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WLB: Balaton restaurant owners have been worried lately because of a government decree restricting Balaton wishing. Oszi bácsi's Bream Fry Joint is affected by this decree more than any other place.
Gyula Juha: My only hope is that they come up with something to solve this unfortunate situation by the time high season starts. Many Tisza fishermen have contacted me recently, telling me that they would happily sell me fish, but Balaton fish is what is authentic on the Balaton shore. This is not how or why I would want to bow out.
WLB: Where did you get fish before the decree came into effect?
Gyula Juha: I got fresh fish every morning from the Keszthely harbour. I was there before the fishing boat reached the pier, and I picked out the fish myself. I always tried to buy smaller and bigger fish as well to give my customers options. When I got home I set to cleaning the goods by hand, which is no easy task when it comes to bream. But routine helps a lot, by now I can clean a fish in as little as two minutes. Four or five of us can do two hundred kilos in three hours.
WLB: Why do you clean the fish by hand? Doing such a large batch with a machine would be much easier.
Gyula Juha: If you clean fish mechanically, the tail breaks off, and in the case of bream the entire body of the fish gets crushed almost completely. The way I do it, all parts remain intact. We cut the gills out, of course, so that those who like to eat the head can do so without having a bitter aftertaste in their mouths. This is very meticulous work, especially when you have to clean iced fish manually in 40 degrees. But it is all worth it because people like it so much.
WLB: Is there a secret recipe you use during the preparation stage?
Gyula Juha: All there is to it is that the customers can pick the fish themselves, which I then coat in a simple mixture of flour and paprika. Finally, I serve it with bread and pickled cucumbers from Dabas. And eating fish by hand is mandatory at Oszi bácsi’s.
WLB: Can you mess up frying bream?
Gyula Juha: Of course you can! When it comes to fish, fresh ingredients are key, but a lot depends on the breadcrumbs and the temperature of the oil I fry the fish in. Last year I finally managed to teach one of my colleagues the proper way to fry pike-perch and bream, so that I don’t have to stand by the oil all the time, but unfortunately this year he is going to work in Austria, like so many others. Here at the Balaton we cannot compete with the money people make abroad.
WLB: Where did the idea of selling fried bream come from?
Gyula Juha: I came here to find work for one season, and I’ve been here for forty years. Back then you could only buy regular sausage and blood sausage at the beach, there was no lángos, for example. For a while I worked as a manager at a restaurant in Szigliget. Prompted by Jenő Csiszár, I started taking the idea of frying bream seriously four years ago. He has holidayed here since he was a teen, and he convinced me to sell quality Balaton bream.
WLB: Fish is everything to you, and yet a plush koala hangs above your counter.
Gyula Juha: Not too long ago a Hungarian couple living in Australia stopped by. They said they watched the television program Gasztroangyal, and before they came to Hungary, they compiled a list of gastronomic events and venues to keep them busy for two weeks. They saw me on the program, and they came to try my bream. They brought me the koala as a keepsake.