The first time I visited Eastern Europe was on a school music tour to the Czech Republic in 2002. We had a brilliant time, mainly because we had just finished school and were over 18, which meant that we could drink without consequence. To be honest, I can’t really remember much about the tour except for:
- Trying to play the glockenspiel very quietly (which is impossible by the way) as I had somehow managed to wangle my way into the percussion ensemble, despite the fact that I didn’t really know how to play.
- Attempting to explain to a pharmacist that my friend wanted to buy sanitary towels. If you don’t know the word for sanitary towels in a foreign language, it is a VERY difficult thing to mime.
But perhaps most memorable about our stay was the fact that at the time, the Czechs were so unaccustomed to catering for vegetarians that some of our pals had to eat fried cheese for every meal for a week.
I’ve not been back to the Czech Republic since, so I’ve no idea if the situation has improved. But a vegetarian visiting Sofia would have no such issues. Yes, they like their meat in Bulgaria (predominantly minced pork reconstituted into various shapes…) but there’s also a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables available here, not only in the markets which can be found all over the city, but also in small stalls on street corners all over the city.
My parents call me the ‘fruit monster’ because I love fruit so much. Indeed, one of the highlights of last year was getting 15 satsumas in my stocking instead of the usual one. So you can imagine what a pleasure it is for me to have fresh fruit and veg so readily available. And it’s fruit and veg with personality – instead of lying straight and emotionless, the carrots hug each other, and the cucumbers smile!
But for me, what’s nicest about the markets is the fact that what’s on offer changes as different produce comes into season. In the UK, a bag of apples or a punnet of mushrooms is a) available all year round and b) the same price all year round. We’ve become totally disconnected from the idea of seasonal produce – and even if you do eat it in season, some of it will have been shipped in from somewhere halfway across the globe and artificially ripened in the truck on the way to the supermarket.
In contrast, in Sofia the prices for fruit and vegetables change as they come in and out of season, and also as the fruit itself ripens – so you pay more if you want perfectly ripe fruit, and can get a bargain if it’s a bit bruised or if it’s under-ripe. In addition, the fact that more of it is grown locally (I’m told that quite a bit is imported, but we’re talking Turkey rather than South America), means that the quality and taste is far superior to anything you would find in the average shop/market in the UK. Which means that suddenly, a simple mix of tomatoes and cucumbers (the shopska salad) which would be a very bland dish in the UK, becomes a mouth-watering treat.
Incidentally, if you like food as much as I do, you may enjoy the following blogs:
- Fabric, frocks, food – a mixture of recipes and mouthwatering photos of restaurant food. (I wouldn’t advise reading if you’ve got a long wait until lunch!)
- The Twice Bitten, a beautiful mix of stories and photographs of seasonal Scottish food – Iona seems to have gone into hiding recently but I hope she’ll start writing again soon.
- Veggie Yorkshire, an account of the difficulties of living in Yorkshire if you don’t eat meat (almost as difficult as the Czech Republic).
I’m not aware of any Bulgarian food blogs, though I’d love to read one… if you have one feel free to drop a link to it in the comments box below.