A Food & Travel Blog

Vancouver Shares It’s Gourmet Secrets

24/02/2014 | By

I love Australia and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to chose, I’d opt for Canada and most certainly Vancouver. This is truly one of my most favourite places in the world. It has a population of around 600,000 souls thus is not so large that it is unfriendly, it’s not too hilly, so therefore very walkable, a mild (if slightly wet) climate and, with the glittering harbour on one side and snow-capped peaks on the other, it is breathtakingly beautiful. And they love food.

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Tasting Australia’s Words To Go – A Culinary Travel Bloggers Forum

14/02/2014 | By

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!

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Istanbul Eats – Often & Really Well!

02/12/2013 | By

Istanbul street vendor

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.

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In My Kitchen November 2013

11/11/2013 | By

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!

Strawberry Teasers in my kitchen

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

04/11/2013 | By

DON’T MISS OUT! WIN A $300 DOUBLE PASS TO GORGEOUS FESTIVAL HERE!

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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Bulgaria’s Gift to the World – Lactobacillus Bulgaricum

02/10/2013 | By

Saint Sofia, Bulgaria

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.

Dairy Daily

Cheesey nibbles

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.

Bulgarian cows

checking out Bulgaria's dairy producers.

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.

White brine cheese

Cheese curds, Bulgarian dairy

Bulgarian cheese

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.

Shopska Salad

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’.

Yoghurt drink, Bulgaria

Whilst in Bulgaria, Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of the Bulgarian Dairy Association.

Edited 3 October, 2013.

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