Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Postcard from Bulgaria #2 - So, What's to Eat?

So, there’s not much out there about food in Bulgaria worth reading, so I thought I’d cobble together a few words and pictures, should any of you ever visit.

Food in Bulgaria is a strange mix – the heat and the setting feels distinctly Mediterranean – indeed the first glances at menus reveal kebabs, souvlaki, fresh salads, grilled meat and fish – but then you’ll also get a wide range of soups and stews. This reminds you with a jolt that you are in fact in the Balkans.

First up, the salads. Why do tomatoes always taste better in the sun? Shopska Salad, a Bulgarian version of ‘Greek’ salad, with tomatoes, onions, cucumber and mild, creamy sheeps’ cheese, is actually – gulp – nice. Very nice, in fact, I formed a slight addiction whilst over there. And I generally don’t eat salads on their own.

One thing that surprised me greatly was the seafood – the quality of the fish where we were based (the very bottom of the Black Sea coast) was excellent, and much better than our recent forays to Greece and the sadly depleted Med. The Bulgarian classic ‘Fish On A Roof Tile’ (translated) was an outstanding example of Bulgarian cuisine. Whole fish, usually Mackerel, laid in an earthenware, trough-shaped tile, topped with a rich, red-wine and shallot sauce, then slow baked. Like a fish Stifado, if you will. And possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. It’ll pop up here sometime soon as I try to recreate it in my own cack-handed way.

However, the real deal for me was lightly battered and quick-fried clams, mussels and squid – doused in lashings of salt and squeezed lemon. Lip tingingly good. A bowl of this in an open-air seafood place and the sun going down...that’s me. Kill me there and then, I’m done. All that was missing was a good, zingy Weisse to wash it down with. Clams and smoked, sweet bacon were often stirred into fried rice with tonnes of fennel and parley, to result in a kind of Balkan risotto. Wonderful.

As if that wasn’t enough, pork was often eaten chopped, fried in a huge pan with gherkins, mushrooms, peppers, and topped with smoked cheese. Then delivered to your table, spitting all over you but you don’t care because it’s a loaded skillet of pork and smoked cheese. I didn’t make a note of what this dish was called – if anyone knows, help me out!

I’m slightly obsessed with Gyro; but we found that Bulgarian gyro tends to have sour cream instead of tzatziki, and use chicken and pork instead of lamb. For me, although a great snack, the garlic and fennel suckerpunch of Greek tzatziki was missing, big time.

Sozopol is divided into two parts; new and old town. All the best restaurants are in the Old town; Check out Neptune for the best seafood (in fact, the best food) on the Island, although Rusalka runs a close second. The Windmill offers a great dining area and good, hearty soups and stews, and Tavern Chuchura for the sizzling pork/cheese skillet. Finally, El Greco (next to Rusalka) does an amazing creamy seafood pasta, and has wonderful fresh Anchovies.
....And as for Beer...well, forget it. Nothing at all except generic Bulgarian lager that goes down ok when you’re baking alive reading Dave Gorman’s America Unchained on the beach. Instead, opt for Bulgarian wine – it’s damn good and maybe slightly unappreciated. Mavrud is a really good red grape variety unique to Bulgaria (I think –I’m a beer obsessive, not wine!) and the Traminers and Chardonnays from nearby Pomorie were not only reasonably priced but delicious too.


Peter M said...

Good postcard from Bulgaria but although I'm not surprised you had some poor quality seafoof in Greece, I still insist there's some quality seafood and tavernas to be enjoyed.

When traveling, always eat where the locals go. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.

Leigh said...

Hi peter - always nice to hear from you! I absolutley agree - the key to finding the good stuff in strange lands is taking the plunge and going where the locals go. Let's hope we all get chances to do that. Greece isnt all bad - I love Greek food - but for me, this trip to the balkans yielded greater results.

A.C. said...

Its so disappointing to find that not much is different or amusing about a country that you wold expect to be out of your world... I've been to a few travel blogs where the authors reveal a country's food as blah or boring... Oh well... its still an experience!
And hm, I wonder if we can find Bulgarian wine in the States...

Boak said...

I've never been to Bulgaria but have always wanted to go. There's a good cook book by Silvena Rowe called "Feasts" which has lots of interesting looking Bulgarian food. Seems like a great mix of mediterranean flavours and "East European" comfort food!

Leigh said...

Boak - I'll check that out - and yeah, you're spot on with your idea. and you know what, it worked!
Corrine - try to find some!