Spring Festival: Kyustendil

The annual Kyustendil spring festival is always held on the first day of spring, March 21st. The festivities include a beauty pagent, where local teenagers compete for the coveted title of Девойка Кюстендилска пролет 2013 or “Miss Spring”. This years winner was Beatrice Katzarova, who reminded me of the Bulgarian/Canadian actress Nina Dobrev, but I don’t really concern myself with this element of the program. I focus on hullabaloo that takes place on the square and the pilgrimage up Hisarlaka hill, where you can find the ruins of a Roman fortress.

It is an official holiday in town, no school, no work… just enjoying the day with your family; carnival rides and cotton candy for the kids, balloons and other cheap junk that are overpriced and broken within a week.
While, the kids didn’t have the patience to watch the cultural dance and song show, I was quite interested by the act with the red masks, which reminded me of Mexican wrestlers. If anyone can explain the cultural history of this performance it would be greatly appreciated.
And what I love about the day is the food, while not special or unique. The ally is lined with kebabche and kyufte stands, which are grilled on the spot and enjoyed with a beer. Usually beer is reserved for warmer weather, but spring is the unofficial launch of beer season! Angel and I peruse the alley to find the place we thinks have the best ones and settled on a new pizza place called Naples.
I really love living in Kyustendil, which has four big festivals annually, up next on the 21st and 22nd of June is the infamous Cherry Festival
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Slow Food Story: Sofia Film Festival

For the 17th annual Sofia International Film Festival, Slow Food Bulgaria organized a tasting event to follow the premier of Stefano Sardo’s film, Slow Food Story, which follows the 25 year history of on of Slow Food‘s founders, Carlo Petrini and the “gastronomic revolution”. 

Our event featured Culinarno with Joana, a popular food blogger that created three amazing nibbles using Slow Food Presidium products, like the Cherni Vit Green Cheese, Nafpavrok/ Meurche and Smilyan Beans. I had the pleasure to lend a hand in the kitchen, along with Lyudmil and Maya.
The first bite to be served were mini hamburgers filled with a puree of spinach and Smilyan beans
The next dish to be served was a nettle and nafpavrok or meurche wrapped into a phyllo pastry and served with a yogurt and dill sauce.

The third was a Cherni Vit green cheese served with plum chutney on a toasted baguette. All of the food received rave reviews and each was paired with wines that were provided by Domaine Boyar, which was the main sponsor of the whole festival. Yana Petkova, wine taster, writer for DiVino and co-owner of Grape Center helped conduct the tasting between Joana’s food and the wines, which were selected especially for the event. They included a Merlot 2012 – organic, from Ivaylovgrad region, not even bottled yet, so we tried barrel samples, which was quite interesting; Ars Longa Mavrud & Rubin and Next 20 Muscat a dessert wine.

For dessert, Rositsa and Ina from Rosey’s Mark created a Rose Crumble, which was sweet with gentle floral notes. I personally love flower flavored food. You will be able to find the recipe for the crumble on their website shortly. We are hoping to create a SF Presidium for the edible rose products in Bulgaria. 
The work that we are doing with Slow Food is more than fancy treats and wine at a film festival. These events are just the vehicle to reach a larger audience to know about the philosophy of Slow Food and our projects in Bulgaria. I recently wrote an article for Premium Lifestyle magazine (March 2013) about Slow Food; it is in Bulgarian, but I posted my original English version here on EGL’s Facebook page.

Tea House Vedeka

I have been visiting Blagoevgrad a bit more recently, which is a nice break from the monotony. Unlike for Sofia, the information about where to go and what to do is a bit limited, so I rely on word of mouth and help from followers of EGL’s Facebook page. Chaina Vedeka, located in the old quarter, Varosha; is a lovely gem.

I was given directions by a friend and they were obscure, yet surprisingly accurate: near the church, at the house with the drinking fountain. Before I headed to the tea house, I had to take a moment to visit the church. Maybe it was the weather, but I was just overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of the moment.
 
