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You might be wondering, where in the good heck is Bulgaria? What is it like? This is the best way I know how to describe it - the Middle East meets Eastern Europe meets the Mediterranean. Bulgaria is just North of Greece, directly west of Turkey, and a melting pot of cultures. After over a thousand years of migration, settling, different conquerors, empires, and regimes, lots of influences can be found in Bulgarian culture. However, like most small and old European countries, there is something distinct and unique about the nature of Bulgarian culture that you will not find anywhere else. And so the story begins...
It all started when my grandparents, Andreyka and Kostadin, met in the small town of Rudozem, Bulgaria.
Six years later, my mother, Miglena Kostadinova, was born in 1974 in the city of Sofia. They soon moved back to Rudozem.
At age 14, my mom moved to the small town of Smolyan to attend English school. The communist regime had just fallen. President Benson had, then, Elder Nelson, open the Bulgarian mission in 1990. This is how my mom was able to meet the missionaries who came to serve at her English school and teach for free when she was just 16 years old. It was her dream to study abroad and attend university in America, they recommended she apply to Brigham Young University.
Off she was in 1993 to start her journey in America. In Provo, Utah to be exact.
Below is one of the few pieces of home she brought with her to the States. In a foreign country, at a time where she didn't have many photos of family, it was too expensive to call home more than twice a year, and she was lucky if she made it home for a few weeks in the summer, this little green notebook was how she would remedy any homesickness. You see, we Kostadinova women love to cook, and Bulgarian food is an essential part of the culture. Growing up, she and her mom would add lovely recipes, ranging from breakfast to complex entrees to delicate desserts, to this little green notebook. She has kept it with her all these years, and we still use it when we go to cook some of our Bulgarian favorites. Scroll through the gallery below to see some of our favorite handwritten recipes over the last 25+ years.
After my twin sister and I were born in 2001, we have been so fortunate to travel to Bulgaria several times to visit my mom's family, who currently all still live in Bulgaria, in that small town of Smolyan. However, none of my relatives in Bulgaria can speak English, and I cannot speak Bulgarian fluently. I can understand much more than I can speak, but I've never been able to fully communicate with my beloved grandparents, my baba Andreyka and dyado Kostadin.
But one language we've always had in common is Bulgarian food. Since I was a little girl, I would watch my baba cook, eyes full of wonder and curiosity. I would stand and listen as she would explain to me the process of how she makes her own yogurt, picks and blends the herbs to make her own tea, watch her cook soups and bake breads and desserts. There were many times where neither of us had to say anything, but we knew exactly what the other was trying to say.
This is the power of food.
Food communicates emotion, it unifies people. It's a love letter from the past and an ode to future dreams. It is a work of art, a labor of love.
I'm not sure there is a better expression of love than a warm, home-cooked meal. If there is, I'm yet to find it.
I've been so fortunate to have so many strong, smart, hard-working Bulgarian women serve as role models in my life. My baba Miche, my baba Dobra, my baba Andreyka, my lelya (aunt) Dessi, and my myko (mom), Miglena. These are some of the amazing generations of Bulgarian women who have had a major impact on me, to name a few.
They are all the inspiration for my passion project, An Ode to Bulgaria, where I made my own Bulgarian cookbook, filled with my favorite and most reminiscent recipes of Bulgaria. Each recipe tells a story so dear to my heart, all with distinct memories of my mom, baba, and lelya Dessi. I wanted to mix the passions of my heritage, culture, love for food, cooking, photography, and production altogether. This book is the culmination of these things, and I hope you enjoy scrolling through the digital version of the book below.
This is just the beginning. I plan to add more and more recipes throughout the months and years, weaving more of my heritage, traditions, and families stories from cover, to cover.
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