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biting Bulgaria

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Biser, Bulgaria (with a trip up the road to Harmanli)

After a pizza lunch (hardly traditional Bulgarian fare!) it seemed a good day to publish this foodie post that has been simmering on the backburner.

Way back I wrote: Over the past couple of weeks we have been processing aloud which world foods we want to take back to our kitchen.

It’s one thing to eat a good Pad Thai in Chiang Mai, quite another to replicate it at home. But we did get the recipe, so we can at least try.
It’s one thing to crunch-n-ooze your way through a wood-fired pizza in Italy…it’ll be another to build a pizza oven in our back yard.
I’ve got a sticky rice basket….but I don’t have the fire container or the conical cooking basket or the special pot-with-a-hole to rest it in.

I find myself asking if we are trying to hold on to something that should just be let go of. Should we accept the wide range of foods was part of The Pilgrimage? And go back to daily porridge?  
Or can our experiences continue to enrich our lives forever? What’s wrong with adding pickled peppers, chillies in oil and the Vietnamese fire mix to our homemade jams and preserves on the pantry shelf? Couldn’t our garden grow copious quantities of mint to use as a vegetable instead of as a mere flavouring? Why not?
And then I find myself asking, “what’s kiwi cooking anyway?” A baby country of immigrants, the kiwi kitchen is a melting pot of flavours, smells and ideas. Beyond roast lamb, BBQs and pavlova, none of which we can lay sole claim to, there simply isn’t a distinctly kiwi cuisine.
On the upside, this means we can take tastes home with us and even as they remind us of distant lands, they will not be out of place. Gone could be our days of fruit and porridge breakfasts on Monday through Saturday with something special on Sundays. Now we have compiled an every-day-different-Monday-to-Saturday menu; what’s more, there’s a summer version and a winter version. And another half dozen choices available for Special Sundays.
We used to eat bread and fermented pickles with a piece of fruit for lunch. While this simple practice might still continue, we have a repertoire of a dozen different sorts of bread now. Simple sourdough could be replaced with baguettes and rye and semolina rolls and ciabatta and pita and scones and pancakes and pau and pastries and bruschetta…depending on who’s baking.

But will the variety overwhelm?

When we were in Laos we ate sticky rice every day, often twice a day. For a month, sticky rice and crushed peanuts or sticky rice dipped in soy sauce or sticky rice with chillies was breakfast each morning along with a banana.
In Cambodia we had noodles, either fried or in a soup, almost every night.
For months we ate rice and noodles or noodles and rice; there was no bread, no cheese, no salami. Bird flu meant there were no chickens or eggs either.
Then we got to Europe and the staples changed. Bread two or three times a day. Cheese and chocolate!
France saw us drowning in baguettes and camembert.
In Italy we consumed a daily dose of pasta (and stocked up on plenty for later too).

Even if we had not been making a conscious effort to eat locally, the availability of goods would have limited our selection. In some cases due to complete unavailability, in others, the simple fact that exotic goods were extraordinarily expensive.

It’s easy to eat local specialties, when that’s all there is. It’s harder when everything is available all the time. Before going away we had already made the transition to only eating produce in season or that we had preserved ourselves (plus tinned tomatoes, because we couldn’t grow enough!) We may not be able to create a kiwi food culture, but we are going to take steps towards creating a Family Food Culture. We may not be able to be completely faithful to original recipes in an effort to not import out-of-season produce from halfway round the world; the challenge will lie in sourcing ingredients locally, yet authentically. I see our garden growing. I’m not sure about keeping buffalo though.

In addition to the didactic tension of wanting to eat locally and at the same time exotically, there will be other tensions pulling for resolution too:
   Of wanting fresh bread daily and conserving energy.
   Of wanting choice and simplicity.
   Of wanting tools for the job and a minimalist kitchen.

These questions answered will become our new kiwi family kitchen.

the green trees under which we ate pizza
and the modern supermarket where we bought Bulgarian cheese

bulgaria begs…..those unasked questions

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Biser, Bulgaria

We have heard murmurings of questions people want to ask, but can’t bring themselves to. So we thought we’d just tell you. If we miss anything, do feel free to ask us outright – we are very hard to offend, and we’ve invited you, so you’ve nothing to lose. There are also some other questions that we get on a fairly regular basis – we’ll answer them here too. You can guess which ones people ask us and which ones they ask others about <wink>

