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Monday, October 14, 2013

Sirene cheese, yoghurt and kashkaval: five days in Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria

shopska salad sirene white brine cheese in sofia bulgaria

"Bulgaria? I've never heard of anyone going there." Everyone I talked to said the same, from family to work colleagues to the credit card operator at my bank who was updating my travel records.

What's there? Cheese and lots of yoghurt as I would find out over my five day visit, part of an international delegation sponsored by EU Dairy Daily (funded by the European Union and the Republic of Bulgaria).

But first let's be clear about where Bulgaria sits on the map, because hey, I know my geographic knowledge was wanting. Bulgaria is bordered by Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, with coastal access to the Black Sea in the east. Its population was 7.3 million in 2011.

EU Dairy Daily is a three year programme that aims to promote Bulgarian dairy products - particularly kashkaval, sirene white brine cheese and yoghurt - to Australia and the Middle East. Our group (made up of delegates from Australia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates) would be visiting dairy farms and factories in the country's capital, Sofia, and nearby city, Plovdiv.

Drinking yoghurt with lactobacillus bulgaricus, Sofia, Bulgaria
Drinking yoghurt with lactobacillus bulgaricus

If there's one thing you notice immediately in Bulgaria, it's the omnipresence of white cheese and yoghurt in the diet of locals. White cheese and yoghurt is to Bulgarians as rice is to the Chinese. They cannot fathom living without it.

In fact this prompted the Nobel Prize in Medicine winning scientist, Professor Ilya Metchnikoff, to develop a theory that linked the longevity of Bulgarians with their regular consumption of yoghurt. The specific bacterial strain in Bulgarian yoghurt is lactobacillus bulgaricus, which flourishes in Bulgaria but often struggles to survive elsewhere.

Professor Mariya Baltadzhieva from the Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia, Bulgaria
Professor Mariya Baltadzhieva from the Bulgarian Academy of Science in Sofia

The alleged health and life-prolonging properties of lactobacillus bulgaricus has propelled Bulgarian yoghurt to international markets, especially Japan and the United States. It has even prompted researchers at the Bulgarian Academy of Science to develop capsules that contain the bacteria alone, ready for easy ingestion.

Respected researcher, Professor Mariya Baltadzhieve, swears by them. She is a huge believer in the benefits of lactobacillus bulgaricus and offers her own youthful appearance as proof. It's only later that we eventually find out she's 82!

Dairy Farm, Popovitsa

Dairy cows, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
Dairy cows in the feeding shed

We start at the beginning of the yoghurt production line by visiting a dairy farm in Popovitsa, about a two hour drive 180 kilometres southeast of Sofia. There are 5,000 cows at this dairy farm that sprawls across 7,000 hectares.

Dairy cows, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
Pregnant cows feeding on hay

Here the dairy cows are sorted into sheds depending on whether they are pregnant or not.

Newborn calf on dairy farm, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
Newborn calf standing up for the first time

In the 'labour ward' we were lucky enough to see a newborn calf stand up for the first time ready to be licked clean by its mother.

milking shed at dairy farm, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
Milking shed

The milking shed is a rather daunting sight of milking machines connected to digitised monitors, but the handlers all appear to be patient and gentle with the animals.

milking machine at dairy farm, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
Milking machines

The cows are milked three times a day for one month and then given one month to rest in a rotating cycle.

milking machines at dairy farm, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
All the milking machine are computer controlled

The life of a dairy cow is a tough one, with artificial inseminated pregnancies to maintain milk production. The cows are calved three times before being sold.

newborn calf at dairy farm, Popovitsa, Bulgaria
The newborn calf being moved to the nursery

Artificial insemination techniques mean there is a 98% chance of producing a cow. The newborns are reared in a nursery and then moved to larger pens until they are ready to become impregnated for eventual milk production.

United Milk Company, Plovdiv

United Milk Company yoghurt and cheese factory, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The milk from the dairy farms is transported by trucks to processing factories. We visit two factories: the first one run by United Milk Company in Plovdiv.

United Milk Company factory tour, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Our group suited up to visit the processing factory

We put on sterile coats, hairnets and slippers to tour the factory.

Milk vats pipes United Milk Company factory tour, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Milk vats and pipes

It takes 6.5 to 7 litres of fresh cow milk to make 1 kilogram of white cheese.

