I thought it might be interesting to tell people about a recent visit I made to the Czech Republic and to their ‘Chillibrani’ Chilli Festival (Chillibrani means ‘chilli harvest’). I was invited by my publisher there as my Growing Chillies book has recently been translated into Czech, and we went along to the festival to have a look, deliver a talk and sign some books. If ever you find yourself in that part of the world, or fancy an easy and interesting weekend away this is well worth considering.
For those that have visited chillifestivals in the UK, nothing at Chillibrani will come as much of a surprise, but it is still a very worthwhile and rewarding festival. Many of the same traditions are seen there, lots of sauce makers offering tastings, various growing companies offering seeds, growing equipment, some fresh chillies for sale, music, beer, food and or course a chilli eating contest.
The festival was in the city of Brno, a couple of hours south of Prague; a very pleasant, cultured and laid back place. The Czechs are a little newer to the idea of chilli festivals than us. The popularity of growing chillies hasn’t quite reached the level that we have in the UK, but they are following the same timeline in the way it is developing, just a year or two behind us. I think because of that, this and one or two other chilli festivals (this one is in its second year) are enjoying patronage from all the various chilli businesses in Czech, as well as lots of visitors, while in the UK festivals have become so frequent that they are often somewhat under-attended with an incomplete set of exhibitors, and with some festivals looking a little empty because of it or not surviving at all. Not so in Czech, this festival had 4000 visitors, around 50 exhibitors, two stages, lots of interesting talks and demos along with a huge and vociferously supported chilli eating contest. The visitors were a real mix of people, not just hardened chilli heads, but also a lot of people who saw it as a good way of spending an afternoon in the sunshine eating and drinking.
Apart from chillies, there was plenty of good food, Indian, Czech, excellent burgers, cooked meats and plenty of beer. The beer there, needless to say, is fantastic; a few different brewery outlets offered a range of pilsner, lager, weissbier, and a couple of ales and stouts. All of these for sale for less than £1 for a half litre (don’t all rush at once, Brits have a reputation to shed in Czech Republic as far as anti-social beer drinking goes!).
The main difference I observed was in the chilli eating contest. There is a fundamental difference here which I think the Czech people need to learn, or maybe not, as it was quite entertaining. In the UK, and I think the USA too, the rules pretty much forbid the eating or drinking of anything other than the chillies put in front of you so that if you reach for yogurt/bread/water/beer or whatever, you are disqualified. In Czech, the competitors are given an equal amount of bread each, and I think 3 bottles of water. They can use this as they please until they run out, and only if they reach for yogurt are they disqualified. This makes for a very protracted event, with most of the competitors still completely happy up to round 6 or 8, which is well into the hotter habs and the super hot ones. With a lot of ceremony, winding up of the audience, interviews with competitors etc. between each round this shenanigans carried on for two hours and still there were a handful left of the 50 that started, all awaiting round 11, the 6.5 mil SHU extract sauce. At two hours I think competitors faces and digestive tracts were so numb that nothing could sort the men from the boys, or even the young girl, that remained in the line-up. So there was a round 12 and 13, each with increasing amounts of extract sauce, 30ml, 45ml, and each spoon with some roughly chopped Carolina Reaper or similar thrown in to give them something to chew on. At two hours and 10 minutes I think it was more about competitive bladder control than chilli eating and a few dropped out. Finally what separated the two remaining competitors was that one ran out of bread and water so with nothing to cleanse his palate he was off, leaving last year’s runner up the victor.
If you fancy a trip to Brno, it has a lovely city center with trams, cobbled streets, lovely architecture and a friendly selection of cafes and bars. If you go there don’t miss ‘the bones’ an ossuary under the main drag which holds the bones of 50,000 bodies exhumed from graves in the middle ages to save space in what was a walled city and stowed away in crypts, only to be sealed, lost, then rediscovered about 20 years ago.
The chilli festival has a website http://www.chillibrani.cz/ This year (2015) it took place on Saturday 5th September and I think next year will be around that time too.