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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How do you say ice water in Italian? HILTON

So here’s the skinny, I’ve decided to get serious about cooking! I have been teetering on the brink for a few months now; is this something that I really want to do? Back in September, I had a somber moment of realization that my current career path would lead me nowhere, so I bit the bullet and submitted my application to culinary school. The particular culinary school requires 6 months of professional food service experience, so I decided to apply to work in the kitchen at the Hilton Sofia and lucky for me they accepted.
Tomorrow starts my fourth week. I am working in the cold kitchen. Every now and again the Chef asks me if I am still loving it, which I am. I think he is wondering when I will quit.
This is my first time working in a kitchen, so I find it very interesting observing my fellow colleagues. Most of my time is spent prepping, chopping and arranging, which is very repetitive work, so my mind wanders. Who are these people and why are they here? One of my favorite people is Lyubov. She works directly with the Chef and has spent substantial time in the US working in the culinary industry. She is extremely knowledgeable and patient. I am learning loads from her and thankful that she is so helpful. I think my experience, would be less pleasurable is she was not around. She is passionate about cooking and food, which is why I think we get along.
The Chef is very cool too. He pops over to give me some tips ever so often. One such tip was rather simple, but smart too! I was making some tabbouleh for the the buffet and the Chef asks me what I would rather drink water or tomato juice. I replied that it depends on how ripe the tomatoes were. That was the wrong answer. It is always tomato juice. He suggested that I macerate the tomatoes and then soak the bulgar in the tomatoes juices, which is a brilliant idea. The result was a more flavorful salad!
Another first for me was making sushi. For the most part, the Sushi in Sofia is crap and outrageously over prices for the portion size and the fact that most rolls are prepare in advance then sliced to serve… yuck! Anyway… I have always been intimidated by the sushi making process, but I over came and produced some kick ass sushi. Lyubov even showed the Chef my nice rolls and display!
My first roll!
The final product!
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SASA

My first time at SASA I was rather disappointed. I had the miso and tempura, which was good, but the sushi itself was rather blah, so I had thought best not to go again.  Being that this is Sofia, and there are few quality restaurants.  I ended up celebration a friend’s birthday at SASA. Well, second time was a charm.  I had a great beef salad and we shared some designer sushi, I think the one with the beef and paté and another which I forget, but YUM.

I have heard that it is hit or miss. If you go on certain nights it is great. Those are the nights when the head chef is in the kitchen, but I will return and test my luck again.
Now, if anyone can send a message to gastronomically gifted Thai ex-pats in Sofia, please give us some Pad Thai.  Thank you!

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