I’m sure plenty of my readers are familiar with the Adelaide foodie sensation that is Tasting Australia. This event has been around since 1997, has become one of Australia’s most influential and most popular culinary events and this year has now added Tasting Australia’s Words To Go, a new event just for food and travel bloggers!
Subscribe to Lambs' Ears and Honey
I like a country that takes food seriously, so almost from the instant I arrived in Istanbul I could tell that this city and I were going to get along like a house on fire. The drive into the city from the airport took me past outdoor fish markets and restaurants and innumerable street food vendors – all of which had me pressing my nose up against the car window in hungry anticipation.
Subscribe to Lambs' Ears and Honey
Again with the kitchen posts? Who’d have thought it? I’m going to try for the trifecta this year – but don’t hold your breath! But seriously, for a wonderful peek in kitchens all over Australia head over to Celia’s place at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial where much more reliable bloggers than yours truly manage this kind of thing regularly!
Subscribe to Lambs' Ears and Honey
DON’T MISS OUT! WIN A $300 DOUBLE PASS TO GORGEOUS FESTIVAL HERE!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Subscribe to Lambs' Ears and Honey
I’ll come clean right from the get-go here and tell you that prior to a couple of months ago my ignorance on the subject of Bulgaria was almost absolute. If pressed, I could say that it was in Eastern Europe and had once been part of the Eastern Soviet Bloc – and that was really all I had. Happily, thanks to an invitation from the Bulgarian Dairy Association (sponsored by the EU) that gaping hole in my education has been repaired and I’ve been blessed to visit and get to know a beautiful country with a fabulous food story to tell.
Bulgaria has a modern and efficient dairy industry and is largely known for it’s manufacture of white brined cheese (what we would know as feta), yoghurt and a yellow cheese called Kashkaval. When Bulgarians speak of cheese they are referring specifically to the white brined variety which they are absolutely crazy about. They are high quality manufacturers of this cheese and export it around the world. Bulgarian yoghurt is probably the most pleasant plain yoghurt I have ever eaten, having a notably mild flavour without the strong, sharp, tang that other plain yoghurts possess. While it is possible to export it, they have a growing business and interest exporting just one distinctive component of it and, given what I now know about it, I can see why.
I imagine, like me, that most of you have some yoghurt in your fridge, but I’m wondering if many of you are aware of some of the historical facts about this healthy dairy product – I sure wasn’t. While the specific origins of this functional food are shrouded in the dusts of millenia, some cultures are known to have been consuming it as a regular part of their diet since ancient times. Bulgarians, in particular, have been noted for their longstanding tradition of producing distinctively high quality yoghurt and a significant consumption, per capita, of it. One of the (innumerable) other things of which I was unaware is the fact that Bulgarians are thought to be particularly long-lived and that early last century this came to be linked with their yoghurt-eating habits and the peculiar properties of their own Lactobacillus Bulgaricum.
Fresh, plain yoghurt contains probiotics or live cultures, but L. Bulgaricum is considered to be far and away the most effective of these when it comes to breaking down lactose in the gut, populating the gut with good bacteria and having an inhibiting effect on the development of harmful gut bacteria. Many studies have found it to be beneficial in digestive, alimentary and inflammative joint conditions, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, with recent studies in Spain showing positive results on the immune system. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the Professors of Milk and Milk Production Technology from the Bulgarian Academy of Science in Sofia who spoke to us about the extraordinary properties of L. Bulgaricum. Prof. Mariya Baltadzhieva also has firm beliefs about it’s role in slowing down the aging process – views that seemed completely validated to me when I discovered that this remarkable woman whom I had assumed to be in her late 60’s was in fact 82.
Bulgarians also consume enormous quantities of their beloved white cheese on a daily basis – as did I whilst there, mostly grated over their most popular salad, the Shopska Salad. This salad is always served as a side dish at either lunch or dinner (or both) and consists simply of fresh, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and parsley covered with a generous layer of grated white cheese. Grating the cheese, unlike cubing it as we tend to do in a salad, means that it mingles with each mouthful and if one takes the added step of drizzling the salad with a little good quality olive oil it almost becomes similar to a creamy dressing. I’d urge you to give this serving idea a try – I’m a convert and it’s how I’ll be using white cheese in the future.
As far as I know* (see comments below) we can’t get any L. Bulgaricum yoghurt here in Australia yet – and I think that’s a bit of a shame because we are missing out on a significant functional food. Like sourdough yeasts, the lacto-bacillus localises quite quickly losing it’s unique properties so batches of the yoghurt have to be regularly re-started with imported dried L. Bulgaricum starter. It seems to me there’s a great point-of-difference marketing opportunity just hanging there for an entrepreneurial Australian dairy (learn more about it here). Just sayin’.
Whilst in Bulgaria, Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of the Bulgarian Dairy Association.
Edited 3 October, 2013.
