So it appears that my time here is almost up. I have two months remaining here in Bulgaria and I don’t think I’ve done a good job at telling my friends and family who read this blog about the things I love here in Bulgaria. So I thought I’d start with my number one love .. . The Foood!! So below please find some definitions and explanations of my favorite foods here in the BG (with the help of http://www.shortopedia.com/B/U/Bulgarian_cuisine):
FRUITS & VEGGIS - First of all the produce is organic and they don’t need to create special labels for me to know. Folks from villages all have their own gardens and what they don’t use themselves they sell in the cities and towns. Small farms do the same and the food is always fresh. I can buy a whole carton of strawberries for 2.50 BGN ($1.66), which would probably cost me $5 in the U.S.
BANITZA, is a term used by Bulgarians for a flaky pastry. Macedonians refer to it as Vielnik, Masnik, or a more loosely as Pita ( Cyrillic: Баница, also transliterated as Banica and Banitza) is a traditional Bulgarian and Macedonian pastry prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of sirene (feta cheese) between filo pastry and then baked in an oven. In the fall Pumpkin Banitza is Amazing!
CHUBRITZA – ( Bulgarian, Чубрица) is the name of a Bulgarian table spice which is similar to savory. Its extremely yummy! Chubritza plays an important role in Bulgarian cuisine, providing a strong and pungent flavour to the most simple and the most extravagant of dishes. When mixed with salt and paprika, it is called sharena sol (also love!).
SIRENE or CERENE (Bulgarian: сирене) is a type of white brine cheese made in Bulgaria, similar to feta cheese. This is a very popular Bulgarian cheese, usually made with a combination of sheep and cow milk. It is very soft, with a fat content of 40-45%. It is commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. Sirene has a fresh lemony taste. It is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads and in baking.
KASHKAVAL (кашкавал) this word in Bulgaria is generally used refer to all cheeses except Sirene. In English-language menus, it is normally translated as “yellow cheese”. So basically every cheese is labeled Kashkaval, but they all taste slightly different than each other – so you never really know what you are gonna get. As I learned from my Italian friends here in Sofia its basically a rip off of the name of an Italian Cheese “Kashkavale.”
**But, lets not dwell on names but more importantly on the fact that thisLactose Intolerant American can eat fresh cheeses here in Bulgaria with no problems (and I’m not the only one). I believe my “lactose intolerance” is really an intolerance to the way dairy is pasteurized and processed in the United States. I will miss being able to eat it everyday with no worry.
LUTENITSA (lutenitsa or lutenitza, Bulgarian: лютеница) – I almost made the mistake of buying this instead of tomato sauce at the grocery store when I first arrived, since the packaging is very similar. Lutenitsa is a spread made from tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, black pepper, vegetable oil, sugar and salt. Some types have a pleasant chilli taste. It may contain eggplant puree as well. It is mainly used as a spread on bread, sometimes sprinkled with grated white Feta cheese and its delicious with Eggplant and potatoes.
MAVRUD – is unique red wine common only for the region of Thrace in Bulgaria. It is the only red wine I have ever truly enjoyed. In the States red wine typically gives me headaches, but here in Bulgaria!
TRAMINER – is a white wine unique to the Black Sea region of Bulgaria where 30% of all vines are located. It is a sweet white (which you all know I love ;p), similar in taste to a muscat but dryer. The traminer grape is similar to a Sauvignon blanc grape.
RAKIA – The drink rakia or rakija ( Bulgarian: ракия, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian: rakija) is hard liquor similar to brandy and vodka, made by distillation of fermented fruits, popular throughout the Balkans. Its alcoholic contents is normally 40%, but in home-produced rakia it can be higher, typically 50 to 60%. We usually call homemade Rakia “Grandfather Rakia.” It is often drank with Shopska Salata (see below).
GRANDMOTHER WINE – This is homemade wine often made by grandmother’s who then will sell it on the side of the road in old soda or water bottle containers. The best “Grandmother Wine” I had was from my hostel host’s grandmother in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.
SHOPSKA SALATA – Bulgarian, Serbian: Шопска салата, Shopska salata) is popular in Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia. It is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, and brined cheese and is often consumed as an appetizer with Rakia. Its’ name comes from Shopi, the name for the people (peasants) originated from the region of Sofia. I always order it “bez domati” (without tomato) and my friends here always laugh at me and say I’m not eating Shopska then, but I don’t care it still tastes good ;P
SNEJANKA SALATA(снежанка салата) – Also known as Milk salad or Snow White’s Salad is made of strained yogurt, cucumber, and garlic.
