Hamachi

I was looking for a place to have lunch in Sofia and I recieved some recommendations for Hamachi. It is owned by a group that runs quite a few notable restaurant that such as Cine Cita, Piccolo Casa and Sushi Bar. I had dinned their quite a few years ago and after reviewing my blog post, my experience was somewhat the same.

I drove past the place a few times as the enterance is back a bit off the street and sidewalk. The interior is bright and zen… very Asian. I got better photos this time around since I was there for lunch.

Once again I sat in the room with the tree, which was looking much healthier since my last visit. I no longer felt the need to give it a sip.

I again ordered the miso soup which, was quite good. The only flaw was that the tofu was a bit cold on the inside. I assume that the broth is made and the toss ins are added to order.

The presentation of the sushi has improved and I enjoyed my selections. I steered clear of the pre-made sushi served by the slice and ordered full rolls. The shrimp tempura was really nice, crispy and tender. Since I was the only customer, I had a chance to pick my server’s brain. I asked him about the sauce on the shrimp tempura rolls, I detected a hint of star anise, which he couldn’t confirm since it was not made in house, but in a bottle that you could purchase at the ubiquitous Alex shop. The issue about the chunks of veggies still remain. I believe that vegetables should be thinly sliced (avocado) and the carrots and cucumbers julienned… it is obviously more work, but the prices are high enough for the effort. 
The ingredients were fresh and authentic, but the menu lacked creativity. It was a bit boring, but on the bright side no cream cheese, at least I didn’t see any on the menu. The service was attentive and they seemed quite knowledgeable about offerings. I am not in a hurry to return, but my server recommended I visit the other Japanese restaurant in their portfolio Sushi Bar. Judge for yourself.

Hamachi
3 Orfey St. (Lozenetz) 
Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours Mon – Sun: 11:30 am – 12:00 am 
 Phone +359 (0) 88 4262244, +359 (0)89 4262244
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Happy Sushi

I have resisted the lure that others have found in Happy Sushi. I find the Happy chain in general a horrible ripoff of those theme restaurants in the United States, like TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesdays or Red Robin, Outback Steakhouse, you get the gist, but I have always been smitten by the idea of sushi on a conveyer belt ever since I saw one in Heathrow Airport; yet dashing through terminal 5 to get a connection flight left no time for novelty sushi. When “The” Mall opened on Tzarigradsko Shosse, I was excited at finally getting the chance to indulge via Happy Sushi.

I am not sure if my expectations were set too high on revolving sushi or my taste for cream cheese is waining, but it was not good. Almost every roll had cream cheese, I mean, I get the Philadelphia roll, but seriously gobs and gobs everywhere. They also were quite heavy with the mayonnaise on all the rolls with out cream cheese…  not to mention parsley… Mind boggling. I did find one or two decent rolls, but it was quite a few revolutions before anything remotely decent crossed my path. I decided after that “meal” no more Happy Sushi!
Well, after some thought and suggestions from people on my Facebook page that the one on Rakovski St. in Sofia was much better, I decided to give it another go, even though I swore I wouldn’t unless someone else was footing the bill. While attending Taste 2012, my daughter and I were starving and needed grub. Happy Sushi was right on the corner, so it was just plain old convenient to hop in for a few rolls.
Whatever I ordered this time was still not good. This time my expectations were low. I just wanted to get something decent to satisfy my hunger. Maya and I trudged through, she went all veggie with cucumber, avocado and carrot, although she did try some of the salmon hoso-maki, when the meal ends and the pickled ginger was the best part of the meal… something is awry. While there are people that are satisfied with Happy Sushi, I am certainly not one of them. I will try my damnedest to avoid having to eat there, but who knows what the future will hold, hopefully not having to endure another evening with the fishy smell lingering in my mouth…
115 Tsarigradsko Shosse Blvd, Sofia
phone 0882 999 013 
100 James Bourchier Blvd, Sofia 
phone 0884 804 040 

96 G.S. Rakovski Str, Sofia
phone 0882 999 012 

Sushi Express

After a long day of strolling and exploring the streets of Sofia… the idea of what to have for dinner was upon us… walking home through from Петте Кьошета (Five Corners) toward our apartment, we passed a new addition, well, new for me.  My husband and I usually avoid sushi in Sofia and Bulgaria in general because the quality, price and availability of fresh fish is limited and sketchy to say the least.  Since I am pregnant, I am limited to cooked fish and vegetarian options, so I figured why not give them a try?

