Eating out in Bulgaria

MY OWN CHOICE: FOOD & DRINK IN SOFIA & BEYOND

Diplomats' culinary discoveries are often restricted by the profession. Either I'm the host – and my Bulgarian and foreign guests expect to be taken to grand hotels or to a rather limited selection of restaurants – or I'm invited and the same applies to me. Consequently, magical opportunities to discover the joys of Bulgarian scenery and food arise only during free time. This is particularly frustrating as my hobby is cookery and I'm a member of two societies – Slow Food and Chaîne des Rôtisseurs – which should motivate me to explore Bulgaria's culinary world more seriously.

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MY OWN CHOICE: NERDE YAMBOL, NERDE STAMBOUL*

I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to understand many restaurant menus in Sofia without knowing much Bulgarian. Kyufte, kavarma, sarmi, shkembe and baklava were among the dishes familiar to me, coming from Turkey. But discovering new tastes in delightful Bulgarian cuisine proved to be equally pleasant. I knew from the very beginning that I was going to enjoy Bulgaria's food and so far I haven't been disappointed.

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FOUND IN TRANSLATION

There's a famous joke about a British tourist in Paris who, mustering his meagre schoolboy linguistic skills, ordered a citron presseé in a café. He was beginning to savour the prospect of a freshly squeezed lemon juice until the French waiter laughed and asked if he wanted a squashed car!

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MY OWN CHOICE: EAT AND DRINK YOUR WAY THROUGH TOWN

If you need information on Bulgaria, its culture and its people, then get yourself a good guide book. But if you want to find out if its views are realistic you can do no better than check out the places yourself. My husband and I have been in Sofia for about five months now and we've already discovered many fine places to wine and dine. And we have also learnt a lot about Bulgarians through our culinary expeditions.

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MY OWN CHOICE: STANDING THE TEST OF TIME

"Under new management". The inference intended in this sign is that the food, service and whole ambience will be better than whatever existed before, and the sign itself illustrates the impermanence of reputations in the restaurant business. However, the places mentioned below have stood my personal test of four or five years, and hopefully will continue za godini.

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MY OWN CHOICE: FINE DINING

Whether it be suckling pig in Kovachevitsa, caviar by the Black Sea, calf's head in Sofia, or chicken's bottoms in Kozloduy, Bulgaria has it all and more, as we discovered after more than two years of careful research in this country of far-flung culinary delights.

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MY OWN CHOICE: MY EPICURIAN ADVENTURE

Every nation's folklore probably has a special section of proverbs relating to eating and drinking. The Bulgarians are no exception, though the essence of our wisdom throughout the centuries has given expression more to our problems than to our everyday pleasures. Anyway, let me try to take you on a culinary tour of this country with the help of some lesser known sayings from a "people's guidebook".

"When he goes out, the dogs will follow him to lick him"

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MY OWN CHOICE: EATERIES THAT STAND THE TEST OF TIME DESERVE FAITHFULNESS

Restaurants are like women: I remain loyal to them unless they start cheating on me. There have been but a few restaurants that have. My first impressions may be excellent and I begin going there regularly, but after they catch on and have enough patrons, they change. The food is prepared with less and less care, portions shrink, waiters become either too offhand or too lazy. However, my love for the eateries I'm going to tell you about has stood the test of time, sometimes for decades.

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MY OWN CHOICE: PASSION FOOD

When I was asked to write about my 10 favourite restaurants I felt a little uneasy. The main reason was that I would much rather have written a column about how the media in Bulgaria gets bullied by politicians on all levels, as we have just experienced with the sacking of one of Bulgaria's most respected and capable journalists, Ivo Indzhev, by Rupert Murdoch's bTV. Bulgaria's current president, the reformed former communist Georgi Parvanov put pressure on the management of the private TV channel to fire Ivo Indzhev, for having the nerve to ask questions about his financial affairs.

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MY OWN CHOICE: FOOD FOR THOUGHT AND STOMACH

Like life, food should be varied. I love the Seasons brunch at the Sofia Hilton, phone: 933 5062, especially if it is wet outside. But if it isn't, I like to travel restaurant to restaurant. And I keep repeating to myself what Samuel Johnson once said: "A cucumber should be well-sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out."

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