Nothing pleases the true Primoryan more than the words: “Ice is up!” – signaling the start of ice fishing season. Whole families in Primorye decked out in exaggerated costumes, grab their fishing rods and head to the reservoirs. And all for smelt - the main winter fish of Vladivostok - fresh and aromatic in homemade recipes.
Ice usually comes to Vladivostok at the end of November, beginning of December - from then on the main dish on the tables of Primorye is fried smelt (locals joke that smelt season begins when the first car has sunk).
Not only fishermen but also restaurateurs will be looking forward to the frost; in December the annual Smelt Festival will begin, where chefs will offer their own variations of dishes containing the seasonal fish. Meals will be served at promotional prices at participating restaurants. There is nothing limiting the chefs’ imaginations: they can make ukha (fish soup), fish in marinades and various sauces, or whatever recipes they want - the only condition is that a traditional lightly floured and fried version must be on the menu.
It is difficult to explain what this period means to locals. The cult around this fish is reflected even in proverbs and sayings of Primorye: “brains like smelt” (= stupid person), “goes along like smelt after foam rubber” (= a person who is gullible or easily influenced) and other expressions that could help a newcomer blend in.
“Wolffish” smelt (known as an “Asian Toothy” among marine biologist, grow as large as 34 centimeters) and three kinds of “small mouths” (Japanese, sea, and ordinary) live along the coast of Primorye. Another smelt is called a “cucumber peddler” because of its characteristic smell, which, incidentally, has a scientific basis. The smelt feeds on algae growing on rocks - giving it a fresh scent that in winter comes from almost every window. Do you want to go on a quest? Try to track down all the participating restaurants in the city by following this smell.
The smelt festival - like the navaga, mussel, and taiga festivals - became part of the annual calendar of events in Far Eastern cuisine. Gastronomic adventure travel is a current trend in world tourism, so guests from neighboring countries and regions gladly fly to Vladivostok for the festival dates. Organizers are the Pacific Tourism Union, a non-profit organization responsible for the Pacific Russia Food project.
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