BULGARIAN YOGURT – In Bulgaria yogurt is called “кисело мляко” (kiselo mlyako), which means “sour milk”; in Serbia, yogurt is also called “кисело млеко” (kiselo mleko), while Serbian yogurt is a thick, milky liquid produced by fermentation of milk. Bulgaria is very proud of their special Bulgarian bacteria used to produce the country’s yogurt. It tastes the best with homemade jams which you can buy right off the street from a grandmother or produce stand for 2-4 BGN. I just bought a homemade fig jam in Melnik and it tastes amazing.
MOUSSAKA (Greek: moussakas; Romanian: musaca; Turkish: musakka; South Slavic мусака / musaka; Arabic: musaqqa a) is a traditional aubergine (eggplant)-based dish in the Balkans and the Middle East. The Greek version consists of layers of ground (minced) lamb, sliced aubergine, and tomato, topped with a white sauce and baked. In the Arab world, moussaka is a cooked salad made up primarily of tomatoes and aubergine, similar to Italian caponata, and is usually served cold as a mezze dish. Despite its Arabic name, moussaka is usually thought of as a Greek dish in the West. The Bulgarian, Serbian, Bosnian and Romanian versions are made with potatoes instead of aubergine.
GUVECHE - A traditional Bulgarian dish prepared in a clay dish of a similar name. Typically made with sausage, various vegetables of your choice, mixed with cerene “white cheese” and an egg cracked and on kashkaval “yellow cheese” on top. Its then place in the oven to bake. I usually make it just with broccoli, onions, peppers, potatoes, and sometimes chicken. Its so easy and the smaller clay dishes are perfect when you just want to cook dinner for yourself.
Yesterday marked the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach) also known to many as the story of Moses and the freeing of Jewish slaves 4,000 years ago from Egypt. The celebration of Passover is about remembrance of what our ancestors endured as slaves in Egypt and the thanks we give for our freedom even to day, while we work to free those who are still not yet free physically, politically or socially. This reminds us of the unsettling fact that slavery does still exist in society today and that more needs to be done so that we all can be free.*
This year my Passover experience meant so much more to me and was truly unique. It was the first time I was not able to celebrate my favorite holiday with either family or Jewish friends, but I think that is what made it a richer experience. I was in Berlin for a conference and would not be flying home until after the first 2 nights of Pesach. I didn’t know where I would go, so I went onto a traveling community website I’m a member of called www.couchsurfing.com.
In December, I had joined a group in the Couchsurfing community called “Jewish Berlin” seeking help as I looked into the life and history of my Great-Grandfather, a Cantor (Jewish clergy) who had been killed in the Holocaust. Passover is just as much about about remembering the story of Moses freeing the slaves as it is also about remembering all the injustices our people survived at the hands of those who lost their own humanity. We were also slaves in our more recent history and as opposed to our ancestors in Egypt many of us know and have family members who were survivors or victims of the Holocaust. Similarly to Passover we “Always Remember, (and will) Never Forget” the Holocaust. It is this fact that gave me the strength to finally go to Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp outside of Berlin where my Great-Grandfather was shot and murdered for simply being Jewish. So I went and laid a stone on the marker that represented the Jewish barracks, numbers 37 and 38 to pay my respects to a man I wish I had been able to know. On this very same trip I went to Krakow, Poland and visited Aucshwitz in the spirit of Pesach.
When I returned to Berlin, I was not alone to celebrate Passover, because through “Jewish Berlin” Couchsurfing group I was able to reach out to some amazing individuals living in Berlin who also needed a place to go for the first two nights. I coordinated with two wonderful women from Peru & Argentina and on the first night we attended a multi-ethnic and international seder with 40 people of many different origins. The second night my Peruvian friend hosted 6 of us (3 of which were couchsurfers). I was able to help cook by making Bulgarian Shopska Salad and contributing with some Bulgarian Mavrud (red) wine. The Jewish community is so amazing; no matter where you are, you are welcomed in with open arms.
