In two months I will turn 40. There will be many balance-sheets. But more and more I think about how much I miss my grandmothers and their dishes. How much I miss getting home after all day out playing games or at school, and a favourite dish is waiting for me at home. My mother and my grandmothers naturally know what I love and since I am a child – they try to please me. In my mind, the phrase “to please me” is like my childhood. It is a close friend of my carefree years and is associated with them. Nobody tries to please me since I was a child. Yes, sometimes my mother makes delicious things for me, but it is different.
However, I am lucky as well. My brother is a very good chef. He is a Pastry Chef, but he can also cook, and then some. He is the sole successor of our grandmother Margarita – Miche. He can cook all her dishes in a virtuoso way. He rarely cooks, but when he does, I get teleported at least for a while in my childhood – when people tried to please me with food.
In this story I will remember the brightest delicious recipes of my grandmother, my mother and my brother. What I have eaten over the years and what dish has been on the top of my taste senses. I will also tell you about several dishes I have eaten abroad, and when I recall them, I hang out my tongue.
So, let me start with the childhood. I was a fastidious child. I did not want anything, and I did not love anything. This quickly changed as I slightly grew up. Like every child, I also was “stuck” with one dish and it was roasted chicken with potatoes. I remember every Saturday and Sunday bargaining so my mother will cook chicken with potatoes. Those were days when we were constantly out and playing. We did not think of getting home, but knowing from the morning that my mother was making chicken with potatoes, besides the games in my head there was a bell ringing “chicken – chicken – chicken”. I used to get very hungry, getting home, and then the big feast was starting. I had more, and more, until I got properly full. I loved the chicken to be plain. Chicken with potatoes and some carrots baked in the oven with a nice crust. I also loved it with a sauce in it, so I can dip bread. Yes, a decade later I realized that potatoes and bread should not go together. But at that time, I loved to dip some bread so I could get stronger. To this day, I still love chicken with potatoes and I prefer it to other roasted meat with potatoes. It reminds me of the summer, dusty and endless games in the neighbourhood, with the bike and my friends.
Another dish I adored was stuffed peppers with rice and mince. I had no preferences who cooked them for me, because both my grandmother and my mother made them great. I was very happy when the peppers were both green and red, and I always wanted more of the red ones. I did not feel a different taste, but something in the red attracted me. I peeled the stuffed peppers, smashed them with a fork, and I put yogurt on top, which made them more delicious, while cooling them. And again, a few slices of bread as a side dish. I loved very much this traditional Bulgarian dish and I still love it. Once I tried to cook it, it turned quite bad, the rice was raw, but that did not stop me from eating it. I have not tried it since then, Thank God there are many good restaurants that make it and you can order it to go.
My next great culinary temptation is banitsa (traditional Bulgarian pastry). This is what really chases me, and I chase it. There is a great banitsa bakery that I have forbidden myself to pass by and I walk away from it. It smells delicious and this smell catches you and drops you on the slope to the extra pounds. Everyone in my family can make a super tasty banitsa. Grandmother Miche was a magician. She made different kinds from different filo pastry – laid, twisted with cheese, with spinach, with onion. She baked 4-5 different trays, the ayran jugs were placed on the table, and we ate banitsa for days. Now that I write it, I really miss that time. I miss my grandmother’s banitsa. Her masterpiece, however, was the pumpkin pastry for Christmas Eve. Every time we celebrate this holiday, we remember that pumpkin pastry with the laid filo pastry. I search, I buy from many very good bakeries, but I have never found it quite the same. It was so sweet and as if it was chewy, with a caramel flavour. The filo pastry was like a lasagne, soft in the middle, crisp at the end. It was a fantasy of the fantasies and a real delight for the senses. Our whole family misses it. Grandma made this pumpkin pastry only on Christmas Eve, that’s why it was so special. My other grandmother Nadia also made a very good banitsa but completely different from that of grandma Miche. Nowadays only my aunt makes a home-made banitsa. It is so delicious that when she calls and tells me she has baked a banitsa, I leave the work and go. She puts a lot of butter and cheese and it becomes hellishly delicious. We gather at their place for a Saturday banitsa. A tradition that will someday disappear. I hope it will not be soon. The other day I could not make it, so my aunt sent me some in a paper bag! Banitsa is my great temptation that can make me become 220 pounds. Always have and always will.
