s and '80s say that this was a big hit with them growing up if only for the fact that they were excused from bathing.

 

Following the Communist era, most Czechs began to prefer the less mess, less fuss method of having the fishmonger do the dirty work for them, hence the large number of carp sellers that can be found bloodying Prague streets at Christmastime today.

 

The irony here is that most Czechs will tell you that they don't even like carp (having myself sampled some of this bony delicacy, slightly reminiscent of gefilte fish, I can agree). And yet it's just as big a part of the festivities as opening gifts. Make no bones about it, I've rarely met a Czech who doesn't keep a few dried scales from the Christmas carp in his or her wallet; said to symbolize money and bring wealth in the New Year!

 

 

 

 

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