Everything Except The Trout at Ohrid

Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid is famous for its trout.  In the chilly, mountain depths of these waters, the ohridska pastrmka (pastrmka means trout) has swum since time immemorial, and has been fished here since Neolithic times. It’s one of the only European fish to have existed since before the last ice age, and the species is probably some million years old.  Reportedly, it’s delicious.  The problem is, it’s almost extinct.  That doesn’t stop restaurants here from serving it.  Neither do the police, though it’s officially illegal to fish for it or sell it.
This is the “Macedonian Riviera,” and the eating here in Ohrid town has been almost uniformly excellent, with lots of cheap, pleasant restaurants dotting the waterfront and the side streets. We’ve been avoiding ohridska, but eating just about every other watery fauna we can get our forks into.  Here’s a look at what’s on offer in Ohrid that’s not endangered.
The first meal we had in Ohrid, we ate squid and shrimp – neither, of course, are native to the lake.  At MoMir restaurant, which juts out over the water, the squid came lightly spiced and perfectly grilled.  As tender as can be, with a bit of char and a smoky scent, they were better than any we’ve had since Croatia.  The shrimp were poppy red and full of ocean brine.
(At a later meal - we won’t mention the place - we were actually served fake shrimp, which were somewhat disgusting – they were like frozen fishcakes molded into the shape of a prawn, breaded and deep-fried.  We’ll spare you a picture.)
Ohrid also has European eels, which are quite plentiful both below the surface and on the town’s menus.  Sadly, the lake's stock is now mostly artificially kept up, as the lake's outlets have been dammed, and the eels aren't able to return to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn (this process is really interesting, actually - the Sargasso Sea is in the middle of the Atlantic ocean).
Arriving piping hot, baked with peppers, onions and tomato in a clay dish, the eel was like molten fish fat.  The taste had none of the muddiness that other eel can have, the meat was falling apart and lusciously, intensely flavorful – a heady mix of bay, basil and (we think) paprika.
At Letna Bavča Kaneo, a restaurant on a tiny, pebbled beach, we ate plasica while kids threw stones in the water and a swan swam haughtily by.  The sardine-like fish arrived in a jumbled pile, breaded and fried crisp - just how the locals love them.  Plasica are also native to the lake, and are the fish's scales are used to make Ohrid "pearls," which are essentially glass beads covered with a fishy paste (you'd be amazed how many gift shops sell them).  The fish were tasty in a snappy, easy-to-eat way, a great snack as the sun set.
It’s hard to sit beside a deep, cold lake and not think about flashing silver scales or the smell of a freshwater fish frying in butter. Fortunately, there are also other kinds of trout here – and they’re very tasty.  Guides suggest the mavrovska, belvica, kaliforniska and rekna varieties as better alternatives to ohridska   Belvica is also found in Ohrid, and is less threatened, but it might be a good idea to avoid it anyway.  This beautiful half of mavrovska was pan cooked, thick-fleshed and juicy.  The pink meat was dense without being dry, the flavor was of mountain water and cold winters.
Another alpine treat, and a bit of a surprise, this “fish broth” was more like a potato and trout soup. Ohrid’s cuisine is wonderful for its mixing of coastal and high-altitude aspects, a phenomenon that this dish perfectly encapsulated. The lightness of the starched broth and slight piquancy recalled the Mediterranean; the savory, rooty potato and herb components called up images of high villages, pines and swift running water.  The fish, of course, is what draws the line between the two. It worried us a little that the species of trout wasn’t specified, but it seemed unlikely that a restaurant would waste rare specimens in a stewpot.
It's a little sad that we couldn't taste the local specialty.  Guidebooks published as recently as five years ago call it one of the culinary highlights of Macedonia, and those who've tried it call it unforgettable.  But we haven't really missed it.  Eating by Lake Ohrid is pleasure enough, whatever is on the table.  The water is so blue, so intricately patterned, so vast that it feels like a world unto itself, a mystery in the mountains.  From afar it can be frighteningly rough or glass-smooth; up close it's so clear that sunlight hardly refracts off the surface.
Also, we can't feel that bad about not trying the trout - locals prefer pork cutlets anyway.
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