Coming from a very large island, I don’t have much experience of eating river fish. In Serbia, indeed in much of central Europe, fish from the rivers and lakes is the norm.
The first time I visited Serbia, in 2003, family friends took us for lunch at a fish restaurant on the Danube, outside Novi Sad, in the northern region of Vojvodina. They ordered for us riblja corba (fish soup), a well known speciality in the towns that line the mighty Danube as it wends its way from Germany all the way down to Romania and the Black Sea. It’s strongly flavoured with either hot or ‘sweet’ paprika and usually made using carp, but other varieties that can be included are perch and catfish. I don’t think trout, another common river fish, is used. Traditionally, riblja corba is made in a huge cauldron outdoors over a fire and I was totally impressed visiting the restaurant near Novi Sad, that this was still the case.
Recently we had it again, this time in Zemun, a pretty northern suburb of Belgrade that is now a summer time hang out of bars and restaurants, but was previously its own free-standing town on the Danube. This was an altogether more refined experience in a chic restaurant – although the Gypsy band that had been playing at the outdoor restaurant near Novi Sad gave the whole thing a very Balkan atmosphere. The riblja corba wasn’t cooked in a cauldron this time but they kept the traditional feel and served it in a mini-cauldron copper pot swinging from a hook.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t grown up eating carp, but it just isn’t the nicest fish to eat. It’s bony, has very thick, unattractive and slimy skin and the flesh tastes quite muddy. Also knowing you’re eating an overgrown goldfish is a bit unnerving. The soup itself is delicious – hot and spicy and very flavourful, but I’m just not keen on the fish.