How can you afford it?
This one requires a multi-pronged answer.
Partly, real estate. We bought a cheap flat years ago and then just before we came away (unfortunately AFTER the market had dropped somewhat), we sold it. Fortunately we’d had it for long enough that it made a tidy profit and has financed the trip. We’ve used up the living room, kitchen and bedrooms now and have the bathroom and hallway left to go!
Secondly, we are not signing up with tours that cost $3,000 per person, as you might do if a) you had fewer children and b) you were travelling for a shorter time. In fact, we have only done three “tours” on the whole trip – the trek in Thailand, the trip to Halong Bay and one day we hired a guide and van in Phonsovannh where there was no public transport to use to get to sites ourselves. Everything else we have seen independently.
If we had booked the Trans-Siberian train in New Zealand  the cost for ONE of the children would have been more than what we ended up paying for *all* of us – waiting to purchase seats locally, in our experience, has always been cheaper. (In part due to the fact that overseas agents can only purchase first or second class seats, whereas we travel third class whenever possible). Likewise, a girl who was on the Mekong boat with us had booked and paid for her trip in England – it cost her over two hundred pounds. We didn’t tell her it was only a few dollars if you bought your tickets beside the river!
Accommodation costs have also been skimped on. We have only stayed in one hotel, and that was in Laos and was in a worse state of repair than any of the hostels – it was hotel in name only. In Asia we primarily stayed in guesthouses and hostels, often top-n-tailing on eight or even six beds. We also ventured into the world of couchsurfing, which costs no more than a gift and some cooking-n-cleaning as an expression of thanks.
Once we got the vans our accommodation costs dropped significantly. In Greece we paid not one euro cent. In England we stayed in one campground in five weeks, and only a few times needed to put a couple of pounds in a parking metre. Similarly, France was almost free, Italy not much more.
Foodwise, we are frugal at home, and we continue to be on the road. Sometimes this means not buying local delicacies that most tourists might, but we certainly do not feel deprived. With our bulk purchasing power we can buy a box of icecreams from a supermarket for the cost of one cone on the street. And remember, food in Asia is dirt cheap. A feast of mountains of rice with two different heaped platters of vegetables for breakfast cost only a couple of dollars. We could share half a dozen dollar plates of food for lunch. In Cambodia (and again in Italy and Greece) in season inexpensive local fresh fruit became a staple.
Tourist destinations are identical in that they are overflowing with everything from nick-nacks to enormous items tempting you to take them home. Having to carry everything on our backs for the first six months was a great motivator to NOT BUY. By the time we had the vans we were in the habit. Our souvenirs have been as frugal as our eating, and many have come from not-souvenir-shops…..a decorated tin full of oregano was bought in Greece – the oregano we ate, and the tin will go home stuffed full of undies. Chopsticks. A handmade cloth elephant. A rattan ball, which will probably not make it home, it’s been used so much. A scarf. A communist flag. Journals. A sticky rice basket (which was not so much a souvenir as an essential piece of cooking equipment while we were in Laos, and we I cannot bear to part with it).
The children have bought things too, but that’s their money, not ours! A flute, a crossbow, a chess set and Carcassonne game, a couple of hammocks, a patchwork backpack, wooden dominoes, soapstone signature stamps and rubber band guns (for clearing the farm-we-don’t-yet-have of unwanted rabbits when we finally get it).
We have seen big Turkish rugs and Italian pizza ovens and a whole library of books, all of which would have cost a pretty packet, but even if we could have carried them, we would have had to cut the trip short to be able to afford them, and we preferred to save our money for experience.

How do you stay sane?
Who ever said we were sane?


How do you do your pictures?
We use a freebie collage creator that is quick and easy to use. It is very limited in its application and reduces the quality of photos, but we haven’t had time to come to terms with Photoshop, so we make do with the highly-originally-named “Arcsoft Collage Creator Version One”

I can’t see the pictures in your posts – is there some other way to view them?
If you look at the Captured on Camera page (either click on it here or in the right-hand sidebar), you will see an album for each country and then a few more too. Clicking the country name will take you to the album. You might have more luck seeing them this way – but be warned, some of the albums have A LOT of photos in them!

Is Rach pregnant?

Would you do it again?
We wouldn’t hesitate for even one moment. We could be packed within a day. We might do one thing differently though….it would be much easier to follow the sun to eliminate the need to lug thermals and woollens all round the world. But if someone wanted to send us to the snow, we’d go. In fact, we’d go anywhere.

belonging in bulgaria

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
Biser, Bulgaria


It may only be our third day in Biser, but we feel quite settled, as if we’ve been here forever. As we walk down to The Shop to buy our “dva chleb” (two ... [Continue reading this entry]

Boring Bulgaria? NO WAY!

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Biser, Bulgaria

We’re supposed to be having a quiet relaxing stay here on the outskirts of a small village. So how is it that there is so much to say about it? It all started with bicycle-horses being manoeuvred around ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bulgaria Beginnings

Sunday, September 27th, 2009
Biser, Bulgaria Yet again we take the risk of sharing monotonously similar observations about a border crossing. We cross and everything changes. It’s happened every time, and we keep expecting that one border crossing will not bring stark differences, but it ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bulgaria Bound

Saturday, September 26th, 2009
Biser, Bulgaria When we set out, we had NO intention of going to Bulgaria, not even as a destination to zip through to get somewhere we might want to go (like poor ol’ France, which turned out to be so ... [Continue reading this entry]