Year: 2016

Apple Day

Crunching across swathes of ombre leaves, wearing your finest (and thickest) winter coat and 4 metre scarf, and having apple-themed meals all day everyday; this can only be described as THE best time of the year. Autumn is well and truly upon us, the frosty air taking a beating to our protruding facial parts and warm drinks being a source of warmth rather than a refreshing beverage. But Autumn brings one top notch friend along to the party; Apple Day. In my home city, Coventry, England, I used to volunteer as a gardener at these wonderful organic gardens out in the countryside. And every year they would hold the greatest, most majestic Apple Days; an apple themed organic menu, traditional apple juice pressing, apple picking, apple events – you name it. In fact, you’d inevitably end up making one too many rounds of the gardens and eat so many apples you’d be more than set for the next year… Since being in London I seemed to of let slip this magical event as I entered …

Fruitful Adventures in the Motherland

Our last days in Bulgaria, much like the rest, were restful and filled with food fit for gods; banitsa, meats, cheeses and salads up to your ears. My aunt and uncle’s home is beautifully exquisite, and so the experience was further enriched; a small wooden balcony overlooked the living room, high and lined with wooden beams, decorated with an ornate wooden star. White marble tiled the floor, cool on your toes on hot Bulgarian summer days. Rows and rows of gifts from near and afar line oak shelves and glass cabinets, above a fireplace and a beautiful wooden structure providing a sort of separate between the living area and the dining/kitchen area. A tiny outdoors open conservatory of sorts is only a few footsteps away for dining in bright daylight or by the white clean moon, crickets chirping in the vast garden, speckled with flowers and shrubs and fruits and vegetables. Over at the back of the dream house can be found a fairly large allotment space, partially covered in a white plastic tarp to …

Bumbling up the Balkans

After spending a glorious time in Kardzhali, my dad and I packed our bags and headed to a small town in central Bulgaria surrounded by the Balkan mountains where my aunt and uncle live with friends who may as well be family.  After a long drive, where we stopped to try and take a photo with the fields of sunflowers but were afraid of potential snakes in the grass, we arrived in the town but had no recollection of where my aunt and uncle actually lived. Renown however in Kalofer, and perhaps across Bulgaria, we drove slowly in the dark in attempt to ask passing pedestrians or groups of grannies sitting outside their homes chit chatting as to where they lived. In such small towns and villages it always amazes me how everyone seems to know everyone. Our first day in Kalofer entailed waking up to heading straight on a 2km trek into the Balkan mountains. Jumping into a Jeep and following the rest of the family on two quad bikes (how and why I …

Eating, Exploring, Escaping

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly have any more family, my dad’s cousins from Razlog (a stunning town and ski resort in southwestern Bulgaria) came to Kardzhali to visit, bringing with them mounds of food and treats to gorge on; baked chicken, rice and sauerkraut, a huge loaf of tutmanik (banista bread), marble cake, bulgarian beans, and more. To accompany we made our own shopska salad and tarator (the Bulgarian version of tzatziki, but better of course). The following morning I was rather confused about the day’s events, perhaps being (not) so rudely awakened disturbed my zen. And so all the happenings seemed even more surreal than they probably were. In the morning I could’ve sworn I was in heaven; family and friends from a town called Kalofer had come down, joining Kardzhali friends and family and neighbours alongside our Razlog pals to attend a memorial for my grandad at a tiny church with the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was filled with exotic flowers, little ponds and …

Banitsa the Saviour

If you’ve been following my journey through Bulgaria then you may experience deja vu as I continue my incessant worship of the heavenly food that is Banitsa. If you’ve ever been to Bulgaria you’ll know what it is; it’s Bulgaria’s croissant, or quiche (in a French context). It’s the street food that takes precedence in every bakery shop window on all roads, big or small. And it’s the moreish meal which will leave you falling dangerously into a future where all you think about or eat is banitsa. I kid, but seriously: watch out. As well as being an extremely popular street food, banitsa is a symbol of Bulgarian tradition and cuisine. On Christmas and New Year, banitsa is traditionally prepared and served with “kusmeti” – tiny “lucks” such as wealth, health, prosperity, shiny hair, etc. written on separate shards of paper, wrapped then in foil so as not to melt into the dish. A coin is also wrapped with foil and added into the mix, and whoever gets the coin is the most prosperous …

