Bulgarian culinary traditions as a way to restore cultural memory: Granny's forgotten dishes in the village of Antimovo

Traditional food from Bulgaria. Photo by Tsetsa Hristova, used with permission.

This is the third of a three-part series by Dessislava Dimitrova and Nevena Borisova about how women entrepreneurs drive the revival of culinary traditions in different parts of Bulgaria, as part of the modern slow food movement, boosting tourism and countering depopulation.

Map of Bulgaria showing the locations of villages Yavornitsa, Antimovo and Plevun. Based on maps from respective Wikipedia articles, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Tsetsa Hristova has lived in the village of Antimovo in the North West of Bulgaria since 1974. Situated in the poorest region in the EU, the village is about a kilometre away from the Danube river, situated in an area full of natural beauty and dazzling landscapes. Fishing has been a vital livelihood for the local population, therefore foods like the Vlahian fish dish called Saramură are emblematic for the region.

Tsetsa is among those few people who try to keep up the spirit of the increasingly depopulating village (suffering a fate similar to the rest of the villages in the region) through culinary and cultural traditions. She is also a secretary of the local community centre (“chitalishte” in Bulgarian). The local population is now down to around 450 people, from around 2300 (four decades ago).

Tsetsa Hristova

Tsetsa Hristova. Photo from personal archive, used with permission.

„Селото бе към 2300 жители. Няма да забравя гълчавата на хората и добитъка сутрин и вечер. Хора с каруци, трактори, мотики на рамо отиваха на полето, градините се огласяха със смях и настроение, ливадите бяха пълни със стада крави, овце, кози. Вечер, като се прибираха, бе неописуемо – блеене от всеки двор на агънца и яренца, очакващи майките им да се приберат от паша, детски гласове огласяха до късно вечер мегданите. Всяка неделя духовата музика свиреше на площада, хората излизаха като на празник.“

“There used to be around 2300 inhabitants. I won’t forget the noise of many people and cattle gathering in the mornings and evenings before. People with carts and tractors went to the field, and the home gardens echoed with laughter. The meadows were full of flocks of cows, sheep and goats. In the evening, the bleating of lambs and kid goats waiting for their mothers to return from pasture blended with the voices of village children playing outside till dusk. Every Sunday, we had live music on the main square, and people attended in a festive manner.”

After the school closed because there were no students anymore, the community center became the only axis of social life, where Tsetsa, supported by other locals, runs activities such as recreating culture traditions and old Orthodox rituals, including folk dance groups.

Tsetsa founded a traditional culinary club, “The forgotten dishes of grandma”, aiming to preserve and recreate local dishes. The club had also gathered numerous recipes from the Vlachian region. Tsetsa sees both similarities (the essence of the dishes) and differences (in terms of form and use of spices) between the Bulgarian and Romanian cuisine in the region.

The club involves 13 middle-aged men and women. Their efforts to attract younger members have been unsuccessful. Due to COVID-19 they had to pause their series of public events, which included cooking on a live fire and demonstrating local crafts to tourists. Continuing activities after the pandemic has also been a challenge.

 “I cannot say that all the recipes, which we also intend to publish in a book, are typical only of the region, but most of them are,” Tsetsa explains, while listing some peculiar dishes, like Vlachian rolls (cabbage with rice and meat):

„Например папицата ( прави се от сварени кисели сливи, домати, люти чушки, копър и чесън) се ползва за овкусяване на супи, сармички, но е и превъзходно средство за изтрезняване ). Също – агнешка главица, просеник, запържени хапки от качамак, трезве чорба ( прави се след големите празници за разтоварване след преяждане). Те са позабравени, но предвид на интереса към тях по време на различни изяви, смятам, че ще могат да се популяризират и да са достъпни за всеки.“

For example, the papitsa (made of boiled sour plums, tomatoes, chilly peppers, dill and garlic) is used to provide taste to soups, and rolls. Other local dishes include lamb head, maize-based dishes like prosenik and fried bits of kačamak, as well as sobering soup (it is used to sober up around Christmas and New Year celebrations). These dishes have been already a bit forgotten, but bearing in mind the interest towards them, I think that they can become accessible for everyone.

Tsetsa notes that, for generations, on every occasion, both joyful and sad, these dishes have been present on the table. And the recipes reflect interesting details about everyday life in the past. For example, at one time, the amount of meat put in a dish was a sign of the household's wealth.

The month of May is exciting for the village, because it's the month when the annual International Folklore Festival, an annual event since 2010, takes place. It is attended by people from Bulgaria and the neighbouring Serbia and Romania. Three years ago, the culinary club started participating in the program.

„Стараем се да приготвяме храна в стари съдове – казани, глинени гърнета, тигани. В зависимост от това, което ще представим, всеки се заема с конкретна задача – замесване на тесто, рязане на зеленчуци, кълцане на месо (за сарми) или други ястия, палене на огньове, осоляване на рибата и какво ли още не. Тръпката е неописуема при тези приготовления, а когато видим задоволството на хората, опитали от ястията, удовлетворението е пълно.“

“We strive to prepare food with old utensils — kettles, clay jars, metal pans. Each of us takes on different task: preparing a dough, cutting vegetables or meat, etc. When we see the satisfaction of people who try the dishes, our happiness is complete!”

The heritage

Meeting Temenuzhka, Rukie and Tsetsa makes it feels like the century-long traditions and recipes they talk about are unforgettable, but unfortunately this is not the case. Their initiatives need support on local and national level, including regulation which not only allows, but makes it easier for producers of artisan foods to receive both visibility and access to the market.


This article is part of a series on reviving Bulgarian culinary traditions as a way to restore cultural memory,  highlighting the experience of women entrepreneurs working in depopulated rural areas. The series comprises the following articles:
Wild herbs of village of Yavornitsa
Grandma's unforgettable tarhana from Plevun
Granny's forgotten dishes in the village of Antimovo

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