The menu is limited with no exotic sushi ingredients; carrots, cucumbers, sprouts, avocado, salmon, tuna, shrimp, artificial crab sticks, cream cheese… they did how ever offer a fusion ingredient of mozzarella, which sounded completely unappealing. To be fair, they are called Sushi Express, not “Gourmet Sushi Express”.  They offer hoso maki (small or thin roll), futo maki (fat roll), ura maki (inside out roll) sashimi and nigiri (hand formed); a basic sushi menu at a reasonable price, considering other “high-end” or “up-scale” sushi restaurants in Sofia. 
The menu board.
These offerings are basic and for the most part served promptly in-house or for deliver, but they seemed geared more towards delivery and take-out.  Angel and I opted for take-out.  We waited about 10 minutes for them to prepare our rolls; we were the only ones in the joint and it was early for dinner, so they didn’t seem to have a back log of orders.  What I observed, which was really disconcerting was that on the back counter, a bunch or pre-made rolls were just sitting there with no refrigeration or regard for the safety for the raw fish that they contained.  This right there was a major red flag.
As for the the food itself, I was happy that they provided ample gari or pickled ginger.  The soy sauce the served seemed to be Kikkoman (judging from the bottle) and they had the low-sodium option, which Angel and I are fond of and purchased a 1.5L bottle of at Alex, earlier in the day for our homemade sushi nights! The rolls were basic, the shari-su, which is the seasoning added to the rice because su-shi means “vinegar rice; was barely present and not a contributing factor in the taste.  My vegetarian rolls were a disappointment because the attention to detail was completely lacking, not to mention unhygienic.  The rolls smelled distinctly of fish, which means our sushi “masters” didn’t bother to clean the knife between cutting the different rolls and not familiar with proper rolling technique that I was taught at The Culinary Institute of America, which is no “pinwheels”.  I am not surprised by these occurrences, but the smell was a put off considering it was a cucumber-avocado roll.
The “pinwheel” direct from their website.
Bottom line: would I order from them again?  Probably not, but however even when I am not pregnant, I am subject to food cravings and desires and if I need a sushi fix in a pinch, while at my apartment in Sofia, I MIGHT, order from them and try my luck, hoping for a cucumber-avocado roll minus the fishy aroma. Knowing their food safety habits, I will stick with veggie hoso-maki because their veggie futo-maki included cream cheese, which I don’t believe is a good ingredient choice even with salmon in the “Philadelphia” roll (the cream cheese was not Philadelphia… it was a cheaper imitation.) If you are feeling brave, take a chance… you might have a more positive experience than we did!
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The Ladies Market in the Spring

My first Photoshop collage… I am so freaking excited!

I don’t know what it is, but every time I decide to visit the Ladies Market it is raining.  Someone I know had mentioned to me that she found a great place for vanilla beans in Sofia, which I have been looking for, preferably cheap since, I need a lot of the for an upcoming post (…the suspense is killing you).  She had emailed me the address and wouldn’t you know it, I never bothered to write it down, so I decided to wander around and invited my friend Drini to join me.

I have a small camera, so when I know I am going wandering, I make sure to have my memory card empty and my battery full.  But even better for me was the fact that Drini, who is a fantastic artist and painter, (I encourage all of you to become fans of her work on Facebook) forgot her camera, so all the photos I will share with you about our little outing are courtesy of her.

While the goal of my trip was to find vanilla beans, I found a beautiful clay pot and some wonderful spices to help my Indian culinary journey to continue.  I want to share with you some images of our outing.

Clay pot, turmeric, dried chick peas, saffron, pistachios, nutmeg
Traditional Bulgarian ceramics
Gorgeous ceramic wares 
I am wearing the bright read jacket!
Dried herbs
Great shop! If it wasn’t raining so hard, I would have gotten the address.
Some of their bean/grainy bounty.

The area is wonderful for finding international ingredients from Asia and the Middle East, fresh seasonal produce, butcher shops and other household items.   For some useful address please check out my other posts on the Ladies Market, Liu’s Chinese Goods and Alex (Japanese/Asian ingredients)

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Alex – Asian/Japanese Grocery Store

Like most of my culinary adventures in Sofia, they come about randomly.  I was at Cru last week and noticed that one of the items on the menu contained dashi, which is an ingredient that I have been searching for for quite some time.  The people at Cru were kind enough to tell me that dashi is available in Bulgaria, but they didn’t know the name of the shop or the exact location, so they told me it was on Iskar St. near Halite, which was vague, but I tucked it into my mental to find list.

Then at the French Cooking Demo, I met Yuko one of the Japanese ladies in Sofia.  I figured she would have heard of this place for sure, I was right.  She drew me a map indicating that the street was Ekzarh Youseff, near the place where people fill up bottles with mineral water and Costa Coffee, but she didn’t know the exact address or the name of the place, but a map is better than a general vicinity, so I was off.

