If You Lived In Slovakia, You’d Have A Christmas Carp In Your Bathtub Right Now

Carp? What carp?

Carp? What carp? I didn’t see any carp here. Nope. (Plankton 4:20)

Tis the season for holiday traditions — and for finding out about other countries’ treatment of the season so we can marvel at how different we all are on this big blue marble. Let’s head to Eastern Europe, where apparently there are bathtubs filled with carp right about now.

NPR’s always interesting The Salt blog brings us the tale of the Christmas carp, the traditional holiday meal for centuries in Slovakia and nearby countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and Croatia.

It’s the fact that fish is served on Christmas that’s got our attention though — it’s that the Christmas carp is traditionally kept in the family bathtub for a few days before the big event, before it’s killed, cleaned and prepared to eat.

This, of course, means some fish get named and treated like pets, and no one can bathe until the carp is done swimming.

“In my childhood, I remember thinking ‘poor carp,’ ” one Bratislava resident told The Salt, while others say they ended up freeing the poor guy after being unable to face eating what becomes a family pet.

So why the bathtub? Because carp are bottom feeders, you don’t want to eat all the things they’ve been eating before they’re killed. The thought behind it is that leaving the carp in unmuddied waters for a few days will clean out its digestive tract (which isn’t really enough time, according to a fisheries scientist who spoke to The Salt).

Others simply like keeping the fish as fresh as possible before serving it up — this way they can shop in advance of the rush and just let the fish hang out until it’s time to get cooking.

Tradition dictates that the father of the family slices the carp’s head off when it’s ready to go, a feat that can be harder than a simple snick of a knife.

“These are strong fish that move quickly,” says an American living in Bratislava. His wife, who is Slovak, told him sometimes the fish needs to be stunned first with a mallet or similar tool.

But as the times change, so do traditions. Many now would rather buy the fish ready to cook, instead of becoming attached to a new pet and then having to worry about killing it later.

After the hard work is done, whether by the fishmonger or the family, the carp is often soaked in milk to make it less fishy smelling, and sliced top to bottom in pieces shaped like horseshoes for good luck. It’s then served breaded and fried, often alongside cabbage soup and potato salad, and I can only imagine, seasoned with the tears of any kids in the house who’ve become attached to Mr. Carpy McCarperson.

In Slovakia, Christmas Dinner Starts In The Bathtub [The Salt]

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