Saturday, 20 December 2008
Mad Czechs and Christmas Carps (and other weird things) in baths
Czechs are well known for their resourcefulness, borne of centuries of relative hardship. So they turn to anything that is useful in any circumstances. And a bath happens to be a very useful receptacle for anything that needs to be confined for a few days. Such as a carp that needs to be kept live till Christmas Eve, which is the day that it is traditionally on the menu.
So if you were to go out today or any day until Wednesday next week, you will find at every other corner jolly people in rubber aprons busily fishing huge carps out of large wooden tubs to the delight of queues of eager customers. They come with their string-bags as most of them take their purchase home live, and pop it into the bath. There it stays while the family goes without a wash - but then at least they get the entertainment of getting to know and befriending the unfortunate creature, even giving it a name. And so Fred, or Peter, is a beloved family member until the morning of its demise-day, when in thousands of Czech families the same tragicomedy ritual gets performed - dad chasing the slippery carp with a mallet all over the kitchen table, floor, chairs, wherever the poor thing happens to land in desperation to save its life.
But eventually it ends up on the festive table in the form of breaded fillets with potato salad, or, more elaborately, cooked in dark beer with prunes and raisins, sieved root vegetables and cream.
Nowadays the more trendy families are against this mass slaughter of carp, nevertheless they can't resist the 'carp-in-bath' ritual. So they go with their string bag and buy a carp, have it in the bath f0r a few days, and then stuff it into the string bag again and go with their children to a riverside, where they virtuously 'set it free'.
Whereupon the exhausted carp dies anyway.
A very elderly Jewish lady told me once how her childhood years were punctuated by having geese in the family bath, force-fed with potato dumpling pellets until they were so obese they hurt. But the resulting geese fat and liver were a delicacy prized beyond anything else.
And so, should you get a live chicken from some good soul in the countryside, why not bring it to your high-rise flat and keep it in the bath? Or a rabbit or two? After all, where there's a bath, there's a way :-)