Bulgaria - A Fruit and Veg Paradise
Food & Drink
If someone gives you a slice of a sunny watermelon, do not hesitate - try it immediately!
They say that one of the best things about this lovely Eastern European country is its culinary landscape. And although there is not even one individual who has been to a restaurant in Bulgaria and been disappointed by the cheese-infused Bulgarian specialty called Banitsa (a philo-pastry filled with Bulgarian cheese) or the traditional Gyuvetch, (a rich vegetable stew of peppers, aubergines, okras and potatoes), I believe that special attention must be given to the ingredients that comprise these beautiful dishes.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the traditional Bulgarian markets
can offer a mélange of heavenly aromas and tastes. This is one of the well-kept secrets of the Bulgarian cuisine
– the uniqueness of the home-grown organic vegetables and fruits that add a zest to each and every meal. It has to be recognized that the local, home-grown produce is of great importance to the Bulgarians and their culture which is why literally everyone grows fruits and vegetables. And of course, the Bulgarian garden will not be complete without the juicy, mouthwatering pink tomatoes, or the red peppers and aubergines that are an essential part of most summer meals. You would probably notice that Bulgarians love the blend of the flavourful tomatoes with their white brine cheese (that resembles feta cheese) accompanied with freshly baked white bread. So typical yet so delicious! The Shopska salad is a must as it includes all the aromas I’ve been mentioning – pink tomatoes, grilled red peppers, cucumbers, red onion and white cheese on top. It’s bound to titillate your palate.
I believe that I’ve already managed to catch your attention and to excite your taste buds, so let me offer some tips on where to get these appetizing products. As I already said, the home-grown produce is of great importance to the Bulgarian culture, therefore I can assure you that the majority of the fruits and vegetables offered by the old ladies in the markets are probably grown in their own gardens and looked after with great care and love. In the summer months the Bulgarian markets just flourish! You can indulge without spending a fortune, especially if you visit some of the most popular and very colourful markets of Sofia.
At the Ivan Vazov outdoor market, for instance, you can find anything - from freshly baked nuts to cheap pottery and most importantly, of course, one of the best assortments of fruit and veg. The market place is relatively big if compared to the other neighbourhood markets; it is situated in the immediate proximity of Sofia’s South Park or “Yuzhen Park”, as Bulgarians call it. This fact will give you the opportunity to not only buy some of the most aromatic peaches or nectarines gathered from the sunny valleys of some of the provincial towns of Bulgaria, but also to try them right away while walking through the idyllic paths of the park. Some of the older women at the market might even ask you to try their home-grown fruits as they are always confident that they can offer you the best quality and taste. Most of the time, they are quite right, I have to admit! So if someone gives you a slice of a sunny watermelon, do not hesitate – try it immediately!
If you are up for some historical sightseeing combined with some fruit indulgence, you might be up for a walk to the “Roman Wall” Market. It is based in the luxurious Lozenets neighborhood and it surrounds the monument (the Roman wall) itself. The wall is actually an Ottoman construction that was built in the first centuries of the Ottoman Rule. It is believed that it was a tomb of a well-known Turkish building erected within the cemeteries, which were present before the liberation of the region. At a later stage, the area around the wall became a spruce open-air market accompanied by small vintage shops where you can find traditional knitwear or other unusual but equally fascinating items. Of course, needless to say, the market offers a great range of fruits and vegetables. You can also buy home-made honey and all kinds of fruit jams. My personal favourite is the wild strawberries jam or the very rare white cherries jam.
Another very central open-air market is the one next to Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church
on Graf Ignatiev Street. You simply cannot miss it – it is right after the outdoor bookstalls of Slaveikov Square. Based right in the heart of the city, the market might seem a bit pricey but it is totally worth it keeping in mind the variety of products and their quality. Do not miss checking out the products that the old ladies opposite the market offer – you can buy freshly made cheese, honey or conserves from them. They also offer an amazing variety of fragrant herbs grown in their own gardens so if you’re more of a cooking type, I suggest you go right to these women. Their herbs and spices can add a wonderful taste and smell to your dish. If you are not up for a cooking session though, you can also grab a few plastic bags and choose freely from all the stands at the market. And please feel free to wash them in the small water basins positioned in the Garden of the Church, it’s simply what everybody does, especially during the summer. Grab the fruits and enjoy the sun on the benches of Sveti Sedmochislenitsi garden.
Finally, if you think that you still haven’t experienced enough of this healthy but very enchanting session just go straight to the biggest and most famous market – the outdoor Zhenski Pazar or the Ladies’ Market at Stefan Stambolov Boulevard. Please don’t be fooled by the name - it is not just for women! Everyone is welcome and the market is very centrally located as well. However, I am not going to lie - as it can be a delight for some, it can also easily be a nightmare for others as it is very lively, especially during the weekends, and you could easily get lost. Other than that, it is the cheapest market in Sofia and it has the biggest variety of any products you may want. You can buy nuts, dried fruits, fresh meat, honey or even home-made dairy produce. The Bulgarian yoghurt is a must-try!
If you are a fruit-lover, you will be able to choose from the most authentic wild berries, for instance, offered by the old ladies who sell their own organic products at this vibrant market. For example, you can enjoy some of the most fragrant wild raspberries and cherries gathered from the Bulgarian mountain slopes of Rila
. You can also find a number of different sorts of Bulgarian grapes used for the production of some of the best Bulgarian wines. Don’t forget to buy a jar of home-made lyutenitza, as well - a vegetable spread made of baked red peppers and tomatoes and infused with mouthwatering spices – another quintessentially Bulgarian treat.
Photos by A.Tanev