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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fishing for the Perfect, Salty and Tasty, Beer Complement

Anyone who has spent at least a week in Russia has probably seen this local favorite being dangled by babushki outside metro stations.


It is widely known as vobla, or vyalenaya ryba, a preserved, salted, dried fish. In fact, vobla is just one of many kinds of dried fish. Others include leshch, barabulka and snetok, a tiny fish found in northern lakes. All of them, except for leshch, are edible only after being dried in fresh air through a process known as jerking. When cooked or fried, they taste awful. Leshch is the fattiest of them all, and after being dried it leaves a little more pulp to sink your teeth into.


Here is how the jerking process works: The freshly caught -- or recently bought -- fish are either rubbed with salt or briefly pickled. A rope is then passed through their eyes, and they are strung up to dry outside in a spot that is sheltered from$direct sunlight. During this time, they should be covered with a cheesecloth to keep flies away.


Vobla can be bought at a rynok, or market, or near most metro stations. Before you take one home, check to make sure it has been properly dried. If it hasn't, it may be on the verge of rotting. You may prefer to leave the choice to a Russian friend, as selecting a good vobla is an intricate process with many subtle nuances.


Once you've bought a vobla -- which will be as hard as stone -- you need to know how to eat it. First, bang it on the edge of a table to soften it. Then you should twist the head off and throw it away. Peel off the skin, starting from the head and moving your way down the body. Then take the bottom fin and pull on it to open the stomach to reach the fish guts. These are inedible, except for the fish eggs and the gall bladder. Burn the gall bladder with a lighter until it shrinks into a black curlicue, and then eat it. This is considered the sweetest piece of the fish.


Next you should pull out the top fin, which makes it easier to get the fish from the bones -- this is the thickest part of the vobla and the least likely to be overly dry. Rip it off, starting from the tail end. When you are done working on that, gnaw around the bones and fins thoroughly.


All these tips, however, will not suffice to help you properly enjoy vobla. To have the full Russian experience, consume your dried fish with copious amounts of beer.