I went to Kravari, a village near Bitola, Macedonia, to visit friends. It was during a wonderful period of the late Indian Summer. The weather was just made to go out and enjoy a ride to the known and unknown places of the world. It was hot and sunny, though it was deep October. The sun was low throughout the day, making a wonderful opportunity to take magnificent photos with a golden lighting.
Upon my departure, I decided to make a turn towards the longer road and make some explorations of the field around Bitola. I did not expect much. Perhaps some photo of something beautiful. It was supposed to be just a short ride about, before I got on the main road that was supposed to take me to my final destination for the day.
As I was riding away from the house of my friends I remembered that I saw a house with a lot of red peppers hanging to dry in the open the other day. But that house was in the opposite direction. I was going South, and the house was North from my position. Anyhow, I decided to continue with the exploration and enjoy the day, instead to go and hunt for something to photograph.
It was just after a couple of kilometers that I saw another house just like the one from the other day. All in red. So many red peppers that the walls of the house were barely visible. I thought to my self that I am a very lucky person. Though I did not go to the house I saw the other day, another house appeared along my road. What a wonderful turn of events.
I finished making photos of the house just next to me, when I understood that I have been blind. The opposite house was also all in red peppers. And the one further down the road, and the one after, and the one opposite. All of the houses were covered in red peppers. Some were in the traditional way where the red peppers were on a thread, while on others, the peppers were placed in long, slender, plastic bags made out of net.
I really enjoyed this rural scenery. It was as if the houses of Bistrica village had put on a red dress that shines on the autumn sun and shivers on the evening breeze. It was a festivity for the eyes, but a tingling sensation for the nose. Smell of red pepper powder was everywhere.
After a few more steps I saw people working with the peppers in their yard. So I just stood there and I watched. It took some minutes, as I watched how they empty the long, plastic nets on a big sheet, where a pile of dry, powdery pile of red peppers was forming. Then, it was inevitable that we start some conversation. So I entered the yard where they worked and started asking questions about the procedure and all kind of things about red peppers and the village. The people working there were very kind to me and they explained, I believe, everything. To me it was like a discovery of the secret of the red spice.
I learned that these red peppers are used to make powdered red peppers that is so often used in the Macedonian cuisine. The peppers first were dried on the sun for some time, and then they were placed in built furnaces where two stoves were set to keep the furnace room warm so no water may stay in the peppers.
After that drying process, the peppers were all piled up, and all non dry peppers were separated to be put back in the furnace. There was a very simple method of recognizing whether a pepper was dry or not. If the pepper was falling a part, then it was dry enough. Anything not wiling to fall apart was put back into the furnace to dry out completely. The process after continued in the mill, where the peppers were grinded down to powder. Then it was a matter of selling it.
But the people from Bistrica village made also a different kind of spice, known as Bukovec. This is a coarsely chopped red peppers. A spice often found in the Balkans and in the East and served with meat. Usually this spice is very hot, but not always. For the production of this spice the peppers did not go to be grinded, but to be chopped with a special machine that uses some kind of hammers to chop down the peppers to tiny bits and pieces. Then some other herbs were added as well. And the kind of herbs is very depending on the region. Therefore for a Bukovec spice from Bitola, mint leaves would be added, but for Bukovec spice from Prilep, 'noktec' (Trigonella monspeliaca) would be added.
It was interesting to learn that the name of this spice – Bukovec, came from the name of a nearby village – Bukovo. This was the main producing centre for Bukovec spice back some 100 years ago. However, nowadays no one produced even peppers in that village. So the people of Bistrica had taken over the primate of being the greatest producers of red pepper and Bukovec spice.
The particular family that I met in Bistrica, told me that they sell the spices they make on the marketplace in Prilep. Though I had expected that they sold it to some big packing company. I thought that perhaps the next time I am in Prilep, I could find them on the marketplace.
The people told me that the village turns all in red as soon as the red peppers are ripe in September, and continues through till the end of October or so. Many foreigners that would accidentally pass by the village would end up taking photos. It was a hidden tourist attraction, since the village is 2 km off the main road, and not along some popular route.
I bid the people fair well and continued to enjoy in the redness of the village. A truly remarkable experience.
If you would like to visit this place, know that the location is not really along the way, but a turn off the main road. So GPS coordinates are good to have: N 40.978944 and E 21.366468.