The Taste of a Memory

Continuing the pattern of drifting slowly through the Summer days, I traveled across the small Bulgarian town to my dad’s friend’s villa; an amazing little place high up in the hills overlooking the town. The wooden house held two floors and a balcony. Fruit trees bore beautifully ripe apricots and peaches, and chickens roamed in a small allotment amongst flowers and shrubs and plants; a dream location. We then continued on drifting to try and find some particular spices that we’ve longed for for many a year in our home cooking; chubritsa, regan and a kind of cumin. Often used in marinades or in meat and fish meals, to me it’s the smell of Bulgaria. Most notably the chubritsa and cumin truly MAKES a kufte – a Bulgaria “meatball” (basically a tiny burger). Mothers’ meeting. Venturing into my grandma’s building’s long-unopened cellar whilst back home, my dad and I went to find his old camera film developing equipment; cobwebs entangled abandoned possessions from long ago and dust thickly coated boxes and books and barrels. The …

Sleep, Eat, Meet, Repeat.

Waking up late, eating breakfast at eleven and having no priorities for the entire day has been a long awaited task. For the next two weeks this lifestyle is definitely one I can get used to. To pass time eating, relaxing and talking a walk around the town prove the best activities – especially in 35 degree heat. One adventure we had was to a local market a short walk away; not dissimilar to what you may see in the UK, the fruit market was sheltered with large high arches, surrounded by small shops and cafes and filled with rows and rows of stalls filled with fruits and vegetables. Melons, tomatoes, plums, peaches, lemons… you name it. Not to mention the incredible mounds of watermelons and tomatoes you’d never see elsewhere. Fresh honey from local hives and tiny pouches of local bee pollen sat amongst a rainbow of ingredients with jars of freshly ground tahini too. The tomatoes in Bulgaria have to be the best tomatoes you’ll ever eat, naturally, alongside the peaches too; beautifully sweet …

The Food of Gods

The next morning after arrival brought yet another familiar scent that brought joy to every inch of my body; banitsa. Banitsa is a Bulgarian feta cheese “pie”; a common street food around the whole of the country, we often cook it on Sundays or mainly for special occasions (most notably christmas and new year when we fill the banitsa with kusmeti – “lucks”). My grandma had woken early to go out and buy a variety of banitsas, four in fact for us to try, all of which I happily inhaled after a peaceful night. One was a regular style banitsa, that tasted a lot like Brazilian pastel but with feta cheese, but was very different from one I’ve always had at home. Another was with rice, which I have made previously but also with spring onions and spinach. The third was Tutmanik – a banitsa bread, made with bread not filo pastry. The last was called “washed” banitsa, which I believe to be made with blanched filo sheets which are slightly thicker than usual. Some …

LDN > SOF | Part 2

Kardzhali, once a centre of industry, 60 years later now overgrown and unmaintained, it’s serene and slow; its residents never run – a leisurely stroll is mandatory. As is meeting friends or long lost acquaintances on it’s uprooted pavements whom will always have an hour or two to spare to sit in front of a bakery or cafe for a snack, drink and a chat. Tall trees, planted when my dad was only a young boy rise high along the sidewalks, regimented and beautiful, their leaves brushing tall apartment blocks and providing an green filtered shelter from the searing Summer sun. My grandma, now 83 years old, lives in the same apartment as when my dad was a boy, just across the road from his primary and secondary school and within minutes of walking distances from cousins, aunts and old friends who may as well be called relatives. An overwhelmingly familiar and homely scent of the apartment brought rushing memories of fun and festivities, when the family from far and wide would gather and party …

LDN > SOF | Part 1

O’er misty mountains and forests of trees we flew and arrived in the motherland: Bulgaria. Over ten years later we made our return, to a country where my parents and entire family grew up and still continue to live. I on the other hand am more or less British born and bred, but with Bulgarian blood through and through. And so after a few trips many a moon ago whence I was too young to understand or appreciate anything culturally stimulating I have returned to absorb the culture from heritage and all that comes along with it. A quick pit stop in Sofia after a late night flight led us to meet an Aunt who thankfully I remembered spoke fluent english – ashamedly I struggle to speak Bulgarian but can perfectly understand everything. We took a trip to a local pub/restaurant and I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but before me arrived dishes of extremely familiarity – basically the food I grew up on and continue to eat to this very day, only …