Milk vats pipes United Milk Company factory tour, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Steel maze of pipes

The cheese is packed into plastic boxes, vacuum packs or tins and is currently exported to Russia, the EU and Lebanon.

sirene white brined cheese, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Retro canapes with white brine sirene cheese

In the presentation we tried a range of canapes made with their sirene white brine cheese.

sirene white brined cheese, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
White brine sirene on crackers

Sirene is the Bulgarian equivalent to feta, although perhaps not quite as salty as Greek feta.

honeydew milk vanilla ice milk, United Milk Company, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Product tasting honeydew milk and vanilla ice milk

The company also produces plain and flavoured yoghurts as well as flavoured milks. The honeydew melon milk was strangely addictive, flavoured with honeydew and coloured green by using natural chlorophyll. The vanilla ice milk tasted just like melted ice cream!

delegate businessmen discussion Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Our media and business delegate group in discussion with UMC employees

Dairy factory, Dalbok Izvor

troughs of milk at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Troughs of fresh milk

The second factory we visited was in Dalbok Izvor, about 200 kilometres southeast of Sofia.

rennet stirring milk at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Adding rennet to the milk

Here we watched rennet being added to fresh cows milk that will eventually coagulate and form sirene white brine cheese.

sirene white brined cheese at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
The end product: sirene white brined cheese

kashkaval curds at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Fresh curds that will be turned into kashkaval cheese

The factory also produces kashkaval, a yellow cheese that is somewhat similar in taste to a mild cheddar.

handpacking sirene dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Hand packing blocks of cryovac sirene white brined cheese

Despite the mass volumes, packaging here is largely done by hand, a process that one delegate called "artisan".

sealing sirene white brined cheese at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Sirene white brine being sealed by machine

garlic sirene white brine cheese dip, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Garlic sirene cheese dip, a new product to their line

In the briefing room we were invited to try their entire range, but the biggest buzz was around their newest product, a garlic sirene cheese dip that was just punchy enough with garlic and included small chunks of sirene cheese.

sirene white brined cheese and kashkaval cheese at dairy factory, dalbok izvor, bulgaria
Retail packs of sirene white brined cheese and yellow kashkaval

LB Bulgaricum company, Sofia

lactobacillus bulgaricum company, sofia, bulgaria
Lactobacillus bulgaricum starter for the commercial production of yoghurt

In Sofia we visited LB Bulgaricum Plc, the only state-owned company in the dairy sector in Bulgaria and registered owner of the Lactobacillus Bulgaricum trademark.

meiji yoghurt with lactobacillus bulgaricum, sofia, bulgaria
Yoghurt products with LB Bulgaricum made under licence by Meiji in Japan

The company produced fresh dairy products as well as freeze dried starter cultures. The freeze dried starter cultures are used by Meiji in Japan to produce LB Bulgaricum yoghurt under licence.

meiji yoghurt with lactobacillus bulgaricum, sofia, bulgaria
Meiji yoghurts with LB Bulgaricum

University of Food Technologies, Plovdiv

researcher at university of food technologies, plovdiv, bulgaria

Part of our tour included a visit to the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv. One of the most interesting projects they are working on is developing natural food flavourings by experimenting with yeast. At the moment they are concentrating on creating rose flavours but hope to extend this to other flavours to develop natural and more affordable additives, instead of using artificial and synthetic ingredients.

Mehana Izbata, Sofia

shopska salad tomato cucumber yoghurt sirene white cheese at mehana izbata, sofia, bulgaria
Shopska salata 4.90 leva (about AU$3.60)

And the food? We ate yoghurt and cheese with almost every meal, just like every other Bulgarian. Shopska salad is the national dish, and an entree that everyone eats before their main meal. It's like a Bulgarian take on Greek salad with amazingly ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and slivers of red capsicum covered in a cloud of grated sirene white cheese.

