Category Archives: Bulgaria

Bulgaria – Food special

To me the opportunity to enjoy local food and wine is one of the great pleasures of travelling and I will try anything. So I thought I’d close out Bulgaria with a composite of food eaten (and seen) to give everyone a flavour (excuse the pun) for what to expect if they visit.

Below is an example of modern haute cuisine food from Tam’s House in Plovdiv. Peruvian and Bulgarian chef who met when training as chefs in Napa Valley now own and run this place. Very cool. Very reasonably priced as it everything in Bulgaria. We also took a liking to Mahrud- one of the local wines in Bulgaria.

Wine, pork cheeks and polenta, duck and opening salad

Below top left is a classic Tarator cold soup – essentially Bulgarian yoghurt (which is very good) with garlic, chopped dill and walnuts plus a drizzle of oil. The dish below is one of many eggplant options (my favourite vegetable) – this one was smoky and filled with chopped veggies and fresh tomato sauce and feta like cheese on top.

Tarator, salad and stuffed eggplant/aubergines

A popular starter is a dip made from yoghurt and cucumber with very thin zucchini strips holding it in place. And of course dill, walnuts and a drizzle of oil! So pretty.

Bulgarian cucumber yoghurt dip

A typical shared cold meat and cheese platter.

Salamis, cheese, pickled cucumbers, dips, pita bread, olives and more.

Lovely small local markets abound and everything looks so fresh and is attractively displayed.

Herbs are often sold in pots so you can continue to grow them at home

Using my friend Jo’s idea to colour block food

Two other regular dishes are pork (my favourite) or lamb meatballs. They are bigger than a typical meatball but smaller than burgers. Often served with a red pepper relish (lutinitsa) that is as ubiquitous here as ketchup is elsewhere.

Pork meatball, veggie bean version (not my thing) and the wonderful lutinitsa

And every meal begins with shopska salad – tomatoes, cucumber and cheese (reflecting the Bulgarian flag) with raw onions on top and a light vinaigrette dressing. Very good.

A plain Banitsa with icing sugar is a must for breakfast and then you can move on to either savoury or sweet cheese filled versions later in the day!

These sell like hot cakes (or like banitsas)

Plain banitsa with icing sugar

Jo and I chow down on our banitsas at the start of our food tour in Sofia. It would have been rude not to!

Bulgaria – Veliko Tărnovo, The Thracian Rose Fields and Varna

For our last few days in Bulgaria we drove from Plovdiv through the Thracian Rose fields. Turns out it was the first day of the annual rose festival held nearby the town of Kazanlak. So the roses were in full bloom and being picked. We stopped by the roadside to watch the pickers and take a walk through the Damascena rose files – wonderful aromas. You’d think a bag of rose petals would be light as a feather – you’d be wrong! Really heavy.

It’s hard work picking roses.

Gorgeous scenery around the rose fields. And no I am not picking them just adjusting my camera!

In Kazanlak it was everything rose – the Rose Museum (where I practised my skills using portrait on my iphone) and stalls selling all sorts of rose things – headbands, beauty products, drinks etc etc

Some of the lovely roses on display at the Rose Museum

Grumpy man and roses!

We then headed uphill to the old capital of Veliko Tărnovo (thanks Sue for telling me to visit there). Although the weather was a little grey it was a cute little hotel with stunning views and the old town is picture perfect – lots of young artists around trying to capture all the colours.

The view from my bedroom window – early morning and then later when the mist had cleared

Looking back at Veliko Tărnovo from the monument – our hotel was somewhere in there

The Asenevtsi monument at Veliko Tărnovo with the sword as the symbols of power and prseperity

Last stop was the seaside resort of Varna on the Black Sea – a sea I have not visited before. As it is almost totally landlocked it is very calm and the beach was huge and at least at the start of June – not that busy – but I expect that will change in the height of the summer months. The town has another impressive orthodox cathedral (close to where we stayed) and the main street leads down to the beach and is a mix of crumbling buildings and some that are beautifully restored. A nice place to relax – which we did.

The people you can see all stood totally still for a minute when sirens rang out across Bulgaria on June 2 to commemorate the liberation of the country. It was eery – like pressing pause on a movie but for real.

The Main Street in Varna.

The Varna Cathedral

The Opera house and road leading towards the beach

Jo enjoys getting her feet wet in the Black Sea as the sun dips and it is once again time for a gin and tonic

And in case you are wondering – yes we did eat lots of local dishes in Bulgaria – food only blog to follow:)

Bulgaria, Plovdiv – 2019 European City of Culture

Plovdiv is a charming town in central Bulgaria and worth visiting but I think it can be done in two full days. Plovdiv is remarkably the oldest inhabited city in Europe but it is also gently modernising.

