Sunday, 20 August 2017

Pumpkin head!

Text by Albena Shkodrova   
If you wish to insult somebody in Bulgarian, you could call him tikvenik – a word whose content isn’t quite clear, and which Bulgarians use to mean anything from ‘thickhead’ to ‘airhead’. The good thing about this kind of insult is that it expresses your definite lack of approval, without making you inexcusably rude.

Calling somebody a ‘thickhead’ is a blood insult anyway you look at it, you may think. But there is something that significantly softens the connotation of the word ‘tikvenik’ and that is its other, primary meaning. In a literal sense, it is the name of a popular autumn-winter phyllo dough pastry, filled with grated pumpkin, walnuts and cinnamon.

Because the thought of this aromatic dessert softens the hearts of many Bulgarians, it is difficult for them to take the word as a huge sign of rudeness. As vile as they could be to the tikveniks on the street, especially those in the surrounding cars during peak hour traffic, their souls could sing as tenderly about the tikvenik in the oven.

If you’re trying to understand this linguistic paradox, it is best to first get familiar with the culinary meaning of the word. The easiest thing is to buy a packet of pre-made phyllo sheets available at any corner store.

The stuffing for them is made from a kilogram of peeled and grated pumpkin, in which a full cup of cracked walnuts and about half a cup of crystallised sugar are mixed. As an option, you could throw in a pinch of cinnamon and a handful of raisins.

A tried and tested way involves twisting the phyllo sheets in doubles. First, you lay one out and sprinkle two spoonfuls of oil over it. After spreading the oil out evenly, you lay the second one on top. The filling is then spread in a thin layer, but avoid reaching all the way to the ends. Then, you roll the two phyllo sheets together.

As a result, you get in your hands a quickly softening little tube, which you better place as quickly as possible into a baking tin, in which you have spread some oil and sprinkled some flour.

Some proud Bulgarians place the tikvenik into a round vessel by arranging the pieces one after the other from the outer edge in, like a snail. They think this way is more visually appealing. If you’re a modernist, however, place the pieces in a rectangular baking tin.

The important thing is to throw the pastry into the pre-heated oven and bake it long enough. Keep in mind that according to Bulgarian traditionalists, there is nothing worse than an uncooked tikvenik. There is even a poem by bard Pencho Slaveykov about the sin, “they do not know what to do with the God’s gift, the warm bread they turn into a raw tikvenik.” If you don’t want to commit this unspeakable sin, do not depend on the reddening of the top only. Do as the proud Bulgarians do – check with a straw pulled out from the broom.

Once baked, the pastry has to be sprinkled with powdered sugar, and then allowed to cool. Try the first piece and while it is still in your mouth, try insulting somebody with the word ‘tikvenik.’ And see how it sounds.

Then you can do an exercise in Bulgarian phonetics. Quickly pronounce, with the piece still in your mouth, “chichkovite chervenotikvenichkovcheta.” In Bulgarian this roughly translates to ‘the little red tikveniks of our esteemed uncle.’



Curiosity Chest

Dimitur, who visualisеd the Bulgarian expression “Pumpkin Head!”

26 February 2014 | He is 26 and he tried to enroll in the national Fine Arts academy. Academics, though, refused to recognize his talents, and this is how he searched for consolation in food carving. Full Story


Bansko Jazz Festival in Bulgaria: The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music

Although Bankso is still best known as Bulgaria’s biggest and most modern winter resort and a skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts’ favourite, the town – nestled in the Pirin Mountain, has also established a reputation among music lovers as the host town of one of the country’s biggest jazz festivals. Full Story