It's a refreshing salad that works brilliantly in the heat, enriched by the fluffy shreds of sirene white cheese that melt on the tongue.

grilled buffalo cheese honey walnuts at mehana izbata, sofia, bulgaria
Priasno bivolsko sirene na satch 8 leva (about AU$5.85)
Fresh buffalo cheese grilled with honey and walnuts

We gorged on a feast of cheese-themed dishes at Mehana Izbata in Sofia, a cosy restaurant hidden in the cellar of a building. The grilled fresh buffalo cheese was another eye-opening moment, reminiscent of a soft haloumi that had been grilled until stretchy yet swollen in a puddle of local honey and scattered with shards of walnut.

roasted peppers croquettes stuffed with cheese at mehana izbata, sofia, bulgaria
Tchushki "byurek" 5.90 leva (about AU$4.30)
Roasted peppers in breadcrumbs stuffed with cheese

Tiny red peppers stuffed with cheese were also a hit, crumbed and deep-fried and served with a cool yoghurt sauce.

roasted lambs head at mehana izbata, sofia, bulgaria
Agneshka glavitchka 10.90 leva (about AU$8)
Roasted lambs head 

For my mains I went with the roasted lambs head, served not whole as I'd hoped, but picked apart into a potluck surprise of lambs brains, tongue, cheek and eyeball. The eyeball was the best bit. Really. Soft and gelatinous and entirely edible, unlike the chalky eyeballs you find in fish.

homemade ice cream at mehana izbata, sofia, bulgaria
Homemade ice cream 5.90 leva (about AU$4.30)

For dessert there was homemade ice cream, lusciously creamy and studded with candied fruits and nuts like a Bulgarian version of the Italian cassata.

Starata Kashta (The Old House), Kardzhali

shopska salad at starata kashta, the old house, kardzahli, bulgaria
Shopska salad

There was more shopska salad when we ate at Starata Kashkta (The Old House) in Kardzhali after visiting the archaeological site Perperikon.

grilled fish and chips at starata kashta, the old house, kardzahli, bulgaria
Grilled fish with chips

They have a charcoal barbecue grill in the kitchen which lends a tantalising smokiness to my river fish, served with hand cut chips and salad.

yoghurt with honey and walnuts, the old house, kardzahli, bulgaria
Yoghurt with honey and walnuts

For dessert everyone loves the yoghurt with honey and walnuts. The thickness of the yoghurt is extraordinary, almost like an ice cream, and yet the yoghurt is quite mild in flavour without any distinct sourness. The honey does add a slick of sweetness and crushed walnuts provide texture. It's an idea I'm totally stealing for home!

Manastirska Magernista, Sofia

kozunak bread Manastirska Magernista Monastery Restaurant, Sofia, Bulgaria
Kozunak soft sweet bread

The Manastirska Magernista translates a Monastery Cookhouse and offers a mammoth range of traditional Bulgarian dishes. There are often Bulgarian musicians roaming the restaurant too as well as a glut of Bulgarian paraphernalia. Our host explains that the different sized cowbells above the door frame were often a signature of a shepherd's flock, each set uniquely sized so every flock had their own distinct (and instantly recognisable) tune.

buffalo sheep cow cheese platter Manastirska Magernista Monastery Restaurant, Sofia, Bulgaria
Buffalo cheese, sheep cheese and cow cheese platter

There's more cheese to be had, including a tasting platter of different cheeses made from buffalo, sheep and cow's milk.

barbecued pork ribs Manastirska Magernista Monastery Restaurant, Sofia, Bulgaria
Barbecued pork ribs

We feast on meat tonight, digging into hunks of barbecued pork ribs, lamb ribs, chicken fillets and coils of karnache pork sausage.

karnache sausage Manastirska Magernista Monastery Restaurant, Sofia, Bulgaria
Traditional karnache sausage and grilled chicken

Victoria Pizza, Sofia

Goose liver at Victoria Pizza, Sofia, Bulgaria
Goose liver with caramel apple 22.70 leva (about AU$16.60)

Our group inexplicably ended up at an Italian pizza restaurant for lunch one day but who was I to complain when there was goose foie gras on the menu? It was a huge portion of six thick slices served on a bed of cooked apples and a lake of toffee.

pizza mozzarella prosciutto mascarpone figs blue cheese almonds at Victoria Pizza, Sofia, Bulgaria
Medium Regina pizza 11.49 leva (about AU$8.40)
Fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, mascapone, figs, olive oil
with extra blue cheese and almonds (asked for walnuts but got almonds!)

This was backed up by a prosciutto, mascarpone and green fig woodfired pizza which I adorned with extras of blue cheese and walnuts. The walnuts came out of the kitchen as almonds but it was still tasty, and the upskirt pizza shot passed the test too.

pizza upskirt Victoria Pizza, Sofia, Bulgaria
Pizza upskirt shot

crunchy fried zucchini strips Victoria Pizza, Sofia, Bulgaria
Crunchy zucchini with milk sauce 6.90 leva (about AU$5)

Our host, Vladimir, also shared around his zucchini chips, coated in the crunchiest batter you could imagine. These were amazing.