The house with the fountain was opposite the entrance to the church and the bold artwork through the open door let me know that I was in the right place.
The tea house was empty when I arrived, but it was much livelier when I left. I ordered my favorite jasmine green tea with a bit of honey. The owner Yoliana joined me and despite the fact that she didn’t particularly like jasmine green, the touch of honey really brightened the floral notes. She told me that they moved to this location three months ago and was at the previous location for about six months. I asked her for a physical address, but she didn’t have one. So, let my post and photos guide you to this tea outpost in Varosha.

Multi-Kulti Kitchen: Peru

Last Sunday, Multi-Kulti Kitchen organized another wonderful event and this time we travelled on a culinary voyage to South America, without leaving Sofia. Chef Carlos Porten from Lomo shared with close to 50 guests the latin delights from his home country, which can be described as rustic, yet delicious.

The audio visual presentation included a fantastic film about the nations pride, which exists in the kitchen. The film Peru Sabe was the works of world renowned chef Ferran Adrià and Peru’s influential Chef Gastón Acurio. Lomo will be organizing a screening of the film at the bar soon, I will keep you updated!

We started with Papa a la Huancaína, a traditional salad of boiled potatoes with a sauce named after Huancayo region in the central Peruvian highlands. It was an interesting sauce, which reminded me bit of a Hollandaise.

The second course was a halibut Ceviche and you can find the recipe on Multi-Kulti’s website in English and Bulgarian. The fish was amazingly fresh. It was a spectacular dish and the giant corn kernels were something that I have not experience in Sofia before.
Our final course was just the icing on the cake, Bolitas with Chicharrons. The bolitas were fried balls filled with rice, beans and lentis. The Chicarron was a slowly braised pork that literally melted in your mouth. This was not a light course, but how could one resist!

A new edition to this event was a pop quiz about the Peruvian presentation, which I administered, although I had a bit of a fact checking issue. I thought Machu Picchu was the highest peak in Peru, while a group of Bulgarian-Peruvians pointed out my error that it is actually Huascarán, which turned out to be the tie-breaking question for a 50lv gift certificate to Lomo for the winning team.

The Multi-Kulti Kitchen events are fun and we love to give this pleasure to Sofia, but we are a true NGO with a mission and need help fundraising for our projects, such as the Multi-Kulti Map. Carlos is lucky to have integrated so successfully into his life in Bulgaria, but others, like the growing refugee population can’t say the same. Please visit our website and learn more about us and our work. All is appreciated.

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Alegre

I am always intrigued when I hear about new places that have Latin American inspired cuisine, because I feel that is the one area where Bulgaria has had much trouble… Amigo’s! It is the immigrants that usually share their native cuisine, but the sheer distance from South America to Eastern Europe is a bit far. While I am not sure how Alegre’s Cuban chef Ramone came to set up shop in Sofia, but he also runs Casa Latina located on Gladstone, maybe a Latin explosion has begun?

Alegre now occupies the space, which was formerly known as Sidoniya – Lord of the Chef, which is named partly after the culinary game show that awarded a restaurant to its victor. The decor has changed very little since my dinner there last year, so you can expect the same modern kitschy vibe.

I started with the Empanadas, which normally are favorite of mine, but these were light on the filling and a bit dry. They needed something more, plus at 6.40lv, I want to pay for the food, not the exoticness of the cuisine.

I ordered the Chili Con Carne as my main, which at 11.80 lv, I expected something a bit more… The flavors were OK, but it should have been served with some sour cream or guacamole, maybe fresh cilantro on top. This dish needs a revamp if they are going to charge that price.
My friend ordered the Molten Chocolate Cake for dessert, which was a bit too molten. It was undercooked. Also, the chocolate was too low on cacao. The percent of the chocolate was more milk chocolate and this type of dessert needs the bitter dark chocolate to balance the sweetness, especially with the ice cream and caramel sauce.

What would get me back to Alegre for another visit is the fact that they have live music on Friday and Saturday starting at 8pm. I love the Latin sound and think it would do for a night of drinks and live music, provided it isn’t blaring! 
29 Hristo Belchev St./ул. Христо Белчев 29, 
Sofia, Bulgaria 
Hours: Mon – Sun: 9:00 am – 11:00 pm 
T: +359 878766628 
E: restorant.alegre@abv.bg 

Sombrero

When I first asked for eating recommendations in Plovdiv, the biggest fan fare came in support of Sombrero, a Mexican restaurant in Plovdiv, yes… Plovdiv. It is located a bit of the main drag, a 30 minute walk from the center. It might be a tad quicker for most, but we were carrying Gabriel in a baby carrier. When we walked up to the restaurant it was a bit surreal, because it is not often you find a place with a large Mexican hat on the roof in Bulgaria.