2nd night of Passover with Valerie, our host (left) and Denise (right). *The video above is from the first Seder
I arrived back in Sofia with such an uplifted spirit and prepared to host my own Beginner’s Passover Seder the final night of Pesach. In the spirit of Passover I invited in both strangers and non-Jewish (gentile) friends into my home. What I thought would be a smaller gathering ended up becoming 14 people, 11 of which were not Jewish and knew nothing about the Passover celebration. Yes, I was terrified to cook for 14 people, I don’t have a dining room table to fit 14 people and Yes, I am no biblical expert – but it all worked out. It was a truly remarkable experience to welcome friends into my home and share/explain the traditions and customs I have known and enjoyed for 26 years. I will always remember this year’s Passover and will never forget.
*Donate to an organization that is dedicated to combating Sex Trafficking & Slavery:
La Strada International: http://www.lastradainternational.org/
Girls Education and Mentoring Services: http://www.gems-girls.org/
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women: http://www.catwinternational.org/
Since arriving here in Bulgaria I have strayed away from talking about the issue of human trafficking for sexual exploitation on my blog mainly because I do research and speak to people who work with victims on a daily basis. I wanted my blog to be a place where I could share more about cultural differences and comical experiences I’ve had here. That being said, it bothers me that too many people through out the world do not understand the immensity of the problem, mainly because of a lack of awareness in our global community around the issue.
In my time here one of the concepts which has bothered me considerably is the fact that these crimes are defined legally and discussed in governmental and NGO circles only through the use of the term “trafficking.” While trafficking through the illegal transport of humans against their will should be considered a crime, it is what comes after that is the most egregious. Women and children are forced to become slaves and perform sexual acts against their will. Most are often raped repeatedly after being trafficked across international borders or within a country, in what is often considered by traffickers the “breaking in” period. Why is it that most laws define these crimes based on the movement of these women and children, and not on the fact that they are held against their will as slaves for unknown periods of time?
Since joining the European Union in 2007, both Bulgaria and Romania have been on probation for evidence of organized crime within their governments, which is very much a factor in the large number of women & girls trafficked into the sex trade from these countries. Now that both these countries are EU members their borders are more open to travel to other EU countries making it easier for traffickers to move women/girls across Europe. In addition, increased international tourism during the summer to resorts on the Black Sea Coast and in the winter to ski havens like Bansko gives traffickers a reason to bring girls to these areas within the country as well. This makes Bulgaria a triple threat – a country of origin, transit and destination.
In the past few years their have been many awareness campaigns and educational trainings that have targeted at risk groups so that girls no longer fall victim to the “job opportunity abroad ads,”etc. Though now more aware of the threat of traffickers, poor women & girls still see prostitution as the only real option if they want a better life for themselves. So despite having knowledge of the possible scenarios that await them many girls think that this won’t happen to them, or that they will go work as a prostitute for a year or a few months and then come back with lots of money. Girls from Bulgaria are the third highest when it comes to sex workers in the EU according to a BBC report. So, some of these girls go willingly, they are not trafficked — but they are often met with the same outcome as those who are forcibly moved across borders. Girls passports are taken away, they are told that they have a debt to repay to the pimp and that they cannot leave until they have earned a certain amount of money as a prostitute. Of course room and board are also added daily to this climbing debt that must be repaid. This is called “debt bondage” and is most definitely “Sex Slavery” since girls cannot leave and most never earn a dime with all of their money going to the pimp. For these girls, if they escape their situation, they often don’t consider themselves victims and blame themselves for what happened. Even girls who were trafficked against their will convince themselves that they chose this fate and that this was the life they wanted. This is a coping mechanism many victims use to allow them to mentally survive this kind of trauma.
But, the question is: In international court systems can these victims bring their perpetrators to justice? The answer to this question is a complicated one, because the burden of proof is on the victim and many times it is difficult to prove in court who the victims are. If a victim explains that she went willingly to be a prostitute in some countries it might be argued that no trafficking crime occurred. Also, many victims are not provided with the support services they need to be confident enough to face their pimps and/or traffickers in court. In Bulgaria, witnesses are only sometimes able to gain refuge in crisis centers/shelters for a limited time. The Animus Association has the only crisis centre for victims of violence (including domestic violence) in Sofia and they can only accommodate 6-8 people at a time for 1 month. This is hardly enough time to provide the necessary mental and social counseling needed. Some victims fear going home because the trafficker knows where she lives and she is concerned harm will come to her or them — or she is simply ashamed and doesn’t want to face her family. There is just not enough funding to provide the help these women need. Also, if a woman does find the courage to file criminal charges she must testify on multiple occasions in front of the accused. There is no option to testify via video in a separate room, etc. The Bulgarian Government would argue that a majority of victims do in fact file criminal charges against their traffickers/pimps.