Izbata Winery, Sofia

eggplant zucchini tomato salad at Izbata Tavern, Sofia, Bulgaria
Gradinska salata 6.90 leva (about AU$5)
Eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes seasoned with honey, garlic and buffalo cheese

After a massive meal at lunch, I took things easy at dinner. The eggplant, zucchini and tomato stack was capped off with two triangles of creamy buffalo cheese.

tarator cold yoghurt and cucumber soup at Izbata Tavern, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tarator 2 leva (about AU$1.40)
Cold yoghurt and cucumber soup

And I also made sure to try the other Bulgarian national dish, tarator. It's a cold yoghurt and cucumber soup that tastes much like a diluted tzatziki but it's cool and refreshing and would be perfect for summer.

Zhenski Pazar Women's Market, Sofia

grapes at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Grapes 1.3 leva / AU$0.95 per kilo

In the small snatches of free time we had, I was keen to visit the local market and made a trip to Zhenski Pazar Women's Market.

open air stalls at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Open air market stalls

The Women's Market was so named because initially it was run by and patronaged solely by women. Today you'll find both men and women stall holders, although I was saddened to read that this market is set to be demolished and replaced by a new modern covered building, reducing the number of stalls from 114 to 65.

blackcurrants redcurrants at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Blackcurrants and redcurrants

At the moment the foothpaths are dangerously cracked and crumbling but there's a lot of charm about this market, even if the stallholders have a reputation for being decidedly grumpy.

raspberries at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Raspberries 1 leva / AU$0.70 a tub

The fruits and vegetables are incredibly cheap. We couldn't resist one of these tubs of raspberries for only AU$0.70, snacking on them as we roamed from stall to stall.

alleyway stalls at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Makeshift stalls in alleyways

It's a wonderful place to people-watch and observe how locals go about their daily life.

green grapes at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Green grapes 1 leva / AU$0.70 per kilo

locals shopping at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Locals shopping

general grocery store at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
General store

Main covered section at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Main covered section of the market

walnuts at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Walnuts 2 leva / AU$1.50 per kilo

blackcurrants at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Blackcurrants 6 leva / AU4.40 per kilo

banitsa cheese pastries at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Banitsa cheese pastries

banitsa cheese pastry at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Banitsa 70 leva (AU$0.50)

I find room for a banitsa, a Bulgarian version of Turkish bourek, that is commonly eaten for breakfast. The pastry is light and flaky which works brilliantly with the salty burst of sirene cheese inside.

krenbirska bread with sausage at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia
Krenbirska bread with sausage 1.20 leva (about AU$0.90)

On a second visit I snack on krenbirska, a soft bread plaited around a thin strip of sausage.

Scenes of Sofia and Plovdiv

Newsstand in Plovdiv Bulgaria
Newsstand in Plovdiv

Bulgaria may have been freed from Communist rule in 1989 but there's still a strong Soviet presence in Bulgaria today - you can see it in the architecture, the utilitarian fashion (interrupted occasionally by head-to-toe Adidas tracksuits) and the overriding sombreness in its people.

Wooden church in Plovdiv Bulgaria
Wooden church in Plovdiv

But there are also incredible pockets of history, with old churches squeezed in between buildings and a wealth of archaeological sites that would make any ancient history fanatic weep with joy.

Ancient theatre in Plovdiv Old Town Bulgaria
The Ancient Theatre, Plovdiv

In Plovdiv we visited the Old Town which includes this amazing ancient theatre at the top of a hill, offering sweeping views of the city below. This traditional Roman theatre dates back to the early 2nd century, with a stage - or skene - that is made up of three levels with porticos and statues.

The theatron includes a open spectators' area - or cavera - that consists of 28 concentric rows of marble seating. Honorary reserved spectator seats were inscribed, and included names of city council representatives, magistrates, friends of the Emperor and more.

Roman theatre in Plovdiv Old Town Bulgaria
Plovdiv Roman theatre

The building was used for Thracian provincial assemblies as well as gladiatorial fights, evidenced by the safety barriers that were discovered in front of the first row.