The owners have done their homework and really seemed to grasp the Southwest style… lots of color and light, plus fun decorations that adorn the walls. The distressed wood tables, most likely not hand painted, were an interesting component.
In the back, off the main room, there were some really cool murals and this mariachi musician and the dancer was my favorite. I am a sucker for bold and bright colors and there is something whimsical about the painting that  makes me want to drink a margarita!

I did drink a margarita or two… and it was quite tasty. A proper salt rimmed glass and a lime… I was surprised… cocktails are not exectured well in Bulgaria, but this was really fantastic.

My husband is a huge nachos fan. On of the things he misses from the States food wise is the nachos in New York, from the fast food Tex-Mex places that are run by Chinese people; I call them “Ch-exican”. Torn by which nacho dish to order, I settled for the Nachos Machos, which was pretty good, except for the chips, which were more to the Doritos category with the saltiness and seasoning than the Tostitos, which are a bit more neutral. 

For mains, we ordered Chorizos Yucatan, which had some sort of sausage and bacon, but it was not chorizo. It was served in an open tortilla, filled with veggies and topped with cheese. The standard accompaniment seems to be rice, fries, guacamole, sour cream and some spicy salsa, with chunks of chili peppers! This was probably one of the spiciest thing I have eaten in Bulgaria, but it would have been nice if they offered a milder salsa for those that can’t handle spice.

And Enchiladas Pancho Villa featured corn and flour tortillas filled with a variety of meat veggies and topped with cheese. It was good, but the similarities to the Chorizo Yucatan was apparent.

If I were to describe Sombrero, I would say it is typical for the Tex-Mex food you would find in the US, rather than Mexican. There were a few places in my neighborhood in New York. It was a hole in the wall join, but it was filled with Latin Americans and the menu wasn’t even available in English. It was unlike any Mexican I had ever eaten because it was authentic. It was what Mexican’s ate, as it was a Mexican restaurant for Mexicans… The logic for finding authentic ethnic food is to find the enclaves in which these communities live and eat there. So, as a New Yorker, I am luck to have such a diverse selection, which to enjoy. I have not been to Mexico or South America, I am not an expert, but an appreciator of the culinary offerings South of the Border…
I think Sombrero is a great place for Bulgaria and even Americans and other foreigners will be quite satisfied with the food. If you live in or plan on visiting Plovdiv, make a treck to this Tex-Mex establishment and share with me your opinion.

5 Dynev Blvd./Булевард Дунав 5 
Plovdiv/Пловдив 
Mon – Sun: 9:00 am – 12:00 am 
T: 032/336179, 0882 354 394 
E: sombrero_2011@abv.bg 

Vietnamese Grocery Shop

This shop is somewhat of a mythical beast… there are people who have spoken of seeing it and shopping there, but no one could say exactly where it was… like spotting Bigfoot roaming in the forest then trying to explain how you found it… Well I found a blog post by a Vietnamese cook, living in Sofia that shared a round about location… Thanks to Google maps and persistence I managed to find the shop and gather some concrete details.

The shop is run by Bao, who has been living in Bulgaria with his wife for 30 years. The interior of the shop is quite cozy, but all of the space is utilized and packed with goodies. The prices are incredibly reasonable. I bought a bag of loose green tea leaves for 5.50 lv, which has fantastic flavor. 

Even with directions, the shop is tricky to find. It is located on the outskirts of Sofia in Iliyantzi, near the  the stadium Lokomotiv at the intersection of Petar Panayotov St. and Blvd Rozen. There is no specific street number, but the shop is number 26 and it is located on the south side of the street, same as the stadium.

Bao Ngyuet – Vietnamese Grocery Store
Shop 26, Petar Panayotov St.
Sofia (Iliyantzi)
T: +359 878 864 958