Carp and trout are the most common freshwater fish available on Croatian markets, since they are bred in a number of fish farms. However, there are those who know that the range of fish on offer is far more varied: catfish and horned pout (liked for practical reasons because it has no small bones, just the spine) can often be found in continental fishmongers. Somewhat rarer is the very tasty pike perch and pike. Rarely, one can chance upon tench, a rather fatty but exquisitely flavoursome fish. Eels cannot be bred in captivity but they do appear in fishmongers’ shops. Among other types of fish found in clear and cold rivers, which are of interest to gastronomes, is the grayling, but one has to go out and catch it as it almost never appears on the markets.
In addition to the classic paprika-flavoured stew that offers nourishment and refreshment after a long day of work or during a cold winter day, a special place in Croatian cuisine belongs to fiš-paprikaš, a rich paprika-flavoured fish stew eaten in Slavonia and Baranja. It is made from freshwater fish, which is why it is common in these two regions where rivers play an important role. It is believed that this speciality was brought there by settlers from southern Germany, but it is also associated with Hungarians that once inhabited the area of modern-day Baranja region. Today, it is known across the country as a speciality of these two regions.
Fiš-paprikaš is traditionally made in a copper cauldron suspended above an open flame. The cauldron is filled with water, diced pieced of gutted freshwater fish, such as catfish, carp or pike, and some onions, and the whole thing is left to boil above the fire. Before the fiš actually boils, spices are added to the mix that give it its distinct colour and spiciness. Mostly, the spices are ground sweet and spicy paprika commonly used in Slavonia and Baranja. The rest of the ingredients – salt, tomato sauce, white wine, roe and milt – go in after about ten minutes of simmering, followed by another twenty minutes or so of cooking. Fiš-paprikaš is served with home-made wide noodles, but it is equally as delicious with freshly baked home-made bread.
Naturally, there are as many original fiš-paprikaš recipes as there are families in Slavonia and Baranja, but the key is fresh, high-quality fish, and preparing and eating the fiš in good company. This is why there are regular contests in preparing this speciality in eastern Croatia, called fišijada, where people of all ages go head to head, hoping that their pot wins the title.