Chefs Test Each Other’s Balls in Serbia

It’s been another gripping year at the World Championship Testicle Cooking contest, held last weekend in the Sumadija region of central Serbia.

Mitra Nazar for BIRN

A team gears up for “World Testicle Cooking Championship 2014”. | Photo by Mitra Nazar

“Gentlemen, start your testicles!” Ljubomir Erovic stands on an improvised stage, erected in a field halfway up Mt Rudnik in central Serbia. The organiser and founder of “Mudijada”, equally known around the world in English as the “Balls Cup,” holds a microphone in one hand and a glass of rakija in other. “Let the best balls win!” he exclaims.

It’s Saturday afternoon, the sun is burning and the first bottles of rakija have been opened.

“This is a festival for men with balls,” says Erovic, a testicle-cooking expert himself. He’s wearing a T-shirt with a drawing of a chef whose own testicles are dangling in a bowl of boiling soup. “World Testicle Cooking Championship 2014,” it reads.

The unofficial World Cup has drawn growing attention from the media internationally over the years. This year’s competition was held on Mt Rudnik, near the town of Gornji Milanovac. It hosted around 20 teams from all over Serbia and two foreign teams – one from Britain, (the crew from Vice, filming a series on the festival) and one from Finland. Around a hundred visitors came to try testicle dishes and enjoy live music, including guests from Denmark, Iceland, Germany, America and Russia.

Preparing and eating testicles is an old tradition in the Balkans. In Serbia they are called “white kidneys” and Yugoslavia’s late president, Josip Broz Tito, was known as a fan. Serbia’s 19th-century king, Milos, was also fond of eating balls.

“People in Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria all eat testicles because it is very nutritious, it is strong food,” said Erovic, who also wrote the cookbook, “Cooking with Balls.” explains. “Poor people used to keep their animals alive and only cut off the testicles to eat,” he notes.

There is another reason why Erovic thinks all men in particular should eat testicles.

“The most important reason”, he says, whispering, “is that it is very good for the libido. When a man eats testicles, believe me, he will have a very good night with his wife.”

A foal’s testicles are the best aphrodisiac, Erovic claims. “But bull balls are fine, too.” He starts laughing as he pours another glass of rakija. “Really. You can ask my wife.”

By noon, all the competitors have set up their tents and started campfires. They’ve collected their testicles over weeks, or even months. The testicles are from bulls, rams, donkeys and horses. In previous years, there have been balls from kangaroos, sharks and ostriches.

The challenge is to make the best testicle goulash. The dishes are judged by a jury, consisting of founder Ljubomir Erovic and self-proclaimed “testicle expert” Anna Wexler, an American filmmaker who has been visiting the festival for the past seven years. Taste, color and texture are important. The testicles should also be recognisable on the plate.

Men compete to make the best testicle goulash. | Photo by Mitra Nazar

Smoke rises above the mountains from the kettles with boiling goulash in the field. Pavle Pavlovic from Kraljevo is one of the competitors. He found wild mushrooms in the woods, which he plans to use in the bull testicle goulash that he and his team are preparing. “We want to give it a special touch,” he says. “The judges will be surprised.”

It’s not an easy task to find the testicles, Pavlovic explains. “You have to ask everyone you know in the countryside to keep the balls for you. We have ten testicles for this dish. We’ve got them from our family in the village.”

Last year’s winner, Zoltan Levaji, 64, works with baby bull balls. He wears a white chef’s hat and stirs through the bowl of boiling testicles. “There is no secret”, he says. “The trick is time. You have to marinade the testicles for at least 24 hours. Then, the balls loose some liquid and they taste like chicken.”

As an experienced testicle eater, Levaji doesn’t believe it is an aphrodisiac. “That’s what they say,” he laughs. “But your libido doesn’t come from eating testicles. It comes from your brain. And it depends on the woman you are with.”

Ismo Dalhberg, from Finland, came to Serbia to cook testicles for the first time in his life. “I’ve never prepared testicles and I’ve never even eaten them,” he says, struggling to keep his campfire going. “This is something so crazy. I wanted to be a part of it.”

The balls cup seems to be a male party. There are only a few women on the festival, but one is Jovana Erovic, the founder’s daughter and the only female competitor this year. “I want to show the men that girls can do it, too”, she says, determined to win. She found two big bull balls at a local butcher and marinaded them the night before.

“I’m only a little scared for the women here”, she adds, chuckling. “These men drink and eat testicles all day. Woman should beware. They should wear a big T-shirt.”

At the end of the day, as the sun goes down behind the rolling hills, most of the chefs aren’t able to walk straight anymore. Jovana Erovic thinks this is her chance to score points in the competition. “They are all drunk now, they don’t know what they are putting in their goulash any longer.”

After cooking testicles for hours, the jury goes around to taste and observe the dishes one by one. A team called “Kod Mrsa” from Cacak wins first prize. “Eko Ibar” from Kraljevo comes in second. Third prize goes to first-timer Ismo Dalhberg from Finland.

While the special “Cooking with Balls Band” plays rock songs on the stage, Ljubomir Erovic looks around his festival, satisfied. “The rakija is very important here. Before you eat testicles, you should drink rakija. And after you eat them, too.”

The cooking competition seems to have become a side issue. “The real competition is tonight,” Erovic continues. “Tonight we will know who the real winner is. And then it is our wives who judge.”