Attila the Hun was responsible for much damage to the theatre in the 5th century AD. The theatre was only found in the 1970s after a landslide revealed the ruins. Since then it has undergone significant excavation and restoration.

Today the site is used for the performance of plays and musicals during the summer.

Wild rosehip bushes in Bulgaria
Wild rosehip bushes

Wild rosehips in Bulgaria

ruins ancient city archaeological site perperikon perpericon bulgaria
Ruins of the ancient city of Perperikon

Perperikon was another impressive site, an ancient Thracian city in the eastern Rhodope mountains, perched at the top of a 470m high hill. At the moment it's a steep climb up a dirt track but the site is in the process of renovation and access will soon by via a paved path.

tombs of rulers ruins ancient city archaeological site perperikon perpericon bulgaria
Tombs of rulers at Perperikon

It is believed that the Perperikon settlement was first inhabited around 5000BC. Legend has it that the Temple of Dionysius was found here.

church pulpit ruins ancient city archaeological site perperikon perpericon bulgaria
Church pulpit remains dating back to the late 4th century AD or early 5th century AD

At the moment the site is completely open to the public, meaning people can touch and walk whereever they like. A new visitor centre is in the process of being built which will include walkways over the site to protect it from damage and further disintegration.

roman tower ruins ancient city archaeological site perperikon perpericon bulgaria
Remains of a Roman tower

roman tower ruins ancient city archaeological site perperikon perpericon bulgaria
Hexagonal Roman tower 

church of st george rotunda sofia bulgaria
The church of St George (the rotunda) built in the 4th century AD, Sofia

There are wonderfully old churches in Sofia too.

serdika ancient roman city archaeological site sofia bulgaria
Ancient ruins of the Roman city Serdika found in the centre of Sofia. Excavations have uncovered 7 streets and 2 early Christian basilicas. The archaeological layers date back as far as 1st century AD.

And in the centre of Sofia, construction work on an underground station uncovered a new archaeological site: several streets of the Roman settlement Serdika which was founded in the 1st century AD.

housing estates sofia bulgaria
Housing estates in Sofia

Across Sofia, housing estates loom large on the horizon, built during a period of rapid industrialisation as people moved to the cities in search of work.

rila monastery bulgaria
Rila Monastery

On our last day we visited the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, founded in the 10th century and restored in the 15th century after raids, and again in the 19th century following a significant fire.

frescoes fresco rila monastery bulgaria
Frescoes of Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery perches high up in the Rila Mountains, 117km south of Sofia at an elevation of 1,147m above sea level. The air is crisp and pure and the backdrop of mountains is impressive.

wooden balconies monastery bulgaria
Wooden balconies at Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery looks like a fortress from the outside and with good reason - it holds a significant collection of artworks, historic relics and valuable religious artefacts.

frescoes fresco rila monastery bulgaria
Fresco at Rila Monastery

The monastery is the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox in Bulgaria, attracting domestic and international tourists every weekend, especially from nearby Greece.

frescoes fresco rila monastery bulgaria
Frescoes at Rila Monastery

In 1983 the monastery was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

bakery window rila monastery bulgaria
Queuing at the monastery bakery

And would this be a proper post without donuts? At the monastery, there's a tiny window where you can purchase loaves of bread, yoghurt (of course!) made from buffalo or cows milk, and mekitsa donuts fried fresh to order.

mekitsa donuts rila monastery bulgaria
Mekitsa donuts made from flour and yoghurt 

The mekitsa donuts are made from a dough that incorporates flour and yoghurt (I'm telling you, Bulgarians love yoghurt).

mekitsa donuts yoghurt dough rila monastery bulgaria
Mekitsa donut with icing sugar

They're super hot from the fryer and the dough has a soft but chewy density. We dust ours with icing sugar, fend off the hovering wasps, and soak up our last few moments in Bulgaria while we can.

black and white photo locals at Zhenski Pazar Jenski Pazar Women's Market Sofia

Grab Your Fork visited Bulgaria as a guest of EU Dairy Daily

>> Read the next post: What to eat in Barcelona, Spain

Manastirska Magernitsa
67 Khan Asparuh Street, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (2) 980 3883
Open 7 days 8am - 12am

Mehana Izbata
18 Slavjanska Str, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (2) 989 5533
Open 7 days 11am - 12am

