Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recipe #11: Таратор (Tarator)

It’s hot in Bulgaria. Really hot. For the past several days it’s been pushing 100º F. That means it’s time for таратор (tarator). The first time I saw tarator, I thought maybe it was a chowder or cream of potato soup. Not even close. Imagine my surprise when the first spoonful revealed three of my least favorite tastes – cucumber, sour milk, and dill – in a cold soup. I nearly gagged. But a funny thing happened. I finished the first spoonful and had another. Then I finished the bowl and got another. And I haven’t stopped eating the stuff since. It’s especially refreshing on hot days, and it’s incredibly easy to make. This is a recipe which yields 3-4 servings.


400 grams of plain yogurt
1 large cucumber – skinned and grated
3 cloves garlic – grated
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons fresh dill – finely chopped
cold water

Mix the yogurt thoroughly. Add the cucumber, garlic, and oil and mix together. Dilute with cold water and stir to desired thickness (I typically use equal parts yogurt and water). Salt to taste. Sprinkle with dill (most recipes also call for ground walnuts, but I have yet to be served tarator with walnuts).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Гургулят (Gurgulyat)

On Saturday, I joined some friends on a hike to the nearby village of Гургулят (Gurgulyat). With a population of fewer than 40 (excluding livestock), Gurgulyat isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot. Like many Bulgarian villages, the place appears to be dying. As outsiders, it’s easy for us to romanticize such places and mourn for their loss thinking they have seen better days. Maybe they have, but, having spoken to people who grew up in villages like Gurgulyat, I know life in such places was never easy. And, if you look closely, you realize that these places aren’t dying. Crumbling buildings and a relative absence of people may not jive with our romantic notion of such places, but I doubt the villages’ glory days do either. And, as much as I enjoyed the day we spent in Gurgulyat, I’m not sure I would want it any other way than it is now.

A dirt track leading to the village.

Shots around town.

Prior to the time we returned to town to have lunch and catch the bus home, we saw two people. This guy and his wife.

We also ran into their horse ... in the middle of the street.

We had the rest of this to ourselves.

Just Passing Through

I tried to show my brother and his wife as much of Bulgaria as I could within a condensed timeframe without wearing them out. Part of seeing and experiencing Bulgaria is taking a cross-country train ride. On such rides, Bulgaria’s beauty abounds. Away from the yards in towns and villages, Bulgaria is a country without fences. Bulgaria’s open spaces are home to shepherds and their flocks and to wild poppy, rapeseed, and other wildflowers. The backdrop for these fields is red-shingled villages and unspoiled mountains. From a distance, it all appears idyllic. Of course, some things look better just passing through.

While someone was enjoying seeing rural Bulgaria, with its shepherds, goat herders, sheep, goats, horsecarts, donkey carts, and fields upon fields of yellow, purple, red, and various shades of green ...

someone else was busy watching the backsides of his eyelids.

Балчик (Balchik)

Just up the road from Varna is the town of Балчик (Balchik). Once part of Romania, Balchik’s two primary claims to fame are the Balchik Palace (the former summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania) and the contiguous botanical gardens. It’s on a par with Nessebar and Sozopol when it comes to interesting seaside towns worth visiting.

The former summer palace of Queen Marie of Romania is worth a quick peek, but it's nothing extraordinary.

Bulgarians are exceptional gardeners, and the Balchik botantical gardens (purported to be the largest in the Balkans) are top notch.

For me, however, Balchik's real charm is its fishermen. All along the harbor, people were fishing, working on their boats, and fixing their nets. It's something you can see in any fishing village around the world, but it's a scene that I never tire of.

Варна (Varna)

A year or so ago, while still in pre-service training in Boychinovtsi, I taught my first English lessons. One of the first lessons I taught was about the differences and similarities between city life and country life. At the time, I asked the kids to name their favorite place in Bulgaria and to name the one place around the world they would visit if they had a chance. Surprisingly, all but a couple kids named Варна (Varna) as their favorite place in Bulgaria. Even more surprisingly, all but three kids said they would prefer to visit Varna over any other place in the world.

I finally made my way there and Varna wouldn’t rank as my favorite place in Bulgaria, let alone the one place in the world I’d visit if I had the opportunity. I suspect Varna is pretty fun at the height of summer, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about a place whose main drawing cards are a pedestrian walkway lined with overpriced shops and a beach littered with cigarette butts and clumps of seaweed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant place. And the skimpily clad prima donnas prancing from shop to shop and the ubiquitous gelato stands are more than enough to warrant a return trip. But for my money, Bourgas is an equally if not more enjoyable place to visit.

From above and from afar, Varna looks very much like any other Bulgarian city of size ....

The difference, of course, is the city's location on the Black Sea.

No question, Varna's beach blows away Bourgas' beach.

And people take advantage of it.

But perhaps I'm too jaded when it comes to beaches ... because icy cold water and lots of seaweed and cigarette butts just don't do it for me.

The beach bars do provide shelter from the rain.

And the ever-present and demanding Yellow-legged Gulls.