I think part of my love for Slovenia has to do with where I grew up. South Carolina isn’t a big state and while many people visit for the beaches, not many people know a lot about it.
However, Slovenia’s culture, history, and people fascinate me. The inspiration that this country provided me was the reason I wrote my travel guide to Slovenia. And the beauty of Lake Bled showed me how stunning this country really is.
While a number of people have visited Slovenia, getting to know the people and the culture takes time. For me, I got the chance to interview my Slovenian tour guide friend who helped me understand the people a little better.
However, one aspect that I didn’t really get to explore as much was Slovenian food and cuisine. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with someone who decided to make Slovenia a home away from home.
Jules Cessford is a British ex-pat who decided to buy a place in eastern Slovenia. She has spent a lot of time there and has gotten the chance to get to know the locals and explore of a little of the cultures and traditions.
In this guest post, Jules writes about Bograč and the festival that takes place in Lendava. The food and festival that are part of the Slovenian culture help define the people of eastern Slovenia and how Hungary has influenced the people, culture, and cuisine of this are.
The Bograč Festival in Lendava – celebrating Slovenian food and culture
“Bog-rach?” I whispered. “It sounds horrible!”
Admittedly to a British person a ‘bog’ is slang for a toilet/WC but when we were told that it was a local Slovenian version of goulash we decided to give it a try. We had only been living in the little rural town of Lendava in the Prekmurje area of eastern Slovenia for a few days and we had already nailed our colours to the mast of our New Favourite Restaurant, the Lovski Dom.
What if bograč was as horrible as it sounded? We’d have to find a new favourite restaurant. Thankfully, the bograč was delicious: a slightly spicy goulash of mixed meats and vegetables flavoured with paprika but so much more than the sum of its parts. Bograč is about as local as it gets in our area (apart from the dessert gibanica, but that’s another story).
Traditionally it is cooked outside in a large cauldron suspended from a tripod over a wood fire. If you are lucky it might be served at your table in a mini cauldron hanging by chains from a tripod with a burning candle underneath.
You only need to burn yourself once when helping yourself from a bubbling cauldron that is swinging about on your table. After that you quickly get the knack with the ladle.
We put down our roots in Lendava in May 2006 when we bought our property there. We had been living in London for more than 20 years and when we moved to our new home we could not quite believe that we had been able to buy a home in such a beautiful area.
Now if you talk to people in other parts of Slovenia they will tell you that east Slovenia is flat, a bit boring and full of ‘country-bumpkins’.
We are indeed on the great Pannonian Plain that sweeps towards Hungary but the area is also a wine region with vineyards on sunny hillsides. Some of these so-called country-bumpkins in Prekmurje have a gift for doing business in at least 5 languages (Slovene, Croatian, Hungarian, German and more recently, English).
Their accent is supposedly unintelligible to other Slovenes but rather than feel self conscious about the way they speak they probably feel sorry for the people who don’t understand them. It seems to me that the good folk of Prekmurje are in the main happy to farm their own land and make their own wine from their own grapes.
As our Slovene friend Kiki said, whilst gesticulating at the vine-clad hills of Lendava, “Why would you live anywhere else?”
Take the fairly steep walk up to the top of our land and you can see in the distance not only the ski slopes of Maribor in northern Slovenia but the gently rolling hills of Hungary and Croatia. We are a short cycle ride from the Hungarian and Croatian borders.
(Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary are all featured in these 7 off the beaten path places in Europe)
Shifting borders have always been a feature of this area and Lendava has been subject to the fall and rise of empires such as the Roman Empire when Lendava was called Halicarnum and the Hapsburg Austrian-Hungarian monarchy that ruled until the end of WW1.
At present a third of the people living in the Lendava area are ethnically Hungarian and this can be seen most obviously in the street signs that are written in both Slovene and Hungarian and the businesses that cater to the Hungarian community such as the supermarket Hungaricum and the Banffy a cafe/cultural centre/bookshop. Both businesses can be found on Glavna Ulice (Main Street) in Lendava.
Bograč may have its roots in Hungarian cuisine but with food in this area it is hard to say what exactly is Slovenian and what is Hungarian. In general Hungarian food tends to be spicier than Slovenian food but bograč and other dishes are enjoyed by all communities in Prekmurje so it might be true to say that locals on either side of the border are partial to the same food.
It could be said that Bograč helps to bring together both communities in Lendava and its importance is reflected by the annual Bograč Festival held each August in Lendava. Last year the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Danilo Türk, inaugurated a plaque entitled “Lendava, Capital of Bograč” in the Mestna Hiša (Town Hall). This was followed by a festival to celebrate bograč where teams competed to cook the best bograč.
The teams were made up of the different communities of Lendava and its borders: Slovenes, Hungarians and Croatians. Glavna Ulica was blocked off and entirely given over to people cooking bograč on the street on open fires. Lots of wine was also drunk by competitors (and spectators) as bograč takes hours to cook from scratch and cooking over open fires in summer is thirsty work.
We were at the Bograč Fest with some of the other British ex-pats that constitute the newest community to find a home in Lendava and its environs. I doubt whether anyone in our little group of Brits can actually remember which team won the competition but we will all remember the kind hospitality of free bowls of bograč and glasses of local white wine.
As the daylight faded we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm and as the rain ran in torrents down the hill, we took refuge in the beer marquees set up on the road. It was certainly a dramatic end to the festival. It was only a matter of time before one of us piped up with the refrain from previous years “Maybe next year we ought to enter the competition as a British Bograč team.”
We laughed as we always do at the thought of entering the Bograč Fest but you never know, maybe 2012 will be the year that actually do it.
Jules Cessford is a British ex-expat, trying to find a way to live in Slovenia again.
What is your favorite cultural festival? Have you ever tried Bograč?