Kardzhali 6685, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (2) 875 460

Rila Monastery
Rila, 2643, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 7054 2208/3383
Open 7 days 7am - 8pm

Starata Kashta Tavern (The Old House)
2 Georgi Benkovski Str, Kardzhali, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (36) 162 884

Victoria Piza Restaurant
Todor Alexandrov Blv, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (0887) 699 465
Open 7 days 11am - 12am

Vinarna Izbata
5 Tzanko Tzerovski Str, Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel: +359 (0888) 123 474
Open 7 days 11am - 12am

Women's Market Zhenski Pazar
Stefan Stambolov Boulevard, Sofia, Bulgaria
Open 7 days 9am - 6pm (approx)
27 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/14/2013 02:38:00 am


  • At 10/14/2013 6:39 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    What a fantastic trip! Bulgaria has been on my list for many years now but somehow I still haven't made it. One day! I love the simplicity and honesty in Bulgarian food. Hello roasted lambs head! You can even see that Bulgaria has its own version of burek when you look at the banitsa.

  • At 10/14/2013 8:11 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    I want me some meksita and melted ice cream tasting milk now!

  • At 10/14/2013 8:41 am, Blogger Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    wow, what an amazing trip. I just love europe in general and especially those medieval looking places. They've always got nice suprises up their sleeve. It's not just Bulgarians that love yoghurt, everyone in europe loves yoghurt! haha.

  • At 10/14/2013 10:05 am, Anonymous Jenny said…

    Glad you provided the map of Bulgaria! What an incredible country.

  • At 10/14/2013 11:10 am, Anonymous angela@mykikicake said…

    I can't say I've ever eaten Bulgarian food before (well other then Bulgarian feta) but it looks really good. Very similar to Greek cuisine.

  • At 10/14/2013 2:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's such a smart idea to grate the feta onto salad. I'm going to try that myself ^^

  • At 10/14/2013 2:43 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    I'm thinking how sad it would be for someone Bulgarian to be lactose-intolerant!

  • At 10/14/2013 3:05 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    that grilled buffalo cheese looks freaking amazing!

  • At 10/14/2013 3:49 pm, Anonymous Glenn said…

    Really enjoyed your photographs on the Womens Market. I've travelled to Romania before but never been to Bulgaria. Their close relationship with cheese and yoghurt is admirable.

  • At 10/14/2013 8:21 pm, Blogger CQUEK said…

    i would not miss such a fantastic trip. thanks a lot for sharing with us. a lot of things to learn in our daily life.i love to try the Shopska salad.

  • At 10/14/2013 8:42 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    So jealous of all the places you're invited to go to!

  • At 10/14/2013 10:00 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Oh wow! Amazing! Such a fantastic opportunity for you, and it's so cool that you got to do cultural things too, like Perperikon, the monastery, ruins and so on! Love it. :)

  • At 10/14/2013 10:41 pm, Blogger Kristian said…

    Hi! I like your post :) there is some history to add to the food u're walking about :) For example about 200 years ago on the Balkans there was only the Ottoman Empire and Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria etc. were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. During that time, there were a lots of shepherds traveling with their sheeps to find the freshest grass. They were going from south in Greece during winter to north in Bulgaria, and Serbia during summer. Of course from the sheep's milk they were producing all types of dairy products (cheese, yogurt etc.). About 170 years ago all these countries became independent and wanted to raise their national confidence and needed to name some Balkan products, their national products. If some of you have traveled on the Balkans then u have noticed that we eat almost the same food everywhere (with slight regional differences). The food origin here is not national, but cross border! The reason why most people now know about the Greek salad and the Greek feta cheese is that after the WWII Bulgaria and partially Serbia (Yugoslavia) were under communist rule and were not as visited by western tourists as Greece was. The food is Balkan and you can see similar dishes in Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Turkey, Romania, Macedonia etc.
    Hope this was helpful in some way and would be grateful to get some feedback!
    Cheers from Sofia
    Kristian Mitov

  • At 10/14/2013 10:55 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi John - The banitsa totally reminded me of bourek! Hope you get to visit there soon.

    Hi Ramen Raff - It really did taste like melted ice cream. Haha.

    Hi Tina - There's an incredible amount of ruins in Bulgaria, and lol there's definitely a lot of yoghurt love across Europe!

    Hi Jenny - It's a fascinating country. Was grateful for the opportunity to visit.

