Monday, 21 August 2017

Singing, Wining and Dining in Bansko   
To understand Bansko and to enjoy it, you need to get used to some peculiarities of Balkan nations first. One of them is the people’s love to sit at the dinner table for long hours, in heavy smoke, drink persistently until they fall in a dizzy melancholy and then start singing to chase it away.

It doesn't always work, especially for those amongst the listeners – the songs tend to be utterly slow and sad and often the dinners end with everyone crying at the table without really knowing why.

But curiously enough, the next morning most of the diners would describe the previous night as a wonderful and pleasant one, and most likely so would you. Many foreigners find a certain charm in the heavy, somewhat obsessive emotionality of locals.

But apart from the sentimental, beautiful Balkan songs, another one of Bansko's charms is its regional cuisine. It includes dishes with puzzling names, such as starets (‘old man’), babek ('old woman') – both rich variation of differently cooked intestines, as well as and a number of wonderful vegetable relishes and pickles, prepared in the back yards of the restaurants during the autumn months.

Here is a short guide to Bansko's specialties:

Banski starets: a kind of thick sausage, with quite big-sized pieces of minced meat. It is not clear whether the locals are the proudest with this speciality, but it is certainly the one you find easiest at other areas of the country, where it is sold as a meat delicacy from the region of Bansko. Funnily, Bansko’s old man is also called babek, meaning ‘old woman’.

Lyutenitsa and kyopoolu: these two vegetable relishes – the first dominated by peppers and tomatoes and the second – by aubergines, are offered by all restaurants in town. They are with no exception advertised as home made. Alas, that is rarely the case. Usually you can recognise the authentic ones by the grainy structure and smoky taste from the open grills.

Kurvavitsa: a local version of blood sausage, prepared by the town’s restaurants, some of which have reached something quite like perfection in the recipe. One of its best features is the forest mint.

Katino meze: this stew is made of two to three kinds of meat (usually pork and beef), fried in small pieces and stewed in white wine with vegetables: leek, onions, peppers and mushrooms. One of Bansko's evergreens.

: another one of Bansko's filling main dishes, this is a combination of rice and sour cabbage, and pieces of all the kinds of meat the chef might have found in the restaurant's fridge. It is cooked for a really long time – up to five hours, and when properly prepared, it is one of the most delicious specialities the region has to offer.

Chomlek: this one is the champion of Bansko's foods in long cooking – it takes ten hours to boil it. The dish is made of calf-leg meat, mixed with fresh little potatoes, leak, garlic, red wine and a number of spices. All the ingredients are supposed to be mixed and sealed in a clay pot, which is then left for half a day on the stove.

Smenka: this is a local name for a kind of bacon, which, apart from the lard, contains plenty of meat. Usually comes roasted on the grill.

Banitsa s lokum: this dessert is a sweet variety of a very popular Bulgarian pastry, banitsa. Unlike the usual banitsa, which is normally salty, this one is soaked in syrup and contains pieces of Turkish delight and candied fruits.

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