When a friend of mine invited me for a birthday dinner, naturally my first question is which restaurant was going to host the party. The answer was surprising enough that I lost track of my second question, which had to do with presents. Why would my friend, a fan of juicy steaks and French fries, want to gather his equally meat-loving friends in a health restaurant? And he looked enthusiastic about it, which was even more bemusing.
"The food there is really great," he told me earnestly. "I used to mock the organic vogue, but the truth is, vegetables and fruit taste like they did in my childhood, when my grandparents grew them in the village garden. It gives you a totally different mood."
The dinner that followed confirmed it. Organic produce is gaining strong support in Bulgaria as the country boasts clean soil and lots of sunshine. It is making its way into restaurants and home meals alike, where careful preparation turns ordinary products into a sublime yet simple dish. The best advertisement at the market stall nowadays is "homegrown" – a nostalgic reminder of the times when most Bulgarian city dwellers were backed up by a village house with a well-tended big garden. Each summer they would go there to make tomato puree, various marmalades, roast peppers and pick the grapes for wine or rakiya. This still happens, although on a smaller scale – driven by the idyllic memories and with firm beliefs in the quality of organic food, some young families take up village life in Bulgaria's picturesque landscape and blog about the results of their rediscovery of nature. The recurring theme in all experiences is that the food is great.
It is possible to recreate the experience at home through market-sold organic products and careful selection. Part of Bulgarian production is exported for the European Union, so you may need to look twice for the vegetables you need. Big supermarket chains take special note of the vogue for organic, so you can rely on finding a section with products there.
When it comes to dairy products though, Bulgaria definitely has a lot to say. The traditions in making sirene, or white cheese, kashkaval, or yellow cheese, and yoghurt are centuries old and proliferate in a country where these products are a meal staple. Brands differ slightly in taste and fat content, so you may need to have a few goes before finding your favourite. Try your shopska salad with organic tomatoes and cucumbers, sprinkled with sirene, and the bland creations of the restaurants will pale in comparison.
To save you the trouble of looking and cooking, pick out a restaurant with a healthy menu and high standards. The VN restaurant in Ruse exemplifies the adage that you are what you eat. Water features heavily in this statement, so you will be freely offered extraordinarily clean water gone through reverse osmosis filtering. The products in the VN restaurant come from the best that the market has to offer, with some of them organic and all of them carefully selected. Since organic food is good for both humans and nature, the range of producers is growing and enriching the menu in VN. The restaurant considers this an investment – in the health of people and the well-being of nature, and manifests it every day in the dishes coming out of its kitchen.
If you are keen on do-it-yourself organic lifestyle, the organic product shops offer it all – from foodstuffs, vegetables and fruit, through cosmetics to cleaning, you can supply your home with products safe for the environment and your family. This is certainly the idea behind the Bio Burgas shop, which supplies residents of the coastal city with everything needed for a healthy lifestyle, with a special stress on the food. Get your gluten-free foods, baby food, vegan or vegetarian ingredients, as well as organic tea and coffee – and you will see the difference it makes even just for one meal.
Keeping the chemicals away from your body becomes especially important when you consider the cosmetic department. In this case the solution is back to nature again. But not to forgo pleasures of civilisation – you can still have carefully crafted formulas and skin benefits. Just look for the established producers such as ASAM & Iris Cosmetics, who are responsible for shower creams and body lotions with natural ingredients such as caffeine, olives, aloe vera and shea butter – all organically grown with smooth texture and fine aromas. The family-sized packaging and accessible prices make them favourites.