Near the bubbling cauldron on the banks of the Baltic Sea, long queues line up to taste the local specialty of Latvia: a parasitic eel-like fish called sea lamprey.
Lampreys feed on herring and salmon and were popular in the Middle Ages, but later became obsolete in most of Europe.
In Latvia, they are still a delicacy for many festivals.
“Whether it is smoked or boiled in soup, lampreys have a unique taste,” said Laura Berzina, who came to the Salacgriva Autumn Festival, excitedly.
Mrs. Berzina and her family traveled one hundred kilometers to taste this delicacy.
Nataliya Alexandrova was born in Russia and is a retired accountant in Riga. “But living in Latvia makes me appreciate this delicious dish,” she said.
A kilogram of lampreys in Latvian supermarkets sell for as much as 30 euros, which is almost four times that of a kilogram of beef.
According to data from the BIOR of the Riga Institute of Food Safety and Animal Health, Latvia, a country with a population of 1.9 million, catches approximately 50 tons of lampreys each year.
Although it is a parasite, the lamprey has become the official symbol of various coastal towns.
The European Commission even included it in the list of food and beverage products with “protected designations of origin” along with French champagne and Greek feta.
In Britain, lampreys are closely related to the royal family. Therefore, excessive lampreys will be the reason for the death of King Henry I in 1135, and even today, lamprey pies are served at the royal banquet.
– Tradition –
Lampreys hatch in streams that flow into the Baltic Sea and then migrate to the sea to hunt fish.
They are usually captured when they return to the river to mate after seven or eight years.
The fishermen fix their fishing nets on a temporary wooden bridge called “tacis” on the river, which is removed every winter.
“Every spring, when the ice on the river melts, we rebuild our Tasis,” Alexander Rosensteins, owner of a small lamprey fishing company called Kurķis, told AFP.
Harvesting usually occurs when an autumn storm pushes lampreys back into the river.
Lampreys are only active at night, so fishermen check their nets in the early morning.
“It can vary from zero or a few pounds to hundreds of pounds,” Rozenshteins said.
The law allows fishing nets to be deployed only two-thirds of the width of the river so that other forms of river creatures can move freely.
The only difference from the ancestral fishing method is that the net was made in the factory, whereas in the past we used fir branches.
“Whether the lamprey is smoked, grilled or boiled in a large pot, we will continue to observe the fishing and cooking methods that have been used for centuries,” Rozenshteins said.