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Thousands flock to Freeman for chislic festival

More than 7,000 people attended the first ever South Dakota Chislic Festival on Saturday afternoon in Freeman. (Abbie Lambert / Republic)

FREEMAN — More than 7,000 people on Saturday flocked to Freeman to celebrate the official nosh of South Dakota. The first-ever South Dakota Chislic Festival drew a crowd more than three times the size that festival organizers originally expected. But long lines and shoulder-to-shoulder traffic did not stop people from attending Saturday's event.

Festival founder and community developer and marketing coordinator Joshua Hofer presented the festival idea to the community after the state legislature passed Senate Bill 96, making chislic the state's nosh and South Dakota the first state to have its own official nosh.

"When the state legislature decided to declare the state nosh we thought it was time to get serious. We decided it was time for a South Dakota Chislic Festival," Hofer said.

In the following 60 days, Hofer and a team of volunteers created a chislic festival that included a chislic competition, food, drink and clothing vendors, bean bag and volleyball tournament and a kids' zone complete with swimming pool access and inflatables.

"It's been a sprint, but we're looking forward to sticking the landing on this one and having 10 months before the next one," Hofer said.

The original vision of the festival consisted of a small chislic competition with one or two craft beer stands on Main Street in Freeman. After receiving an overwhelming reception from news outlets and people from across the state, the committee decided it needed a bigger space and moved the festival to the softball park. Even with the added space it was not enough to handle the large crowd that showed up in support.

Carol Goeman and her family from Windom, Minnesota made the trip to Freeman just for the chislic festival.

"We all like chislic, so we thought, 'Why not?'" Goeman said.

She and her family heard about the festival via Facebook, one social media platform where Hofer really promoted the event. Goeman said there was a great possibility she would be back in the future if the event moved to a larger venue.

"It's a great event, and if they move the location to a bigger area to accommodate the crowd it would be even better," she said.

Long lines formed quickly at the chislic vendors as soon as the gates opened at 4 p.m. Festival goers waited over an hour for a taste of chislic. Many of the vendors ran out of chislic halfway through the night and had to restock, but that did not stop more people from coming to eat the Eastern South Dakota snack.

Chislic, thought to be derived from the Turkic word shashlyk or shashlik, was introduced to South Dakota in the 1870s by German-Russian immigrants. The traditional Russian dish consists of grilled cubes of skewered meat. Today chislic is typically made from beef or mutton and can be cooked and marinated in a number of different ways.

Some chislic vendors at the festival put their own seasonings and spin on the popular dish while others stuck with tradition. By the end of the night, Cowboy Chislic claimed the title for the New Age Nosh category and the Classic Sheep category title went to Thumbs Up. Festival proceeds were given to the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives and the Freeman Community Development Corp.

Hofer and the rest of the festival committee are looking forward to organizing an even better festival next year. Hofer hopes they can build the festival into a regional event so the other towns in the chislic circle can participate in,and take pride in, the area's historic dish.

"We're celebrating a South Dakota food and a specific South Dakota story you can't get anywhere else in the country," Hofer said. "There is a story here to be told about agriculture and food and heritage and I think it means a lot to the community and region as a whole. I really am just excited, in the future years, to hopefully continue developing that story."