August 29, 2009

The Carnivore's Carnival

It's good to be the butcher's friend. Benefits include, but are not limited to, incredibly tasty little sausages during any random visit at three in the afternoon, perfectly flavored hamburger patties for lunch, and an overstuffed tupperware container of pork steaks for the road. And the guy loves James Bond, so we have a lot to talk about between bites of his delicious products. The butcher, Kosta, is the husband of the Macedonian teacher at the Roma center and as we gear up for this fall and all the changes coming at the center (more on that in another post), we've been spending some quality time at their house. No complaints here. Really, his little sausages are amazing.

Macedonia is a pork and chicken country, especially here in the east where the lack of Muslim Albanians means pigs can be eaten with impunity. In fact, when you order a hamburger, what you're getting is not beef, but what they call смешено месо, or mixed meat, though I think it's predominantly pork. All this falls under the broad category of скара--grilled meat. Virtually all restaurants in Macedonia feature this. During my brother's visit last summer we went to a place here in Kriva Palanka and asked for a regional specialty which, we learned, is not a summer item. The waiter nearly deep-sighed us out of the joint for ordering what is essentially a pork-and-egg pizza. Sound gross? It's to die for. Anyway, with that option off the table, we said what basically translates into "Rummage around for some meat, any meat. Cook it. Decorate it with cabbage. Bring it to us." What we got was a typical Macedonian meal.

Which brings me to the last few days here in town. The beautiful monastery that sits just a mile or so outside of Kriva Palanka has been celebrating a holiday and this normally sleepy town is wide awake with tourists from Serbia and Bulgaria for the celebrations. The monastery itself is crowded with food carts, vendors selling cheap souvenirs, and cotton candy. A local family is running the always-popular ring toss game. We didn't see anyone win.

But best of all, the monastery and the town are crowded with grilled meat and draft beer, one giant tailgate. You can't walk ten feet down the street without stumbling upon a grill and a tap. Every restaurant and cafe is getting in on the action and the sidewalks, normally reserved for blatantly-illegal-but-tolerated car parking, are full of tables and chairs and umbrellas. The weather is sunny and warm. Game on!

The crowds at the monastery do love their meat.

The simplicity is as delicious as the food. With a nice view of the twelfth-century church on the monastery grounds, we took a seat next to a pair of men. Between them were several empty bottles of beer and a couple shot glasses. Someone came up and asked what we wanted. My inner caveman replied, "Meat. Beer." Within a few minutes a nice spread of sliced meat appeared, served with five or six toothpicks for stabbing and inserting into my crudely opened and salivating mouth, along with our beers.

Back in town, we took in some local folk dancing and then took a seat and--what the hell--ordered some more meat and bread and beer. Filling our stomachs with such tasty and absorbent things proved to be the correct move because shortly thereafter, among the steady stream of people moving up and down Kriva Palanka's only main street, we spotted some friends who then joined us and insisted on buying a "few" rounds of beer.

According to the FDA, we took care of our meat allotment for the next 2-3 weeks. Then again, the butcher invited us over for some barbecuing on his terrace tomorrow...

Video: Traditional Macedonian folk dancing at the festival

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