Добър апетит! [dobr apetit]

So I can’t guarantee that this post will be as extreme as Matt’s bone-chilling report on ice caving in Svalbard, but I think that you will find it just as thrilling.  There is hardly anything better in life than eating.  Since moving to Bulgaria, we have continued this habit of ours of eating several times every day.  This delightful rite–I say rite, because the Bulgarians themselves don’t really eat breakfast, unless coffee and a cigarette counts, or two if you’re really hungry–of eating three meals a day has given us a great deal of continuity between our life at home and abroad.  Nevertheless, there are certain key culinary contrasts, several of which I would like to present to you in this post along with illustrative photographs.  So, get ready, and as the French don’t say,  добър апетит!

Since I got married about 2 1/2 years ago, my eating habits have been influenced by my wife’s family, and in particular, by my father-in-law.  He loves to eat spicy food, and since the food is almost never too spicy, it is a custom at their house to put red (cayenne) pepper on the table along with the traditional American salt and pepper shakers.  Because of this, I have learned to add red pepper to almost any food and now know how essential it is to a Southern diet.  I feared that when we moved, I wouldn’t be able to find this favorite spice of mine easily, so you can imagine how excited I was one of our first times we went into a grocery store to find “red pepper” sitting on the shelf, in the same kind of shaker fit to put right on the table.

"Red Pepper" (not Cayenne)

The first time I applied this red spice to my food, we were eating lentils, and to my dismay, regardless of how much I added to my food, it didn’t really get any spicier.  I concluded that it wasn’t really red pepper, but a sick trick to fool unsuspecting Americans, and we later found out that it is paprika.  It turns out that they do have real red pepper, but it’s “hot red pepper.”  I am now relieved, but it was a major disappointment to start with.

Some of our other discoveries have been less tragic, but equally important.  For example, they don’t have salad dressings here, unless you think of this as salad dressing:

Bulgarian "salad dressing"

It’s definitely different to not have a handy bottle of Ranch that you can pour on your salad, although maybe this is for the best, because I guess dressings aren’t particularly good for you.  The stuff in the packet isn’t too bad, and we have been using regular oil & vinegar most of the time.  Also, they do have iceberg and other kinds of lettuce here, which is amazing, considering that the authentic Bulgarian equivalent is cabbage.  Cabbage is good, but not all the time.

Oil & Vinegar

Oil & Vinegar

Another difference is that milk here comes in a paper carton.  Most of it isn’t refrigerated and says that it stays good for six months unless you open it (hmm…how is that possible?)  Bulgarians love dairy products, and there is one whole aisle in the store just for yogurt, and another for cheese (yum!)

Milk & Juice

Also, there is a great variety of juices here.  Pictured above is cherry juice.  Maybe I’m just unobservant, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen cherry juice in the US, just cherry-flavored Kool-Aid.  Real cherry juice is actually quite tasty.  Whenever I have those diabetic moments, you can rest assured that I’ll be bringing my sugars back up in style.  By the way, on that juice bottle there’s no way to tell whether it says “Cappy” or “Sarru”, since it could be written in either the Latin script or the Cyrillic.  There’s one furniture store here called “Como”, but then we realized it might be “Soto.”  Who knows?

In Bulgaria, thoughts about coffee are quite different.  When I tried to order “American coffee” in a breakfast place a couple of weeks ago, the waitress simply told me “It’s not any good.”  In contrast, instead of fresh, hot filter-coffee, the cream of the crop is Nescafe instant coffee.  Some say that this is because during Communist times they couldn’t get it, so now it’s the rave.

Instant Coffee, a Symbol of the West

Hmm…so before you pour yourself another cup of America’s finest, think about how much better your life could be with Nescafe’s 3-in-1 instant coffee/creamer/sugar.

Finally, take a look at our “spice rack” below, as I’ve pulled it all out of the cabinet for this photograph.  They don’t really sell spices in sealable containers here like at home, but in little plastic baggies.

Our spice "rack"

It’s very odd to me somehow, because you have to clip them shut with clothes-pins.  We’ve been told it partly has to do with the fact that people are much poorer here and they can’t afford to buy large containers of things like that.  For example, when you buy chicken bouillon cubes, they come two to a package.  We’ve even been told that when you go to the pharmacy, you can buy one pill at a time, if you want.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post and that I didn’t make you too hungry, because if you want some of our food, you’re going to have a hard time getting it.

James, the younger

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2 Responses to Добър апетит! [dobr apetit]

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for sharing these interesting experiences involved in acclimating to life in Bulgaria. I am particularly glad that you can buy hot red pepper in regular sized shaker instead of plastic baggies. I have printed this off to send to my mom.

    • James says:

      Unfortunately the pepper in the shaker is paprika, not cayenne. We now have some cayenne red pepper, but it came in a baggie.

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