Thursday, December 22, 2005

Would a Turkey vote for Christmas?

Well, in Poland, turkeys vote ‘Yes’ for Christmas by a landslide.

This is because Christmas dinner tables around these parts do not groan under the weight of a 10-kilogramme bird stuffed with horse chestnuts and sage. Christmas tables in Poland groan under the weight of (traditionally) twelve different dishes, the centrepiece of which is a carp.

They eat the Christmas carp in many different ways. You can bake it, steam it, fry it. You can stew it in beer and raisons, have it accompanied with a sweet and sour source, stuff it with almonds, or even have it (yum, yum!) jellied in aspic.

Not really my cup of tea, but most Poles just love the Christmas carp. Total production of farmed carp in Poland amounts to around 22,000 tons annually, most of which is consumed at this time of the year.

The best way to buy your carp (say fishy aficionados) is alive and kicking and swimming around a small tank at your local grocers. The fish is then taken home, and, quite often, kept in the bath until it has to be cooked.

The problem then comes, of course, when you have to kill the wriggling, slimy little beast. The best method, I am assured, is by a quick and accurate whack over the head with a small hammer.

But not everyone can face this most brutal of tasks. It’s the man’s job, traditionally. But not all men are man enough to get hold of a fish that is as determined to see what’s in its Christmas stocking as the rest of us, haul it out of its watery Death Row, and put an end to its misery.

So many try to find novel ways of doing the deed. Getting drunk before you have to is, understandably, one of the favourites. Another way is to not drink the vodka yourself, but give a bottle of it to the fish – that way at least the poor thing will die with a smile on its face.

I have even heard of one traumatised carp killer who decided that he was not going to bash it over the head after all, but electrocute it. This bought him more than he bargained for when. After putting a steam iron plugged into the shaving socket into the bath with the carp, the whole of the block of flats where he was living plunged into darkness.

Carp Liberation Front

But concern is growing among ecologists and fishy freedom fighters about the treatment of carp during the Christmas period. An organisation called Gaja has been organising marches in Poland in protest at, what they say, is the cruel and barbaric conditions in which the carp are reared, transported and killed. Gaja (known to their friends, possibly, as the Carp Liberation Front) have been buying up lots of these fish from supermarkets and then liberating them back into rivers.

But a carp in the bath can have positive consequences. A British man I know lives in Warsaw with his Polish wife. A few years ago they were staying with their Polish in-laws for the Christmas holiday. It was the morning of Christmas Eve when they decided to stay in bed and have a bit of yuletide rumpy-pumpy. Being a good catholic girl she used the so-called ‘natural method’ of contraception – which involves, among other things, the wife getting up after they had finished and going to wash in the bathroom to have a bit of a wash. Of course, when she got to the bathroom she was confronted by the carp swimming away merrily in the bath. But what to do? She couldn’t get in the bath with the carp – modesty forbid! So she just returned to her husband in bed, unwashed.

Nine months later a little baby girl was born.

So, as I go into the grocery stores on the run up to Christmastime I’m always looking into the large vats they have full of carp swimming around waiting for there own little private Year Zeros and I think of that little girl.

But I swear that one carp caught my eye in the shop this morning. It was trying to tell me something. It was saying that it was not looking forward to Christmas in Poland, would not have voted for it if it had been asked, and wished, just wished, that it were a turkey.

Merry Christmas to everyone at p3 and beyond.


At 12/23/2005 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

It might be worth mentioning that people keep the carp in the bathtub to wash it out and improve the taste. On its own, carp tends to taste like .... mud (nicest possible word to use) but keep in the bathtub and fed bread for a few days the taste is greatly improved.

At 12/23/2005 02:10:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

I'll just have to take your word for that, Michael. I pretend to my girlfreind that I am alergic to carp and dinner in Poland for me is torture (her mum won;t even let me drink wine!!!)

At 12/23/2005 04:31:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

Christmas dinner on Christmas day or Wigilia? Wigilia is supposed to be meat free (why there's so many vegetables like carp and herring) but meat's back on the menu for Christmas day IME. Why no wine? I've had wigilias with vodka on the table and I've never heard that alcohol shouldn't be served for either wigilia or christmas day.

I don't much like carp but herring is fine (though maybe an acquired taste) I once had a delicious herring dish and when I asked what it was called I was told "śledź w miodzie" (herring in honey). I don't think I would have touched it if I knew what it was called.

At 12/24/2006 09:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not that the Poles are particularly crazy about carp- but rather that the dictates of their Roman Catholic faith prohibit meat on Wigilia (Christmas Eve); thus, as fish are permitted by the Church, the carp came to be the standard. Further, most of the Polish carp are acquired from domestic fish farms- and are specially fed- and thus do not have the same smell or taste as their "wild" bottom-feeding cousins. They are not put in the tub to improve their taste. Rather, they are kept in the tubs as the best carp are those under 3 kilos weight- the larger ones do not offer the same taste. Unfortunately, by the 23rd or 24th the only carp left to purchase fresh are these larger ones. Thus, you may have to select your "perfect" sized carp earlier in the week- and no self-respecting cook kills and freezes a fish for later. The tub serves as a tank until a Christmas Eve preparation. Lastly, I have NEVER met a Pole who didn't have spirits at the table- I do Vodka shots with my herring. Cheers!

At 12/26/2006 03:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous.

We are now here:


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