Have you ever heard of Prespa cironki? Cironki is a dried, salted fish product specific to southwestern Macedonia, particularly in the vicinity of Lake Prespa and villages of Stenje and Konsko in southwestern Macedonia. The fish species caught for cironki is belvica (Alburnus belvica), also known as nivicki. The maximum size of mature belvica is 12-15 cm, and the fish used for this product are usually about four years old. The production technique dates back for centuries.
To make cironki, belvica are fished (usually overnight), usually caught with pezol or pezovola nets, types of circular nets with lead weights used both near the lakeshore as well as in the middle of the lake. These traditional nets are unique to Lake Prespa. Once caught, the fish are salted in a ratio of one kilogram of fish to 300 g of salt. The salted fish are placed into a barrel, and then topped with orach (also known as “saltbush”) leaves and a large stone plate to press the fish. After one week of salting, the fish are threaded and hung in the summer sun to dry for one to two weeks. The fish can then be stored for up to two years.
Cironki is different from many other salted and dried fish products in that the fish is not cleaned first; instead the internal organs and skin are included in the drying process. The cleaning is done immediately prior to consumption. To eat cironki, the fish are first soaked in hot water to desalinate and swell. The skin and internal organs are then removed. Cironski can be served with oil, parsley, garlic, and red pepper or just lightly fried. They are an inevitable part of the table during the Lenten fast, but also served year-round as an appetizer with a little rakia or wine.
Prespa’s fish is one of the main features of the area because of the unique nature of the species that live in the lakes. Out of the 23 species found in the area, 9 are endemic, found only in the Prespa Lake and nowhere else in the world. Fishing is one of the most important activities in the region, creating a strong relationship between the protection of these rare fish species and the viability of Prespa’s fisheries.
In the village of Stenje, the tradition of cironki production lives on, where the fish are prepared for both home consumption and also for sale to tourists during the summer or for sale in small quantities in one market. In nearby villages, however, such as Dolno Dupeni and Ljubojno, this tradition has practically disappeared. Emigration out of the Prespa Lake area by younger generations means that fewer people are learning or continuing the production each year. Cironki is extremely connected to its production location, and cannot be found in other areas.
How to prepare Prespa cironki?
- 300 g cironki
- 100 g oil
- Bukowska pepper (red flakes pepper)
- dried mint
- Bake fish on a plot shortly and immediately put them in hot water. Let them simmer in water until soften.
- Put them in a strainer to strain water, remove their heads and put them in a bowl, pour with oil, Bukovec and dried mint. Mix well and serve.