Subscribe to Lambs' Ears and Honey
There’s a wonderful foodie secret tucked away in the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide. It’s not really a secret for most of the local food tragics who are happy to drive from one side of town to the other for some of their specialties, but I suspect many tourists to Adelaide, foodie or otherwise, are completely in the dark about the gastronomical pleasures that can be found just 15 minutes out of the CBD on the Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail. I’m one of the aforementioned tragics and regularly pack the car with shopping bags and chiller containers to get my regular dose of the comestible goodies that seem to pop out from around every corner in the City of Campbelltown.
The City of Campbelltown has a rich cultural mix of residents living within it’s boundaries and this is reflected in the vibrant food culture of the area, with many successful food production businesses having established themselves and more casting an interested eye in the same direction. In 2010, the council launched a sef-guided Food Trail booklet to showcase their growing food credentials. Clearly the secret is getting out and, as more hungry visitors come seeking sustenance, the initial offering of nine food businesses on the food trail has now grown to over 20 and been joined by several restaurants, cafés and businesses offering accommodation.
The range of food producers who are now open to the public as part of the Food Trail is enticing and it is possible for the hungry taste-trekker to indulge every possible food group within the space of just a few kilometres. While it is still possible to enjoy the experience as a self-guided tour, the council are now offering group bus tours which can be booked to take in a preferred selection of treats. Earlier this week I joined in on one of these tours, hosted by the City of Campbelltown. As I mentioned, I’m no stranger to the treats tucked away in Campbelltown, but I was thrilled to find new favourites to add to my list.
We visited five locals and enjoyed the most amazing hospitality from all of them. These producers are passionate about what they are doing and proud of their product, with good reason as far as I can tell. Our first stop was for coffee and a nibble or two at Salta In Bocca, a brand that is familiar to patrons of Adelaide Farmers Market. Producing a delicious range of almond breads, biscotti and macarons, owners Therese and Andreas Carstensen have turned this small family business into a successful gourmet brand without compromising on their standards. Therese insists on using the best local produce that she can find for her baked goods and she’s really not kidding about this. She even showed me the almonds that she insists on as she prefers the contrast of the darker skin against the creamy, pale flesh of the nut in her finished, sliced almond bread – those are standards!
Our next stop was at the home of the absolutely delightful Kumar family. With a background of North Indian traditional cuisine, Vinne and Ash Kumar produce a range of Indian curries and snacks which are available through their website, The Kumars. They have now expanded and their food is found at various markets and the Sturt Football Club as well as on their table at home – where, if you have pre-booked, you can actually join them for a genuine, home made Indian feast. I think a wonderful time there is pretty much guaranteed – the warm and ebullient Ash is a wonderful host and Vinne’s divine food is prepared without any MSG or preservatives.
From there we made our way to Elbio‘s All About Sweets, a cafe and wholesale patisserie owned and overseen by the no less gregarious Elbio Perez. Elbio hales from Uruguay and wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to the business he has built here in South Australia. Established in 2002, he produces a range of gourmet cakes, pastries and gluten-free products which are now found in more than 300 cafes and specialty cake shops across Adelaide and Melbourne. You can just drop by and try some of his signature Massini Chantilly cake with a coffee, or pre-book and enjoy a tour of the bakery he is so very proud of.
Our next stop is a very special favourite of mine and one that stirs much passion in both myself and The Bloke, although for different reasons. Mercato is the kind of continental deli that my dreams are made of and a place that I drop into several times a year to stock up on many of my culinary favourites, buy some Italian wine for a special occasion, or brush up on my kitchen skills at one of their many classes. Their huge range of imported and locally produced cheeses, smallgoods, confectionary, Italian wines, cookbooks and anything else you might need to create authentic Italian cuisine makes my heart swell every time I walk in their door. It also brings tears to the eyes of my dear husband – tears of joy and little squeals of pleasure as he rummages through my shopping bags on my return home and then tears of a different sort when he finds out just how much I’ve managed to spend there. Again.
Our final stop of the day was at a spot that would be easy to miss – but a mistake if you do so. Java Lifestyle Coffee and Tea is tucked away inside the Newton Shopping Centre – not a place I would ever have looked for gourmet coffee and tea. Another family owned business, this store has only been opened since 2011 but boasts what is claimed to be the first espresso coffee machine in Adelaide which was installed by Mario Gabrielli in his iconic Glynde store in 1956. His son, also Mario, now carries on the family tradition blending and roasting coffee on the premises and selling a large range of teas, coffee machines and coffee making accessories. Next time I go for a smash-and-grab at Mercato I might just drop The Bloke here for the duration – it would make him very happy.
All the details of the Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail can be found on their website here. For a taste of all of these and many of the other food producers on the Food Trail, as well as 120 artisan stalls and live entertainment, I’d suggest making a date to get to the Moonlight Markets at Thorndon Park. The Moonlight Markets are held from 6-10 pm and this summer will be on 1 November, 6 December, 7 February and 7 March.
Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of The City of Campbelltown for this taste of the Flavours of Campbelltown Food Trail.