Stories and Culture

Culture Express: Gagauz Wine Day

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In a country renowned for its wine production, a place where nearly every household brags of its home brand (often bottled in recycled soda two-liters), and once-loved for its exports to Russia*, it is only natural that one of the most celebrated days of the year would be one where revelers could saturate themselves in the red-or-white nectar.

*In 2006, Russia enacted ban on imports of wine from Moldova. If you’re interested in the effects of this ban, as well as theories on why the ban was enacted, you can read more here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24992076

We woke up early that morning to help my host mother’s sister take a (rather hefty) metal table to the square so she could sell her jewelry. She hand-makes bracelets, necklaces and earrings and sells them every time there is a festival in Comrat, about 20 Moldovan lei a pop. The ladies in my host family are some crafty crones – my host mother Anna also loves to spend her evenings sitting in bed, working secretively on something mystical (I clarify: the woman is mystical, to me). Most recently, she’s been weaving colorful rugs that she finishes with heartfelt prayers. She gives them to friends and loved ones, including my brother, who visited during the winter holidays. These prayers, she says, bring good luck and good energy to a home.

After we lugged the table to the square, we took a quick look around – it was an impressive spread! Other than the merchants, representatives from wineries all over Gagauzia had set up small huts, village-style, to house their fermented pride.

We wanderers observed women and men, caterers from local villages, prepare traditional foods such as mamaliga (a polenta-type dish), shashlik (grilled meat, usually pork, chicken or lamb skewered onto long metal spikes) and placinta (various fillings wrapped in thin sheets of dough) to placate the hungry crowd. One man was even roasting a whole pig…

We ran into the local Gagauz dancers, an older crowd, who greeted us as we admired their horse-and-buggy. I had participated in a few of their dance practices to get a taste of the local style. They’re a stiff bunch, these dancers! A few times, while I waggled my hips to their tunes, I was nudged to be a little more austere – they’re not like the Spanish, whose moves are saturated in sensuality. Their stiffness adds to their sharp turns, precise footwork and curt kicks.

Dancers came from other villagers, as well; one man paraded around the square with his own troupe, waggling a Gagauz flag while he bobbed his sheepskin hat in unison with high-flying kicks.

A few foreigners took advantage of the opportunity to try on some traditional dress.

And the wine was a-flowing! Each stand was free-for-all, where you could seek a pour (or two) merely by approaching the attendants. A favorite was the hot-spiced-wine one man served from a cauldron (I suspect I saw someone slip some hair-of-the-dog in the brew…). Some stands even handed out free bottles of their treasured wine to entice the visitors (or, according to one of my partners, as a small favor to foreigners).

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At the end of the evening, my friend, who understands my love of cooking, pulled me aside – there were representatives from a bakery in Avdarma, showing off their “karavay,” a beautiful hand-molded bread traditionally served at Gagauzian weddings. We introduced ourselves, which initiated another adventure to the bakery “Bereket” in Avdarma. View the interview on the tradition of the “karavay” here:

Categories: Stories and Culture

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