Sunday, November 19The Voice of London

Traditional Bulgarian cuisine and its cultural meaning

Reporter: Elitsa Grigorova| Subeditor: Ivelina Nikolova

 

As I walk past a small Indonesian restaurant, I could see through the window how much people are enjoying their beautifully cooked dishes. There is nothing much fascinating about that, since it is a scene we can often see in almost every restaurant in London. But then I ask myself; how many of these clients have actually thought about the cultural background of a particular dish or what it symbolizes for this ethnicity?

Every time I take a walk somewhere in the city I always discover at least one new place with a foreign cuisine. It is fascinating that nowadays you could easily travel around the world without even leaving London just by visiting all of these different  restaurants. If we have the appetite for different and exotic cuisines maybe we should be intrigued as much to familiarize ourselves with the Chinese, Italian, Russian or whatever other culture. After all Britain is a place that welcomes not only the food of other countries but their people as well.

In Bulgaria we cherish food and everything that has to do with it. This is why most of us prefer to use home grown vegetables, fruits, herbs and meat.  Bulgarian cuisine was established on a wealth of culinary traditions, which is essential for the diversity of recipes all around the country. It was also strongly influenced by Middle East, and this is why our cuisine has similar dishes with the Turkish one. Every region in Bulgaria is known for its distinctive flavors or techniques of preparation.

Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

Coming from a family that celebrates every holiday with a big table, covered with a rich variety of dishes all of different flavors and colors; I could not help but develop an affinity for food. As soon as I heard that there is a new restaurant opening in Stratford, I had to go and try it.

‘’ My goal was always to deliver happiness to my customers. I did not make this restaurant to make profit out of it, that’s not how you make business. I want everyone that comes here to overcome their nostalgic memories and feel like they are home. One way to do that is through your senses, so I figured out that the taste of Bulgarian food is just the right thing.’’ says Veselin Vashev,36 the owner of Balkan restaurant. The name itself suggests that this place welcomes everyone from the Balkan peninsula, and those keen on discovering more of the South-eastern European culture.

I went to visit this place with two of my friends, and truly as soon as we enter it felt like a time traveling journey. Everything from the interior through the warm welcoming from the staff, to the smallest detail reminded me of my lovely country. It took us a while to decide what to order since Bulgarian menus are very rich and divers. As soon as the food and drinks arrived the two musicians started playing an old Bulgarian song. That moment there, I closed my eyes and I dreamed of being home.

Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

The food was no way inferior to the atmosphere. We started with a Shopska salad, Tomatoes and feta cheese salad, and Snejanka. All of them made with fresh vegetables and traditional Bulgarian feta cheese and yogurt. As a main course, I ordered Thracian feta cheese beautifully cooked in a ‘’guveche’’, which is a small earthenware pot, common ovenware in our cuisine. The saltiness of the cheese is balanced by the added tomatoes. It was absolutely compelling.

Left: Ayran is a cold beverage made from yogurt and a pinch of salt. Right: Rakia is a typical Balkan alcohol made from fruits like plums, apricots, grapes, peaches, and other Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Left: Ayran is a cold beverage made from yogurt and a pinch of salt.
Right: Rakia is a typical Balkan alcohol made from fruits like plums, apricots, grapes, peaches, and other
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

My friends ordered chicken hearts, pork chop with homemade fries and pigs’ ears. I know, I know… as a vegetarian I could not even look at them myself but the girls described them as an absolute delicacy. My favorite part was definitely the desert. Even though I am one of those girls always saying that I gave up on the sweets but I sacrificed myself that night, and I do not regret it at all. I had a biscuit cake made from layers of biscuits and light cream topped with melted chocolate. This authentic Bulgarian dessert brings heaven on earth with the very first bite.

Top: Snejanka made with yogurt, cucumbers and dill Left: Shopska salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers and feta cheese Right: Peeled tomatoes with feta cheese and olives Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Top: Snejanka made with yogurt, cucumbers and dill
Left: Shopska salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers and feta cheese
Right: Peeled tomatoes with feta cheese and olives
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

‘Everything from the minced meat to the deserts and even the ice cream is made in the kitchen. I do not allow my chefs to use store-bought product, because quality is what my customers count on.’’ says Veselin. He opened the restaurant only four months ago but yet the place is packed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Even though London was introduced to several Turkish restaurants already, Veselin believes that he can still equally compete with them.

Pigs' ears Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Pigs’ ears
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

‘’The place is constantly improving, every week I am adding something new to the interior. I want my customers to see something different every time they come to eat here. ‘’ says Veselin while sipping on a glass of Rakia. A typical Bulgarian alcohol often made by the people themselves in their homes.

Thracian feta cheese with tomatoes, cilantro and egg Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Thracian feta cheese with tomatoes, cilantro and egg
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Chicken hearts Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Chicken hearts
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Biscuit cake Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Biscuit cake
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova
Credit: Elitsa Grigorova

My visit to Balkan was much-needed since I really wanted something to remind me of my truly missed Bulgaria. My heart will always belong to my beautiful country. I am glad that my ancestors established such culinary traditions, and I am even more proud with the fact that we have managed to preserve them. Realizing it or not, we have established a certain relationship with our food culture, and I know this for a fact since all of my Bulgarians friends are craving for a bite of at least one of our dishes. Now you know that our food is not only satisfying our senses and appetite but also our souls.

 

-->