Monday, June 12, 2006

Balkan Eats

The Food of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia

It would be difficult for me to differentiate between the foods of Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, not only because they were fairly similar, but because we spent a comparatively small amount of time in each. At the risk of horrifying Balkan chefs, I will lump a discussion of their relative merits into one article and identify only the most notable national oddities.

For some reason, breakfasts were few and far between. The only morning dishes I recall are buttery omlettes, toasted sandwiches, and cheese- or spinach-filled filo pastry squares. It seems that brekkie is not big in these parts. Lunch and dinner arrived at the conventional western hours and the offerings were similar enough such that there is no pressing need to differentiate. Crunchy salads were always on offer and were at their best and most inventive in Bulgaria. Soups followed an opposite trend. Croatian menus almost always featured "tomato soup with rice" and "beef soup with noodles". Farther east, we only found good broths in the more upscale establishments. Meat and pasta dishes generally ruled the roost, the former almost always coming with some fried potatoes in tow. Seafood was naturally more abundant in coastal regions with the fruits of the Adriatic being of particularly high quality, variety, and price.

All three countries featured the usual assortment of fast food restaurants, including Western chains. Doner shops chucked out cylinder-cooked atrocities and fried hamburgers just as in the rest of Europe. Pizza deserves to be particularly noted. At times, it seemed like it must be the staple food of the entire region. You could get it anywhere at anytime in any style (menus sometimes featured several pages of options) and it was usually pretty damn good. It was not uncommon to see several pizza restaurants clustered together with empty tables in scant supply. Among these Balkan nations, the ubiquity of pizza was matched only by its popularity.

  • Pot - In Bulgarian, restaurants would sometime feature traditional dishes cooked and served in a clay pot. These were often very tasty and a welcome break from meat and potato plates, but they had a tendency to go very heavy on the onions.
  • Rakia - Appearing on menus as "brandy", this potent aperitif is one part grappa and one part lava. It us drunk like ouzo - mixed with a bit of water and ice. Dilution does little to mitigate the shock of ingestion, though.
  • Beer - In general, light beers were OK to bad and dark beers were OK to good. No particular brand stood out as a winner, though.
  • Wine - Local table wine throughout the region was not great, with quality diminishing as we got farther from Sofia. The Croatian offerings were sometimes downright awful.
  • Pork - Romanians really seem to dig swine, and they know how to do it right. Pork dishes were usually served in tasty, semi-sweet onion and tomato sauces that nicely combatted the natural dry saltiness of pig flesh.
  • Crayfish? - In Croatian fish restaurants, you are sometimes served shellfish that look like shrimp, but with crab-like claws. They taste very much like lobster. I am not exactly sure what to call these critters, but they remind of crayfish minus the spindly legs.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Crayfish? Are Langoustine also known as Scampi or in the UK Dublin Bay Prawns.

8/15/2006 10:51 AM gmt

 

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