The main shopping street in Plovidv

It consists of an old town with an excellent Roman amphitheater and we were lucky to be able to watch an orchestra play on a warm sunny evening. A special treat.

Listening to the music at the Roman Amphitheatre

Visiting the Old Town of Plovidiv is a must. Full of quaint houses, a few shops and people practising old crafts – it has a quiet vibe and is a great place to walk around – with comfortable shoes.

The charming old part of the City

The Old town also has many revivalist homes that allow you to see what life was like in the early part of the 20th century as modernization was taking hold and the Ottoman Empire rule was declining. These houses have been lovingly restored.

The inside of Balabanov House

The Ethnographical Museum also in the Old Town was a beautiful building but sadly no inside shots allowed.

The Ethnographical Museum (with pesky children having their lunch)

The city still has a large mosque which towers over more ancient Roman ruins and it is a mosque you can visit inside so we did – it was splendid. I do enjoy the way there are so many layers of civilization in this part of the world. The deeper they dig the more they find.

The Mosque in Plovdiv perched above the Roman Forum

The trendy and arty part of town is called Kapana and is where all the bars and restaurants are plus some street art. I think this is where most of the events linked to European City of Culture will be focussed as the summer season gets into full swing.

Street Art in Kapana

Some good restaurants in Kapana and we were especially enamoured of Tam’s House – the chefs were Bulgarian and Peruvian who trained at a Michelin starred restaurant in the Napa Valley and now they are in Plovidiv. The food was amazing as was the local wine and the cost was just AUD50 a head for a meal that was top class and would cost three times that in Melbourne.

Tam’s House – strongly recommended if you can find it!

Bulgaria (my 106th country) – a couple of days hanging out in Sofia and a day out to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church

One minute in Tel Aviv and a two and a half hour flight later we arrived in Sofia for the first part of a trip around Bulgaria.

First stop had to be the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral – dramatically situated in the Centre of the city and a hive of activity on this particular Saturday evening as it was the weekend where most of the kids graduated high school – this seems to entail wearing long ball gowns and driving around town hooting their horns and counting to 12 (to reflect the 12 long years they have suffered in school!) Just wait until they start work!!

Actually Sofia has a multitude of spectacular churches mostly Bulgarian or Russian orthodox with exteriors and interiors (which often include brightly coloured frescos of the saints and religious events from the New Testament). Examples below.

And the church below tucked in amongst government buildings was built on Roman ruins.

We snuck into the Russian Orthodox Church below as a service was ending – beautiful singing and great pomp – but we then got told off for taking pictures!

But it is not all churches

There is also the 2nd largest synagogue in Europe (it is Sephardic) and a mosque that remains a mosque (many of the others remain from the Ottoman Empire but are are now churches which is why the exteriors often look mosque-like as that is exactly what they used to be before they were repurposed rather than pulled down.). Great recycling. Although not quite as close together as shown below they are only about 3 minutes from each other.

There are monuments – that’s Saint Sofia and the guards outside the President’s place of work; there is MacDonalds of course (but I have never seen it written in Cyrillic before) and also klecks- meaning “kneel” shops as below bottom right. After the communism era ended people wanted to become more entrepreneurial and because they couldn’t afford expensive real estate they converted their basements into shops which you have to kneel at to see what’s inside. Loved them, although some comfort cushions would be an idea for those of us with creakier bones!

There is shopping for local ceramics at the Ladies Market.

A popular day trip from Sofia is a visit to Rila Monastery (about two hours away) and the glorious Boyana Church (about 20 minutes from Sofia).

I loved the Boyana Church. It is tiny, in a peaceful forest and only 10 people can go in at a time. It dates back many hundreds of years and while simple outside it is the stunning frescos inside that give it the “wow” factor – even more special because they are in good condition and are painted in a real life style where people’s expressions are clear in their faces rather than the previously stylised approach to painting saints. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside so I have swiped a couple of pics of the interior from the internet so you can see what I mean.

Then on to Rila Monastery – via some very pretty countryside – and a real rag and bone man!

Rila was a spectacular place although rather crowded on a Sunday so I had to include some people in my photos – Grrr. Only 7 monks live here now but visitors or pilgrims can stay over. It once housed 300 monks – times have changed and not many people want to be monks anymore hence the reduction in numbers. It is nevertheless right that it is being preserved so well and both Rila and Boyana are UNESCO heritage sights.

I loved the colourful frescos and below there are some that show what happens if you go to hell compared to the prettiness of Paradise.

The floors with the carpets hanging from them are where people can stay over. I think the rooms are very basic!

A great start to my visit to Bulgaria.