    Hi Angela - There are a lot of similarities, which makes sense as Greece really isn't that far away.

    Hi Anon - It's a fantastic idea isn't it? I'm stealing it too.

    Hi Rita - Haha I was thinking the exact same thing!

    Hi Chocolatesuze - Oh it was! I want to copy this idea too!

    Hi Glenn - The Womens Market was a great insight into Bulgarian daily habits, and yes, cheese and yoghurt is definitely a way of life.

    Hi Cquek - You can easily make the shopska salad at home. I'll be making a few this summer!

    Hi Neil - I can't complain :)

    Hi Sarah - I was definitely pleased that touristing had been included on our itinerary!

    Hi Kristian - You're absolutely right. I think it's very easy for forget that countries as we know them had completely borders not that long ago! Thanks so much for your helpful insight and comment and thank you for visiting my blog from Sofia! Blagodarya!

  • At 10/14/2013 11:28 pm, Anonymous June D said…

    Oh my goodness, what a detailed post. I had no idea about lactobacilus bulgariccus but if it keeps you looking young like that professor I'll definitely give it a go :D

  • At 10/15/2013 3:23 am, Blogger Ellis Shuman said…

    Wonderful article and pictures! My wife and I lived in Sofia for 2 years, traveling extensively around the country. We really enjoyed the dairy products, especially the yoghurt with honey for desserts. Some of our most memorable trips were to the Rila Monastery (several times) and the steep climb up to Perperikon. Bulgaria is a wonderful place to visit, highly recommended.

  • At 10/15/2013 4:02 am, Blogger The Atomic Mom said…

    Thank you so much for this. I lived in Sofia and Plovdiv in the mid-1990s. I love it there, and the cheese and the yogurt too! Bulgarian food is wonderful!

  • At 10/15/2013 6:33 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Love this post, Helen. So thought-out and eloquent. You did the trip justice. Here are my overwhelmed thoughts:

    Fresh buffalo cheese with honey and walnuts YESSSSS. I've only ever had lambs brains crumbed and fried before, not as... head-brainy as they look here! Also I've had fish eyeballs; not sure how I'd deal with a larger, squidgier lamb eye.

    Oooooooh sweet bread mountain!! Goose liver with caramel apple?! ALMONDS AND FIGS ON PIZZA WITH BLUE CHEESEEEEE aaaaaah 70c raspberries WHEEEEE!!

  • At 10/15/2013 1:28 pm, Anonymous billy @ a table for two said…

    Whole lamb head, brains, tongue and eyes! the eye!! mah eye!!! you are so braveeeeee

  • At 10/15/2013 6:58 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Krenbirska bread with sausage for $0.90 ?!?!?!? NO WAY! It looks so delicious

  • At 10/15/2013 10:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What an interesting and informative post!

  • At 10/15/2013 11:13 pm, Blogger Vivian - vxdollface said…

    Amazing! So glad you were able to go :) makes me want to go visit Bulgaria and omg those raspberries are so plump and CHEAP!

  • At 10/15/2013 11:37 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Oh I'm so jealous! This looks like an incredible trip. The food looks great - how can you say no to cheese?!

    Funnily enough, whenever I hear Bulgaria, the first thing I think about is Viktor Krum, the Seeker for the Bulgarian Quidditch team....ah, I'm such a nerd! :P

  • At 10/16/2013 12:33 am, Anonymous Emily said…

    I felt well-informed about Bulgaria after reading your article. What a wonderful experience witnessing the process from milking the cows to cheese making in a commercial scale!
    Of all the yoghurt dishes, I reaally want to try the mekitsa donuts.

  • At 10/16/2013 1:08 am, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    What a great trip, a total adventure. They do love their yoghurt and dairy. So much to comment on, but the one thing that sticks in my head from reading that..... deconstructed lambs head :p

  • At 10/16/2013 10:46 pm, Blogger reckless said…

    I have to admit I freaked a bit at the cow farm, but you won me back at melted ice-cream milk...

    I got to the end of the post hoping there'd be an address for a stockist in Sydney :(

  • At 10/18/2013 6:30 pm, Blogger K said…

    Is this your longest post yet? It's so epic! But rightly so with such an amazing trip. Everything looks so delicious but alas my intolerance to dairy makes it a bit difficult. Ha.

    Thanks for this great guide to Bulgaria!


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