Detour: Bulgaria

Zdraveyte! We’re skipping ahead a bit this week to Bulgaria. In the past, it’s been pretty clear when to do detours: we hear about a cultural event, decide if the representative country is obscure enough (could this be the only cultural opportunity we’ll find for this country here in Boston?), and then start planning. With Bulgaria, though, we saw two possible weekends: last weekend, when there was both a 15th anniversary party for Divi Zheni, a Boston-based Bulgarian women’s chorus, and a benefit concert for the Bulgarian Center for New England, and this weekend’s Bulgarian Rose Festival. Maybe this is a sign that the Bulgarian community in Boston is active enough that we wouldn’t have to do a detour, but we didn’t want to take a chance and miss all of these opportunities.

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Starting our globetrotting a little earlier this weekend, Derek prepared snezhanka, a Bulgarian salad with yogurt and cucumbers, on Friday evening for a family party we were attending the next day. (This isn’t the first time we’ve roped unsuspecting family members into our globetrotting; my mom and brother partook in our Bajan dinner when we were globetrotting to Barbados while visiting my family in New York.) The recipe Derek used calls for walnuts as a garnish, but we substituted sliced hard-boiled eggs, as another recipe for the salad had prescribed, because of Derek’s nut allergy.

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We had also sought out Bulgarian yogurt for this and another recipe this weekend, and found it in a local health food store. While just about everyone has heard about Greek yogurt these days, yogurt is also a staple food in Bulgarian culture. One of the live cultures used to make yogurt even has Bulgarian roots in its name: Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus

Saturday morning we breakfasted on popara, a dish made from bread, milk, feta and butter. Bulgarian children often eat it, but I wasn’t a fan. I like bread, cheese and butter together, but I found that I don’t like bread mushed in milk. Derek was more charitable, and suggested adding less milk the next time. We did enjoy the folk music we listened to during breakfast, though!

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After breakfast, we watched a fairly comprehensive video about Bulgaria, which gave us historical background, including the country’s time during Ottoman and Communist rules, and introduced us to numerous towns, sites and interesting individuals.

One of the places that the video featured was the Rose Valley region of Bulgaria, known for growing Rosa damascena, the Damask rose, and producing rose oil. We got a glimpse of the famous Rose Festival, which takes place in the town of Kazanlak every year, and which was the inspiration for the festival we’d be attending the next day.

Before heading to Derek’s parents for the family party, we had a quick snack of pita and a Bulgarian red pepper spread I had found at Trader Joe’s, liutenitsa. (Note that the spread doesn’t go by its Bulgarian name on its packaging, but the label does indeed say it’s a product of Bulgaria.) At the luncheon, Derek’s snezhanka got plenty of compliments. If you’ve ever had Greek tzatziki, a yogurt sauce with garlic, dill and cucumber (often served with gyros or falafel), you’ll have a good idea of what snezhanka is like. I thought it was pretty tasty myself.

We didn’t get home until after eight in the evening, and were feeling a bit hungry again, so we had some more toasted pita and liutenitsa, plus some feta. I also had a few more bites of the leftover snezhanka that we had brought back with us.

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On Sunday morning, I couldn’t stomach the idea of another breakfast of bread mush, so I opted to try making another breakfast dish, fried bread slices. These are very similar to French toast. I went the more savory route, by eating mine with feta, but Derek had his with some powdered sugar, marmalade (the closest thing we had to jam) and honey.

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We traveled to Winchester for the Bulgarian Rose Festival, but were puzzled when we got there. The festival looked more like a picnic, with various tables, tents and blankets arranged a good distance away from the path. We saw a small banner that said “Rose Fest Boston” on it, and people serving food, but we really didn’t know if this was a private event or not. Maybe bolder globetrotters would have asked, but after observing the scene from different angles for a little while, Derek and I decided to continue on our way.

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All wasn’t lost, though. We walked to nearby Arlington and went to Pasha, a Turkish restaurant in Arlington Center, for lunch. Bulgarian and Turkish cuisines share similarities. As we eavesdropped on other conversations around us, Derek and I found that we weren’t the only diners seeking food not from Turkey, per se, but from a culture with some culinary similarities–one table hailed from Iran, and a woman at another table identified as Armenian.

The ayran, yogurt drinks, that we ordered helped cool us off from our walk.

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I ordered the vegetable moussaka for lunch. Many people know moussaka from Greek cuisine, and Bulgarians have their own version of it, which swaps sliced potato for the layered sliced eggplant. Pasha’s vegetarian version does use mainly eggplant, but there were also other vegetables in the layers: zucchini, carrot, and potato. Derek had the Pasha kabob. which was grilled lamb wrapped in roasted eggplant, and served with tomato and yogurt sauce. This doesn’t have a direct equivalent in Bulgarian cuisine, but grilled meats are often served. Our waitress also gave us some warm bread to share.

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The restaurant also felt quite cozy, with colorful runners on every table, fabric hanging from the rafters, and Turkish pottery and prints on the wall. While bona fide Bulgarian food would have been ideal, we felt like we came pretty close with our restaurant choice.

Back at home, I prepared two dishes for dinner, a shopska salad, which is a salad of chopped bell peppers, tomato, green onion and cucumber, sprinkled with parsley and feta, and mish mash, an egg scramble with onion, red bell pepper, tomato and feta. I originally had one more dish on the menu, tarator, a chilled yogurt soup, but we still had snezhanka leftover from the previous day. Our spread looked pretty colorful. Here you can see me holding the mish mash in the back, the snezhanka on our plates, and the shopska salad in the center of the table.

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After cleaning up (and putting all our leftovers away), we watched the 2008 Bulgarian film, The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner. The movie follows a young man named Sashko, who is on a tandem bike trip with his grandfather. After being in a major car accident, Sashko suffers from amnesia, and as the movie and his tandem bike trip progress, begins to regain his memory.

This might be the first globetrotting weekend where we’ve run out of time. The weekend was over, but I still hadn’t made one of my recipes, the tarator soup, and we hadn’t even cracked open another Bulgarian spread I’d bought from Trader Joe’s, an eggplant-garlic one, kyopolou. While we didn’t really get to experience the Rose Festival that had been the motivation for this detour weekend, we still think Bulgaria has been a success. Globetrotting, like real travel, doesn’t always go exactly as planned, but that can be part of the fun.

– Jess

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2 thoughts on “Detour: Bulgaria

  1. Pingback: Detour: Syria | Globetrotting at Home

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