Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Food Bazaar in Prilep Macedonia

I have been coming to Prilip since 1982. That year, my father was invited to give lectures at the Dental School in Sofia Bulgaria and Skopje, then Yugoslavia. He decided to buy an Audi in Frankfurt Germany and take the family on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting our relatives that were, because of very complex political history, located in Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Old Town Prilep, Macedonia

So much has changed since then, the world has new borders, new nations and new technology. Back in those days, phone calls were expensive and difficult, and letters could take months to reach their destinations.

Since my personal Slow Food Macedonia food tour in 2011, I can barely recognize the places I visited back in 1983. Macedonia in particular has all the accouterments of a western capitalist democracy, with ATM's, mini markets, malls and modern road side gas stations catering to tourists and truckers. What has not changed is the delightful spirit of the people, who are warm, generous, passionate and full of wit and sarcastic humor. What has changed the most for me, is the increasing awareness and discovery of the incredible culinary treasure that this part of the world has to offer. In the beginning, outside of my relatives homes, the food was the dull communist fare, if there was anything in the markets at all.

Today, the fates arranged for me to have a personal tour through central Prilep, in the old town Bazaar. My guide, Magdalena, I found out was a well known poet and author in the area. She took me to the library to see the collections there, and then we wandered into the Bazaar. As you may know, since I have been writing about this for some time, as well as having radio podcasts, I am very interested in the ESSEDRA project through the Balkan Slow Food partners. I received a list of 25 products that have been nominated to board the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Ark of Taste. I was familiar with some of the products, as well as being supportive of the goals of sustainable rural development.

As I wandered the Bazaar with Magdalena, I encountered a kaleidoscope of vivid colors of all the local produce. It is the time of the Pepper and Tomato harvest, and strings of drying peppers can be seen hanging from the local apartment balconies. 

I saw bags of the K’cana salt

I met herb sellers that were offering beautiful samples from the local mountains, all I was told that would make "Chai" or tea, the Planinski caj Mountain Tea from Galicica mountain.

I saw the Bieno Sirenje Cheese that was featured in Bra at the Cheese Festival

And so many lovely different fruits, vegetables, olives and more. 

My physical presence screams "American" so the sellers were all interested in where I was from, Magdalena dutifully told them I was from San Francisco. When I asked if I could take a picture, each seller instantly grinned and posed, I even had a couple of women ask me to take their picture.

This market has been a part of Prilep since as long as there has been a community in the valley. The first recorded mention of Prilep dates from the 11th Century. Magdalena told me all the produce and cheeses come from the surrounding area, the only imports were the bananas. I had the delight of tasting a local apple, that literally tasted like rose water. The thought of these people and their centuries old way of life, along with their bountiful produce being swept away in the name of convenience brought new urgency to the importance of ESSEDRA. There must be a way to help maintain these agricultural gems, for current and future generations.

My cousin Joana, a 7th grader, informed me yesterday that McDonald's had closed in Skopje. I asked her why? She told me, "We Macedonians don't like fast food."

My cultural pride started to swell. After going to the Bazaar and tasting the local food, I can see why the Macedonians prefer their own food. I hope they can have access to this for another thousand years.

The Clock Tower, Prilep Macedonia

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