Interlude

On the way to Vietnam we had a six hour layover in Japan’s Narita Airport.  While Tokyo is about an hour away by train, Narita town is only one stop away.  Though small, Narita boasts a surprisingly large temple and garden complex which is free to visit and within walking distance of the train station.  Before taking a stroll through the gardens, Tara and I stopped for a lunch of grilled freshwater eel, a summertime favorite in Japan.  While perusing the menu I was very interested to see koi arashi, a carp sashimi dish.  I had heard of carp sashimi but never tried it.  In fact, I have only eaten carp once before, and never raw.
The thinly sliced fish came with a few crisp vegetables, served on top of ice to keep it cool in the summer heat.  Alongside was a tangy ginger and sesame dipping sauce.  The meat was firm with a mild flavor and overall quite delicious.  I asked the old man who prepared the fish if it had been caught nearby but he did not think so, “from the mountains” he replied.  Wherever it was from, I certainly enjoyed it.

Don’t Eat That!

There is a well known recipe for preparing carp:
First, fillet the fish. Place the salted fillets on a cedar plank and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Then, throw away the fish and eat the plank!
This is how most people feel about eating carp. This aversion is based on the popular misconception that carp are dirty fish that eat trash. This is nothing more than a common case of social ignorance.
To put this into perspective, consider tilapia. It seems like everyone eats tilapia now. You can order it in restaurants or buy it at Whole Foods and cook it yourself. Yet, according to a source referenced by Wikipedia, “tilapia is the third most important fish in aquaculture after carps and salmonids.” Clearly then, America’s preference for tilapia and aversion to carp is not shared by the rest of the world.
Another interesting illustration of social aversion to the consumption of a particular fish is that of tilapia in Hawaii. Tilapia are an invasive species in Hawaii and they have established themselves in the foulest water available – the Ala Wai canal in Waikiki. The dirtiness of the Ala Wai is not an exaggeration. Several years back, after a sewage line leak, several people were stricken with flesh-eating bacteria acquired by accidentally falling into the canal. In my experience, the residents of Hawaii who see this water teaming with tilapia have largely come to associate the fish with pollution and disease and so, despite it’s growing popularity on the mainland, do their best to avoid eating it.
I hope that these points help convince people to at least entertain the idea of eating carp, and to read on with an open mind.
Last year my friend Bill bought a stove-top smoker. Among his early experiments he caught and smoked some catfish which turned out quite well. From catfish, he was inspired to try smoking carp. As my pump was broken, Bill generously brought his kayaks to the lake and we set out in search of a tasty looking fish.

Bill had a spinning rod rigged up for sunfish and so the carp catching fell to me. I missed several fish, and broke off one before I finally hooked our meal-to-be.

Bill took the fish home and worked his magic. First he butchered it and then brined the fillets:

Next he fired up the smoker:

Finally, he finished things off by broiling the fillets briefly:

There you have it, smoked carp:

I don’t know if carp is actually that good or if most of the credit goes to Bill but this was some of the best smoked fish I have ever eaten. It definitely put to shame the stuff available in the grocery stores. The only thing that comes close in my mind is the freshly smoked salmon I have gotten in the Pacific Northwest. Not only was the carp delicious, but for any skeptics out there, we are all still standing. That carp, at least, couldn’t have been too dirty!