Another favourite dish, of the fast ones, is mish-mash or the fried one, as grandmother called it. I was dying for it. You know what mishmash is. She always made it a little hot with a lot of cheese. The fried one is its variety – whole roasted peppers with tomatoes and eggs. I think she put some sugar and much hot in it. When there was nothing cooked, grandma always made one of those two. And again, a few slices of bread. She made it in minutes. And since it looks simple, and there is nothing you can do wrong with it, I have tried it. Guess what, nothing happened. I have no idea why, but quite a different taste, I would even say it was going slightly to plastic. Now is the time to bring my brother into the picture. He can make the mentioned dishes, almost the same. If I give 10 points to my grandmother, I give him 9 out of 10, which is quite high. I bring him right now, because he makes a horrific mishmash, I am even afraid of it. Really. His own recipe. I would call it “the whole supermarket in the frying pan”. Extremely mega delicious thing. It does not have a specific recipe, every time it is as it comes, and it must have as many things as possible. Many kinds of meat, many kinds of cheese, spices, vegetables, sometimes – seafood and cream. A dish which ancestor and inspirer is our grandmother’s fried one. Every time I visit him in London and see this thing on the stove, I know things will go far, we will be extremely full, and we will all be sorry.
Here I have to say which of my favourite dishes from my childhood I have cooked myself. Although the term “cook” is very loosely used. I love chicken livers very much. My mother makes them very nice and in different ways. I love them all. But I never dared to make the dish, I am always waiting. When microwave ovens came out, we bought one. I was 10-12 years old. I did not particularly like it because nothing could be made in it. Once I was hungry and I saw that there were livers in the refrigerator. I took a heatproof glass pot with a lid, put the livers in it, and placed in the microwave. The livers began to tremble inside, even exploding. Our dog was very confused. The noise was loud, beside the liver explosion the lid was also jumping. I disregarded this 10-minute indisposition. I took them out and they were ready. Delicious, plain, only with salt. The microwave was all in pieces of exploded liver. They were really delicious. Since then, I make microwave livers, plain. Quite often in a restaurant or when I get food online, if I see livers I always order them. I really love them, and prepared in every way.
When I grew up, I started traveling. I would like to tell you about two foreign dishes. One is a soup. I spent 3 months in Thailand. I quickly got to the Tom Yum soup. Hot spicy soup with lemongrass and seafood. I ordered it every day. It was in every restaurant there. I came back and that was the end of this soup. There was neither lemon grass nor the other spices. Many years passed until someone started making it. Vlado Penev made it first. His soup was terribly good. Then it appeared in the restaurants too. Now it is in Japanese and Thai restaurants. Try it, you will not be wrong. This is the food I first recall when I think of my travels. The other thing I really love is shrimps. I ate good shrimps first in Stefan’s restaurants, the husband of Teodora Duhovnikova. Awesome, on frying pan. In France, I performed a production for a whole month in the summer, and there were fresh shrimps on the market every morning. Every lunch I made shrimps myself on the frying pan in the apartment. I have eaten giant shrimps on the Seychelles. There were plenty of them there. The soup and shrimps are very far from my grandma’s dishes. She probably never tasted shrimp and Tom Yum soup. If she was alive, I would have made such dinner for her, maybe she would have liked it. I talked a lot about one of my grandmothers, the other one was not a keen cook, though she was cooking well. She was artistic, a singer, and my biggest fan, but I will tell you about her another time.
I am not a cook, as you know – I have graduated from such a school, but I cannot cook and I do not like to. I do not like shopping, quite on the contrary. But I love delicious food and to try something new, I love also the old dishes in all their varieties. I love Bulgarian cuisine, maybe most of all. In this story, I talked about the dishes I grew up with, a very small part of them. There are more, there are also stories around them. I travelled a lot and during these trips I learned that I have the greatest curiosity about local food. I did not stop until I tried everything. I have eaten beetles, embryos, worms – just out of curiosity. I came back from China 30 pounds heavier because I did not stop trying their infinite cuisine. I intend to make a series about all the food I have encountered around the world and all the tasty things I have tried in Bulgaria. If you find this story interesting, I will continue. It will be your word!
This was a “delicious memory” of my childhood through the things I loved to eat, of my grandmother, and of the past time that would never return. I hope it was delicious for you to read it, as it was very pleasant for me to write it.
For those who cannot cook, like me, there is Foodpanda.
Thank you Foodpanda, for helping me create this text and these photos!
Text – Vladimir Karamazov
Photographer – Vladimir Karamazov for Vladimir Karamazov Photography
11.03.2019 Vladimir Karamazov ®