BTA. Traditional and Tasty: Northeastern Bulgaria


YEREVAN, JANUARY 5, ARTSAKHPRESS. Zelnik, komachki, plateki and uchkur are some of the traditional delicacies typical of the coastal Varna Region in Northeastern Bulgaria, Svetlozara Koleva, a curator at the Varna Ethnographic Museum, said in an interview for BTA.

Koleva noted that rural cuisine is different from urban cuisine, and there are differences between everyday food and ritual food. The Varna area is home to many immigrants who have brought along the food traditions from their homelands, she added.

The Sartovo area (the Provadia Plateau) is known for a kind of pie called zelnik. It is made from dough sheets, milk thickened with a few drops of cheese yeast, and eggs. The dough sheets are frilled like cabbage leaves, hence, the name zelnik (derived from the Bulgarian word for cabbage). Bulgur wheat can be added.

The Valchi Dol area has its plateki and komachki. Both are pasta dishes. To make plateki, you knead dough and roll it out into sheets. The sheets are folded up like envelopes and are baked. If dried, they can be kept for a long time. Just before being served, they are dipped into hot water with salt, lard and paprika. White brined cheese can be put between them.

The komachki are dough balls placed close together in a baking-dish and soaked in a mixture of eggs and crumbled white brined cheese, Koleva said. They are baked in an oven. Uchkur is a sweet pie which is a specialty of the Turkish community in and around Valchi Dol. It requires great skill because the dough should be rolled out into very thin sheets. It is baked and then soaked in syrup.

The Madzhurs, who migrated to Varna from Lozengrad (Kirklareli) and Edirne in today’s Northwestern Turkey, had a remarkable culinary culture, Koleva said. Compared to the native population, they put more ingredients and spices into their food. Recipes inherited from the Madzhurs include dyado, or grandpa (made from chopped pork); baba, or grandma (pig lungs and bulgur wheat) and etarnik (liver, meat, bacon and leek).

Bulgur wheat and chickpeas used to be very common in Varna Region, according to Koleva. Fresh fish was often consumed there, particularly by wealthier people. Those of lower income would go for salted fish.

Desserts were made with molasses rather than sugar. One typical recipe is from the Sartovo area. It is called slivenitsa: dried plums and other fruits are put in boiling water; bulgur wheat, chopped leek and geranium are added as well.

Armenians, Jews and Greeks contributed to Varna’s cuisine, Koleva said. Armenians are famous for their vine-leave sarmi (stuffed vine leaves), and sweets. The sarmi are meatless and contain scallion, eggs, white brined cheese, dill and spearmint.

Roast turkey used to be rather common among the urban population on Christmas, and wealthier families would have a whole roast suckling pig on their table. The turkey would be stuffed with bulgur wheat and raisins and garnished with chestnuts boiled in milk.

For St Basil’s Day (January 1), the Greek community in Varna made what was known as St Basil’s bread, which can be compared with kozunak (sweet Easter bread) but takes less time to make. Chewing-gum paste was among the ingredients.

Bulgaria’s granary

Dobrich Region is home to many ethnic groups, but what their food traditions share in common is the bread cult, Daniela Gerasimova of the Dobrich Regional Museum of History told BTA. Today’s administrative region of Dobrich is at the heart of the historical region of Southern Dobrudzha, which is popularly known as “the granary of Bulgaria”.

Compared to the other cultures of the world, the Bulgarians attach particularly great importance to bread, Gerasimova said. Ritual bread is believed to have a magical function.

For Christmas Eve, the people in Dobrich Region make a kind of ritual bread called bogovitsa (derived from the Bulgarian word for God). It is a donut-shaped unleavened bread which is punched with a fork and baked in a baking-dish. Sometimes it is decorated with small pieces of dough symbolizing lambs, or with ritual seals, and a cross sign.

Other parts of the Northeast

A dessert named ashure is very common in Targovishte Region. It is prepared on a specific day before the Muslim feast of Ramadan and has to do with Muslim fasting. Sometimes it is made for the commemoration of a deceased relative.

Diana Zhekova, a curator at the Targovishte Regional Museum of History, told BTA that this is a special ritual food. It is made from specific cereals and fruits: wheat, maize, chickpeas, peanuts, common beans, broad beans, raisins, quinces and apples. Each ingredient is boiled separately and then they are all mixed together. Sugar, vanilla and clove are added.

Also in the northeast of Bulgaria, the village of Vasil Drumev in Shumen Region hosts a biennial culinary festival called “Forgotten Traditions -Ritual Foods”. The pork ribs with bulgur wheat made in this village cannot be tasted in any other part of the country, BTA learned from the secretary of the local community centre, Maria Velikova, who is among the organizers of the festival.

The recipe uses pork ribs which were salted and kept in a barrel. After the ribs are taken out of the barrel, they should be soaked in water. Then, they are fried with onion. Bulgur wheat, water, paprika and black pepper are added, and the food is put in an oven, Velikova said. She noted that, generally speaking, the local people prefer bulgur wheat over rice, unlike the residents of other parts of Bulgaria.

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