Avid readers of this blog (Hi mum and dad!) will remember that a few weeks ago I mentioned that the Bulgarians’ love for yoghurt is so great that it required a blog post of its own.
I don’t know much about yoghurt. I’d say ‘it’s all Greek to me,’ but it is apparently a ‘well known‘ fact that Bulgarians invented yoghurt. Of course, neighbouring countries such as Greece also claim this invention, but I am told (repeatedly) that they are wrong. One bit of evidence for this (which is admittedly quite convincing) is that one of the bacteria used for making yoghurt is called lactobacillus bulgaricus and was first identified by a Bulgarian Doctor, Stamen Grigarov. I am also told (repeatedly) that Bulgarian yoghurt is far superior to its Greek counterpart. I don’t wish to offend any Greek readers, so I shall not attempt to make a comparison.
But I will make a health warning: if you are lactose intolerant, do not come to Bulgaria. I have already mentioned that a vegetarian could easily survive in Bulgaria. The same could not be said for someone who is lactose intolerant, as even if you managed to avoid the cheese-covered chips and salads, you would not be able to avoid yoghurt. Bulgaria’s attitude to yoghurt is like a pushy mother’s attitude to vegetables. It’s hidden in ALL of your food. No matter what Bulgarian cuisine you taste, you will find that it either:
- Is yoghurt – buffalo’s milk yoghurt, a tasty dessert, or the popular airan (a drink consisting of water and, yes, you’ve guessed it) fall into this category.
- Contains yoghurt – the average kebab falls into this category, as do most soups made by our canteen at work; even ‘meatball’ or ‘courgette’ soup are essentially bits of meatball or courgette floating around in yoghurty water. That’s not to mention tarator, available on every menu, which is a soup made entirely of watered down yoghurt, with some cucumber and dill thrown in (it’s delicious by the way, especially on a hot day).
- Has a big lump of yoghurt garnish – I once commented on this to a Bulgarian boy, who said ‘but what do you have in the UK instead of yoghurt?’ When I said ‘er, nothing’ I think he wrote us off as savages.
On a tangent, I (and other friends from Western Europe) have frequently commented on how young Bulgarians look – if you think someone is 24 they’re probably at least ten years older – and it seems that yoghurt may be responsible for this. A Ukrainian biologist called Ilya Metchnikoff believed that toxic substances created by digestive bacteria in the intestines cause the physical changes associated with old age. He suggested that rural populations in Bulgaria and Russia lived longer lives because they consumed fermented milk (essentially yoghurt), which increases intestinal acidity and therefore suppresses the growth of these bacteria.
I’m not sure I believe it, but on the off-chance, I might keep up my yoghurt consumption levels on my return to the UK – after all, yoghurt is an awful lot cheaper than plastic surgery…