It was tricky to find parking because of Halite and the fact that I was foggy on the cross street.  I began walking down Ekzarh Youseff, I managed to find both of my markers: the place where Sofians fill up bottles with mineral water and the Costa Coffee across the street, but I didn’t find anything on Ekzarh Youseff.  I decided to back track and ask people if they had heard of such a shop, but I got no information.  Dedicated as I was, I walked around the surrounding streets thinking I was reading the map wrong, when I came to the restaurant L’Etranger. I went in. My rational was this, maybe someone inside would have heard of this shop. Inside I found the IWC President Stephanie having lunch with a friends.  Her friend had heard of the place and told me to go back onto Ekzarh Youseff.  It was a very small shop that sold fish.

In the end, I managed to find this place.  I walked passed it at least 5 times. It took about an hour of pounding the pavement, but I succeeded.  The shop is really small, but I found some things on their shelves that I hadn’t been able to find before, palm sugar (for pad Thai), bonito flakes (for dashi) and tons of frozen fish.  The walls are adorned with diagrams about various fish species.  I will be returning to this shop soon as I now have new items I am searching for.

The shop doesn’t have a name, but there is an exterior sign that says “fish” in Bulgarian (Риба).  You can find the shop at 26 Ekzarh Youseff St. (Ул. “Екзарх Йосеф” № 26) Tel: (+359) 02 983 24 83. Good luck!
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K is for Kampyo!

I first came across kampyo while living in Astoria at Go Wasabi.  It was only a few blocks from our house, so we went there often.  At the time, I was only eating vegetable sushi and the pickings are usually slim, so I choose everything veggie and I came across this interesting hosomaki that was sweet and savory all at the same time.  The waiter had tried to explain what it was, but I didn’t quite understand.

I recently found out that kampyo comes from the dried shavings of calabash, a gourd.  As luck would have it, I managed to locate it in Sofia at Liu’s, but it is not called kampyo, since Liu’s is Chinese and kampyo is a Japanese word, unfortunately, I never made note of the Bulgarian translation.
Here is the recipe that I followed for making kampyo for hosomaki.

2 oz (50g) kampyo
1 cup water (or dashi)
5 tbsp Sugar
5 tbsp Mirin
4 tbsp Shoyu (soy sauce)

Wash the kampuo with water.
Rub with salt until soft. Rinse off in water.  Soak in water for an hour.

Bring water to a boil and then drain.
Add water (or dashi).  Cook until crisp-tender.  Add sugar, mirin and shoyu.  Cook over medium  heat until the juices have evaporated.
Cool on a plate.
Roll the finished kampyo into sushi… or other desired use.
As I explore asian cuisine, I am sure I will come across other fantastic ways to incorporate kampyo.  If you have any ideas or suggestions please share.

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Hamachi…

When I make trips to Sofia, I like to plan my trip to involve at least one meal out and Hamachi was the next on my list! I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I always like to try things myself before I sign off.

The restaurant had a great vibe. I liked the colors, or lack there of and the décor. We sat in the back room, which looked like and outdoor space that had been enclosed with walls. There was an evergreen tree growing right through the roof, which looked cool, but if you felt the needles they were very dry and in desperate need for some water.
I rarely order anything but sushi at Japanese restaurants and miso soup. The miso soup had nice flavors and textures, although I think the shiitake mushrooms could have been rehydrated better, since I doubt they were fresh.
And finally, I ordered my sushi, their selection was pretty basic, I selected the Nordic futomaki, California futomaki, Japanese omlette futomaki, tofu futomaki and mango hosomaki.  
As usual with most sushi restaurants in Sofia, (if I am incorrect about this statement please tell me because I would be very excited to eat somewhere that serves sushi freshly prepared.) they pre-make their sushi and slice you off the quantity you desire, but you have no idea how long it has been sitting around. As you can see from the pictures, they opt for the chunks of vegetables rather than the julienned variety. In my opinion, chunks of hard veggies such as carrots throw of the balance and texture of the sushi.  You are distracted by the crunch. Also, the rice was a bit too al dente for my taste or the pieces were just too cold from being in the fridge for God knows how long!
Hamachi’s sushi isn’t great, not that the competition is any better. If you are looking for a nice place to eat in Lozenetz, give it a whirl or even better… learn how to make your own sushi or have friends over for a sushi party… make sure to invite me! 
P.S I liked the anime/manga wallpapered bathroom.
P.P.S Although the white tree makes me sad and if I go again, I am pouring some water on it!

Hamachi
3 Orfey St. (Lozenetz) 
Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours Mon – Sun: 11:30 am – 12:00 am 
 Phone +359 (0) 88 4262244, +359 (0)89 4262244
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