In praise of the sprat
We really, really like sprats, particularly the Latvian šprotes marketed under the name "Riga Sprats." Open a tin of sprats, pour yourself a good beer and grab a slice of black rye bread. It's not just a snack, it's a meal!
But where to find sprats from Latvia? Short of traveling to Latvia and lugging back a ton of tins that will make the airport metal detectors go crazy, the resourceful Lett will frequent one of the many stores in the United States, Canada and elsewhere that now stock the product. Most canned fish products from Latvia, according to the Latvian Fisheries Marketing and Information Centre, are exported to Russia and Kazakhstan.
As a mostly serious service to our readers, we present the Latvians Online Sprats Index, a guide to where to find sprats and -- more importantly -- how much you should expect to pay for a 160-gram tin. We've even heard that the Sprats Index has been used as an object lesson in an international business class in Ventspils.
Because we can't afford to visit every store (both physical and virtual) that stocks "Riga Sprats," we're asking for your help. If you spy this product for sale in your local East European deli or other store, send us an e-mail. Please include the name and address of the store, the price of the sprats and the date you checked.
As you will see from the index, prices vary widely. In the United States, for example, we've seen the 160-gram tin of Rīga Sprats sell from 50 cents to more than $2 each. Compare that to the retail price in Latvia, where we've seen the same tin sell for about 25 santīms (about 46 cents as of June 22, 2004).
And then there are the different types of sprats. Surveying sprats sold in early 2000 in a Washington, D.C., area store, Imants D. "Bud" Eicēns in Maryland noted the following:
"The first batch is labeled Riga Smoked Sprats in Sunflower Seed Oil. It's a product of Latvia but doesn't say by which company. The importer is ADRO International, Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. The second batch is labeled Riga Sprats in Oil (in English and in Latvian). The description says that the can contains smoked sprats in vegetable oil. Packed by "Kaija" Stock Company, 15 Atlantijas Street, Riga LV 1015. The importer is Zip International Group LLC, Linden, N.J. The third batch is labeled RIGA SPRATS in oil in much larger letters than the two preceding batches. The contents are again given as smoked sprats in vegetable oil. This batch is produced by "UNDA" Ltd. LV 3113 Engure, Latvia. The importer is International Gold Star Trading Company, New York."
And then there's this warning from reader Ivars Avots, also from 2000: "You have to watch the expiration dates... Some out-of-date lots are showing up." We've seen that some stores still sell out-of-date sprats.
But that might be changing thanks to Latvia's entry into the European Union in May 2004. By March 1, according to the State Fisheries Board, 52 of the country's 116 fish processors had met new EU standards.
The fish you get in a tin of Rīga Sprats is known as sprattus sprattus. At least that's what Linnaeus called them in 1758. The drawing is from the Fisheries Global Information System, where a page devoted to the sprat gives more detail on the taxonomy of the fish.
We have updated our listings and have removed many out-of-date entries. For those earlier reports, we thank Karl Altau in Virginia, Andris Ambainis in California, Miķelis Arnolds in Western Australia, Jānis Auziņš in Indiana, Uģis Bickis in Ontario, James Blumbergs in Ontario, Yanis Boumber in Texas, Benita Bušs in Colorado, William L. Calderwood in California, Jānis Čakars in California, Aina Cerliņa in Connecticut, F. Olcay Cirit in California, Stevan Davies in Massachusetts, Larissa Druska in Tennessee, Imants D. "Bud" Eicēns in Florida, Inga Eglītis-Francis in Virginia, Christine Field in California, Roberts Freimuts in Ontario, Don Hannah in British Columbia, John Hansen in Idaho, Derrick Harder in British Columbia, Bradley Hernlem in California, Fred Hermon in California, Matthew Holian in Ohio, Alex Janums in New York, Ilze Kļaviņa in Minnesota, Daina Jauntirāne in Illinois, Andrejs Jermacāns in Ontario, Jānis Jonsons in Washington, D.C., Imants Kaupe in California, Sybil Krugs-Krēsliņš in Georgia, Vilnis Kubuliņš in Ohio, Anita Legsdin in Washington, Vita Levar in Illinois, Patrick Livens in Tasmania, John Maaskant in Ontario, Rasma Miķelsons in Florida, Ernests Mortuzāns in New York, Peter Mitham in British Columbia, Ken Nesbitt in Washington, Mark Nordby in Wisconsin, Henno Normet in Florida, Diana Owens in California, Knud Pederson in California, Aleksandrs Ravkovs in British Columbia, Ārija Retsema in Connecticut, Andris Rūtiņš in Maryland, Sahadi Imported Foods in Texas, Aria Saleda in Florida, Harijs Saukants in Washington, Jim Sechrest in Illinois, Jo Ann Simmons in Florida, Vana Slaughter in Texas, Larry Sutton in California, Gundars Strads in California, Ilze Tomsevičs in Washington, Gary Turner in Montana, Jim Ukstins in New Jersey, Viviana Vasarājs in British Columbia, Maija Veide in New York, Māra Vilciņa in Wisconsin, Valdis and Vēsma Vilks in Minnesota, Vitolds Vītols in Massachusetts, and Valdemārs Zvanītājs in Ontario, among others.
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