Bulgarian Fresh Food – With Produce like This, No Wonder They Love Salads!

by Amanda McInerney on 04/11/2013

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The mountains behind Sofia

Bulgaria is a very beautiful country, full of rolling mountains, glistening lakes and alpine valleys, with a culinary tradition influenced by 500 years of occupation and a strong agricultural tradition. Before World War II, agriculture was the chief sector of the Bulgarian economy, but the face of this changed substantially after the war with the collectivisation of over 90% of agricultural land. Private, domestic vegetable plots have always been maintained on some level, contributing quite substantially to alleviating food shortages at some stages of Bulgarian history and probably going some way to explaining the passion in that country for the range of fabulous, fresh salads available everywhere.

Fresh berries at Sofia's Women's Market

Since 2007, Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union and agriculture is once again a thriving part of the economy. The countryside is a cornucopia of orchards and fields of vegetable crops, and almost every home in every village that we drove through had extensive and well tended vegetable gardens. Most of the produce from these gardens is organic as few can afford costly fertilisers or pesticides.

figs! Sofia night markets

market  vendor at the Womens Market, Sofia

Those who live in the cities and towns source their fresh produce from a range of outdoor markets of varying sizes and at the random roadside stalls that pop up spontaneously in side lanes and street corners. I visited the largest of these, The Women’s Market, which is extensive, with a wide range of seasonal produce supplied and sold by small-holders from near-by outlying regions. The food here is truly magnificent, although it would be unrealistic to expect to find your new best friend here – the traders are a somber lot. This may have something to do with the prices which are eye-poppingly cheap – great for the consumer, but not such a happy circumstance for the grower.

red capsicums, The Women's Market, Sofia

the Women's Market, Sofia

I also paid a visit to the night markets on Graf Ignatiev Street in central Sofia. This is a popular shopping street, with trams running down the centre of the road. If retail therapy is what floats your boat, I’d suggest having a wander through the many small boutiques and stores around there but, once again, I just couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing fresh foods. One stall was selling hot, ready-cooked pumpkin which was available in whole slabs or prepackaged with a spoon, ready to eat while you wander around window-shopping.

Cooked pumpkin, night markets, Sofia.

pomegranates, Sofia Night Markets

 grapes, the size of small plums - Women's Market, Sofia

My visit was in the early days of the northern autumn, so wonderful food was still readily available – I’d imagine the selection would become much more limited later in the year, although I suspect the Christmas markets would be pretty special. With such abundance around me, I enjoyed fresh berries and fruit with my morning yoghurt (another of their specialties), but the one thing that truly blew me away was the flavour quality of the tomatoes. I ate the local specialty, Shopska Salad, every day and was never once disappointed in the colour, flavour or texture of the tomatoes. No wonder they’re so keen on their salads in Bulgaria – they’d be mighty disappointed if their tomato selection was limited to the poor examples we tolerate here.

Bulgarian tomatoes

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lonnie Miller November 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

Great post!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) November 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I wish we’d had room to try some of that some pumpkin. Best stall idea ever!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella November 4, 2013 at 1:15 pm

The figs look so plump and delicious! How mouth watering :D

adelaidefoodies November 5, 2013 at 12:17 am

Oh, yum! The figs look deliciously big! How fancy their fresh food is! :D

Hotly Spiced November 5, 2013 at 11:34 am

It was terrible what happened to these countries under communism. I love the look of all the produce. It all looks so farm-fresh. I would love to shop that way xx

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef November 5, 2013 at 11:54 am

The first time I visited Bulgaria I swear the entire country and its people were gray. It was so poor with little opportunity for anyone. Subsequent visits filled me with joy because what you saw there were smiling faces with hope. I love Bulgaria and her people. So friendly and welcoming.

You’ll never move me away from Shopska Salad! It’s one of my all-time favourite salads.

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul November 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Love the pumpkin! What a great way to serve it! Great pics too Amanda!

Kate November 5, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Wow I love that take away pumpkin idea but sadly cannot see kids here opting for that over hot chips or the jam donuts we get at Vic market.

Lizzy (Good Things) November 6, 2013 at 12:13 am

Reminds me of the smaller markets across Hungary, Amanda. Tell me, did they allow you to touch the produce? Once upon a time, you weren’t allow to choose your own in Budapest.

Amanda McInerney November 6, 2013 at 8:35 am

Definitely no touching, Lizzy. We had an “interesting” experience with one stall holder who refused to serve us at all after the stem of a bunch of grapes was touched!

Gabriela November 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm

As a Bulgarian student currently living in Melbourne, i do miss my vegetables and fruits the most i guess! And probably their prices too! I was excited to see that Coles and Woolworths sell Bulgarian cheese (which does taste right actually!) but the tomatoes would be the missing ingredient for a proper Shopska salad! Anyway, i was excited to taste all those tropical fruits we don’t have back in Bulgaria so won’t be complaining too much…

My Kitchen Stories April 17, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while . It’s very interesting especially that you aren’t allowed to toucht the produce and that pumpkin stand is a great idea.

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