Since I have started working with Slow Food Bulgaria, I have heard many wonderful things about the autumnal festival in Smilyan, which celebrates the aptly named Smilyan Beans (Смилянски Фасул). I have had the opportunity to buy, taste and appreciate the beauty of these unique beans, but not the pleasure of visiting the town from which they originate.
The villiage of Smilyan is nestled deep in the Rhodopi Mountains, 18 km south of the main town Smolyan, between the Bulgarian and Greek border. From Kyustendil, the slow and winding 4 and a half hour drive was a bit much just for an overnight visit and we were disappointed that we didn’t make a longer trip of it, as every 10k or so, we stumble upon cultural and historical Bulgarian heritage sites that were in and of itself worth a return visit.
The village was a bit more quiescent then I expected, but the festival was also held later this year than in previous years, at the end of November. Still the sun was shining and babas were making fresh mekitzi (мекици). The mekitzi that I am accustomed to at home are made by my mother in-law, who is originally from the Berkovitza, which dictates her recipe that you can read about here. These were light and fluffy, quickly deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. These tasty treats were compliments of the village and I could have stood there and snacked on them all day!
While the festival was a bit light on festivities, we took a stroll through the main street to find local vendors proudly displaying their beans.
But the real event was the tasting, an gastronomic exhibition of the specialties of Smilyan at the Hotel Smolena. Tables were laid out with a kings bounty. There was not an smidgen of room left on any of the tables. Sweet and savory, the stops were pulled out.
You can see just a sampling of some to the dishes that were prepared for the festival and surprise, surprise, most of them contained beans!
One of my favorite Bulgarian specialties is a stew baked in a pumpkin; regrettably, this is something I have never attempted in the kitchen.
The mayor of Smilyan Subka Mitkova greeted the guests of the event. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Mayor Mitkova at Slow Food’s Terra Madre in Torino, Italy this past October. She was in Italy representing the Smilyan Beans and exposing them on the international stage.
Before the feast, we were able to hear Dessislava from Slow Food Bulgaria tell us about the organization and the work they are doing with Smilyan. Also in attendance with Michele Rumiz the Balkan Coordinator from Slow Food in Italy.
The afternoon’s festivities segwayed nicely in to the evening’s celebration, which not only included other tasty morsels, but traditional entertainment.
The singing and dancing were superb and I even managed to horo (The national dance of Bulgaria), although I feel sorry for all the people who I stepped on.
Finally, we were treated to a bread making demonstration with Silvy from Bread House in Gabrovo. The Bread House was in Kyustendil for our Pangia Festival in August. They are a great organization worth learning more about and supporting.
A wonderful festival and weekend filled with glorious food, fantastic people and rich cultural experience. I look forward to next year.
If you would like to see the rest of my photos from the Smilyan Bean Festival, please check out EGL’s Facebook album.
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