COME AND GET IT: These cucumbered aroma smelts will fill plenty of bellies during the festival.
PALANGA - Palanga, a resort town on the Baltic Sea coast in Lithuania, after seeing larger than usual crowds for the past New Year’s festivities, has scrambled to draw a new goal for the rest of the winter season: more events, more publicity and more dough in the town’s coffers.
Fascinated by the record-high visitor turnover for New Year’s celebrations, which attracted roughly 500,000 people at a modest estimate, Palanga event planners have revved up their efforts, eyeing record-high crowds for the resort’s annual Winter Smelt Festival on Feb. 18.
A week before this, Palanga hoteliers admit the hoopla has already produced nearly full bookings in many hotels, and the prediction is there may not be vacancies if you decide to check into a hotel the very same day.
And, can you believe it? The hype is about a slimy fish that, to most local fishermen, is much more than just that. In fact, it amounts to an item of reverence and embodiment of the mystery and beauty of the Baltic Sea. Oh, I nearly forgot to say a very important attribute of the fish – its distinctive smell like a greenhouse-grown ripe cucumber. No other fish in the world can boast of a cucumber-like smell like Baltic Sea’s smelts do!
You don’t believe it? Well, the only way to make sure that this is so is to come over to Palanga on Feb. 18! If you are eager to relish the smelt, or just have fun hanging out in a lively, buzzing crowd, the day is for you then. The mid-February’s well-known festival allures with fried, pickled and smoked fish, introduces local fishing and craftsmanship traditions.
If you do not feel like fiddling with a mosquito larva, trying to put it onto a hook before swinging the rod over the heads of numerous gawkers, you may want to try out your luck in abundant competition elsewhere, or participate in various organized games and competitions, ranging from rusty anchor lifting to fish boat towing, all led by folklore songs nearby.
During the festival, smelt dishes are prepared and served not only in cafes on the Basanavicius promenade, but also in numerous outdoor makeshift kitchens. Those who may not be able to turn up for the festival should not worry, as smelts will be served by most Palanga restaurants and cafes during the entire February, with a special sign of a stylized smelt hung on some of the restaurants.
As a rule, chefs are really good and vendors do not ask a lot, on average around 1 or 2 litas (0.30 – 0.57 euros) for a fried smelt, and a bowl of fish soup costing approximately 5 litas. If you are not a fish lover, you may want to chew on a barbecue or a kebab, washing it down with a mug of Lithuanian beer.
“As is at every festival, especially in winter, when Palanga sees a relative drought of guests due to seasonality, this is an event every local entrepreneur is looking forward to. Obviously, the Smelt Festival stands out for its internationally known name and activities, nice bustle and the Lithuanian kitchen. It is a huge lift for winter-ridden local concessions’ turnovers,” Arturas Tamasauskas, Palanga entrepreneur, said to The Baltic Times.
Gintaras Siciunas, president of Palanga’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, says that the 9th Smelt Festival, this year coinciding with the celebratory week of Independence Proclamation Day and St. Valentine’s Day, is echoed as far as Russia, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Belarus and Latvia this year. “We have been swamped with calls lately. With the variety of countries they come from, it seems we will have abundant visitors from the Kaliningrad region this year. Russians are one of the most valued customers by most Palanga restaurateurs and hoteliers because of their lavishness and spending,” says Alla Valuziene, director of Palanga’s Tourism Information Center.
Mayor of Palanga Sarunas Vaitkus, who has been touted by many as one of the most creative and exuberant mayors the resort has ever had, expects head-of-state Dalia Grybauskaite to make it to Palanga for the smelts this year.
“I have handed the invitation to one of her top advisers and am impatiently looking forward to receiving the president’s reply. I believe it would be hard for her to refuse to see the shore-frozen Baltic Sea, the crispy glistening snow and numbers of happy frolicking Lithuanians, not to mention the lure of the smelt,” Vaitkus said, grinning, to The Baltic Times.