Vobla - Caspian Roach
Dried Salted Whole Vobla [Rutilus caspicus   - similar -   Common Roach Rutilus rutilus]

This fish, found in brackish and fresh waters, is native to the northern and western reaches of the Caspian Sea. At spawning time It enters the Volga, Ural, Emba, Terek and Kura river drainages. It may be a subspecies of the Common Roach which has a much larger range, including Norway, British Isles, Italy, the Adriatic basin, and Anatolia, but is not native to Iberia. Both are IUCN rated "Least Concern", but the Common Roach can become a pest.

The photo specimen, purchased from a multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles, was from Russia, 10-1/2 inches long and weighed 4 ounces. It was packed with three smaller fish. Dried, salted Vobla is quite an institution in Russia and Ukraine, and judging by the stores I buy it from, it is also known in Armenia, and no doubt Georgia and Azerbajan as well. It is often brought as a hostess gift by travelers from Moscow.   More on the Carp Family.

Spread out Vobla Buying:   In my experience this fish is easily available, vacuum packaged in clear plastic, in the refrigerated section of any market serving a Russian, Ukranian or Armenian community - which means it is very common here in Los Angeles. It is cheap in Russia, but not so much so around here. I have purchased it for about 2013 US $11.50 / pound.

Eating:   This dried fish is heavily salted, flat, thin, completely covered with large hard scales, full of bones and stiff as a board - so how do you eat this thing? Do you really want to eat this thing? No you don't - not until you've eaten one - they're kind of addictive - so here's how to acquire the addiction. Please note, this is not something you want to do when you are in a hurry, or have plans to go somewhere.

  1. First, you need beer. You cannot eat Vobla without beer - and plenty of it - preferably Russian beer. Around here that is most commonly Baltica. This bottled beer has the unique advantage of a ring pull cap, like on a can. No other sauce or condiment is used, but Vobla goes well with conversation.
  2. Hold the fish firmly and Pull out all the fins.
  3. Now, open the belly of the fish (it has been disemboweled, because it is illegal to sell it otherwise, at least in "over regulated" California - botulism risk). Pry it open and squish it down flat, inside up. Yes, it's ugly as sin, but sin does have its attractions, no?
  4. Pull out the backbone. The thickest and easiest to recover flesh is above the backbone.
  5. Pull off small bits of flesh from the inside as you can find them, picking off any tiny bones, as best you can.
  6. Pop a little piece in your mouth and chew, along with a generous swig of beer.
  7. When no more flesh can be found, discard the debris - and send someone out for more Vobla, and more beer.
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