Palanga Smelt: About the Festival, Its Initiators and the Amber Smelt
The residents of Palanga cheerfully and deliciously celebrated the centennial of restored Lithuania. After the celebration events of 16 February, on 17-18 February crowds of joyful visitors were attracted by the traditional Palanga Smelt Festival with its scent of cucumber.
The date of this festival was dictated by nature because the smelt is caught in Lithuania only once a year – in February, when it arrives to spawn in the coastal waters of the Baltic Sea. Seaside fishermen unanimously agree that the smelt is delicious only when fresh and when caught before spawning.
Although previously smelt was not very well known to people who lived far from the sea, fishermen’s families always found a place for it on their table. Most likely, this fondness was influenced by the seasonal nature of the fish – one can hardly get bored of a dish eaten only once a year. But the most important feature of this Lithuanian delicacy is its odour of fresh cucumbers and the variety of ways of cooking this fish.
Guests of the Palanga Smelt festival had the opportunity to try both traditional and non-traditional recipes. Battered and fried smelt and dried, smoked, marinated or grilled fish was offered at the fair, and fishermen praised their traditional fish soup. Traditional recipes are often complemented by a wide variety of culinary experiments – in the history of the festival, there have been Asian-style fried smelt, big dumplings made of potato dough stuffed with smelt and other surprises.
The fishermen of Palanga, the pioneers of the festival, took care that Palanga Smelt would be much more than a tasting of the seasonal fish. Traditional and new entertainments are arranged for visitors every year. A fishing competition, bathing in the sea for health-conscious attendees, concerts, and a barbecue championship are arranged at the Palanga bridge, and Basanavičius Street tempts with scents and colours of the fair and artistic performances. Fishermen’s competitions, such as anchor holding, boat towing, smelt eating and similar are particularly fun and attract much attention. High spirits and plenty of delicious fish characterise this festival, so it’s no wonder that Palanga Smelt has grown into a huge event over the course of fifteen years and attracts more guests to the seaside than the hottest summer weekends.
The Smelt Order
This now popular and colourful smelt festival was established fifteen years ago by Klaidas Pakutinskas, a true fisherman. Everything started from the desire to turn the spawning of this fish into a festival not only for fishermen but also for others. For several years, the organizers were distrusted and regarded with suspicion, and Palanga Smelt was not very popular – at that time the Lithuanian seaside was falling into a deep winter sleep during the cold season, so an outdoor festival in winter was something very unusual.
The group of enthusiasts and supporters gradually grew, the odour of the smelt fried in the street attracted passers-by, and more and more new entertainments were planned every year, until finally Palanga Smelt developed into one of the most popular events in Lithuania. Nine years later, when Palanga Smelt could undoubtedly be called a traditional event, the Stint Order was established, which became a colourful accent to the festival.
The members of the Smelt Order have an abundant sense of humour because their goal is to add a joyful spirit to the Palanga Smelt festival and to make smelt famous. The order has its own castle – the Molinis Ąsotis (Clay Jug) restaurant, which belongs to Klaidas Pakutinskas, Master of the Order, who is also called the father of the Palanga Smelt festival. The Order also has its own Marshal, Chancellor and lots of knights. Do not let the names mislead you – this order has nothing to do with the military. According to Gintaras Sičiūnas, the Order Marshal and the originator of this idea, “this is a fraternity of gourmets, and the tool of sacrifice for knights is not a sword but a ladle”.
The Amber Smelt
On the occasion of the tenth Palanga Smelt festival, Albertas Bukauskas, a Knight of the Smelt Order and folk artist, made a smelt two metres long from amber. The length of the fish sculpture was chosen not accidentally – the average length of the smelt is 20 cm, therefore a two-metre smelt symbolized the decade of the festival and the fact that the festival has grown tenfold in 10 years.
The 5.5-kg smelt inlaid with amber decorates the Smelt Order Castle (the Molinis Ąsotis restaurant). Each year, during the Palanga Smelt festival, the smelt is hung outside to be seen from the street, and for the rest of the year it is exhibited inside the restaurant. The members of the Order proudly affirm that for whoever touches it, fishing success is guaranteed for the whole year.
We invite everyone to visit and touch the amber smelt. If you are a fisherman, it will not really make things worse for you, and if you are not really fond of fishing, but you like smelts and are happy to take part in Palanga Smelt, do not forget to thank those who made this fish with the scent of cucumber popular and created a wonderful festival not only for Lithuania but also for its neighbouring countries.