But, like familiar statistics associated with sexual crimes like date rape – the majority of victims of sex slavery or trafficking do not report that the crime was committed. So there are many nameless victims out there who went through unimaginable trauma or are currently living it who will never be helped or counted.
I could keep going because I’ve barely grazed the surface of this issue, but I’ll save it for another time.
Many of my friends back in the States have not yet been exposed to Bulgarian Chalga music, a fusion of Bulgarian folk music, pop beats, and horrible lyrics. For a lot of my friends here in Sofia, both expat foreigners and Bulgarians, Chalga is either a guilty pleasure as a BBC journalist mentions in her online report OR strongly disliked for everything that surrounds it and its popularity. I willfully admit that I enjoy the middle-eastern melodies and rhythms for dancing, but when I go out on a weekend I definitely don’t usually suggest a Chalga Club.
Chalga music is primarily about sex & money. In this sense, its quite similar to how rap music is perceived and viewed by many in the U.S.A. Despite the over sexualization and emphasis on money people still listen to it because they like the beats in the music and honestly could give a crap about the lyrics. I know that is how the feminist in me can enjoy some types of rap music. As a foreigner I can’t really understand the lyrics of Chalga music, but I recently went out with friends to a Chalga Club in Studentski Grad (Students Town) and a friend of mine told us the words to the songs we were dancing to. This eventually lead to some hilarious moments of unstoppable laughter – like this fabulous and romantic lyric “My heart beats like a Rolex.” Below is one Chalga star, Kamelia’s concert if you want to take a listen for yourself. Unfortunately, I don’t have a translation.
Now, that being said its actually the Chalga Club scene that actually bothers me. Though it’s fairly entertaining at first for someone who is not from here, it is not an environment I would pay to go to often. Most of my friends didn’t even want to go to a Chalga club last week when I wanted to show a visiting friend what it was like. Lucky for them we couldn’t even get in, because despite how empty it was at 11pm on a Thursday night the bouncer said we could not enter unless we paid for a table. And by pay for a table I mean, pay 100 BGN ($70) for a bottle of vodka and a mixer. In Chalga clubs there is no dance floor because the entire space is filled by lounge booths and high top tables that guests must pay to sit at. For most people like myself who go to clubs to dance – this is considered absolutely ridiculous, but it does play into the concept of money and showing that you have it. The Chalga club owner wants to make as much money as possible so they fill the club with tables people need to buy and for the guys who purchase the tables its a status symbol and a way to show wealth. Its practically standard and assumed that if you go out to a Chalga club you buy a table because that’s they only way you’ll have some space to dance and for guys its more about having a seat for the view. All Chalga clubs have dancers who are paid to walk around in lingerie and basically give lap dances to male patrons, while all the female bartenders tend to get up on the bar and shake their tail-feathers.
You can see inside a Chalga Club for yourself by viewing the BBC’s report on “Bulgarian Pop Folk” (Def take the time to watch). I’m not sure why, but they never once refer to Chalga music by its actual name and insist on calling in “pop folk.” There is even an interview with one of the most famous Chalga stars, Azis, a Gypsy/Roma Transvestite. His popularity is absolutely fascinating given the Bulgarian culture’s blatant homophobia and bigoted views against the Gypsy/Roma populations in its borders. Below is a 2008 Music Video of him and fellow Chalga Pop Star Malina. Hope you’ve enjoyed having your Chalga cherry popped ;p – Leka Nosht!
What are you doing February 14th? I originally thought I’d be playing my usually single girl routine of moping and watching chick flicks while eating lots of Valentine’s Day chocolate. But, then I remembered I’m in Bulgaria – where the greeting card & chocolate industry have not yet taken hold and commercialized St. Valentine. What’s even better is that in Bulgaria the Eastern Orthodox Church doesn’t recognize February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day, but actually St. Tryphon’s Day! And it doesn’t end there – I learned from a friend that St. Tryphon was a Christian healer and is now recognized as the Eastern Orthodox “Patron Saint of Wine!”
So this February the 14th I will be enjoying a night of wine drinking (and maybe a some chocolate) with a few of my close gal pals here in the BG! Thank you Saint Tryphon for officially making my February!
P.S. To any of you ladies having a hard time getting pregnant St. Tryphon’s Day is also thought to be a date that can cure infertility.