Monday, February 23, 2009
In the States on one of my favorite channels, the Travel Channel, one of the shows I would watch often was Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. On his show, Zimmern travels around the world and dedicates each episode to a certain country and the food that the people there eat. The twist is that he only goes for what we would consider to be the most bizarre, but might be considered normal in that country. Bulgaria is full of these interesting little treats, and most of them are available in my town. I have therefore taken it upon myself to try all of these crazy foreign foods at least once during my time here (for the purposes of integration, of course). This is the first installment in a series about bizarre foods in Bulgaria, and I think it’s a pretty good one.
Chicken Hearts. I have long known that they have them, but have often wondered if they are edible. This question was finally answered when I came to Bulgaria, where they can frequently be found on restaurant menus (and often hilariously mistranslated into English as "hards"). This includes a restaurant here in Preslav that is right up the street from me which I have begun to frequent. Now when I go to this restaurant, I usually go for their chicken soup, or chicken and rice, or any number of more traditional chicken dishes. When I saw the hearts on the menu, I was at first repulsed, but over time became strangely drawn to them. At this particular meal I decided to take the plunge and order some to try on the side.
When they arrived at the table, I was actually kind of surprised by the look of them. For some reason, I didn’t actually think they’d have the appearance of actual hearts, but lo and behold, there they were. They were split in half probably to facilitate cooking, but this particular preparation seemed (creepily) to really show the structure of the hearts: ventricles, atriums, and all…
I sprinkled some lemon on them and popped the first of the bite size morsels in my mouth. The first thing I noticed was that it was really chewy. The next thing I noticed was that it actually didn’t have a lot of flavor to it. What was there kind of reminded me somewhat of chicken liver, which I have had many times before, and there was a slight gaminess in the flavor as well. Aside from the intense chewiness, which admittedly was a bit unsettling, the flavor was pretty tame, although in my opinion this is one part of the chicken that doesn’t actually taste like chicken.
Overall it was just kind of neutral experience. Once I got over the appearance, it wasn’t so bad. I don’t think I’ll voluntarily order it again, but I wouldn’t shy away from it if it was offered to me at some point. I've had much worse, and I'll be sure to write about those experiences for your pleasure (and probably, amusement) soon.
Until next time…
Saturday, February 21, 2009
A walk around town later in the day revealed this:
Monday, February 16, 2009
Translated into English as “the Black Shirts,” this force of rock and roll was one of the first things I found out about in Preslav, way back during my site visit in PST. The good people from the orphanage brought along an English translator while showing me around town and what I would be doing for the next two years. Turns out that the English translator (now my Bulgarian tutor) is the keyboardist in an awesome local band. They blew my socks off the first time I saw them, and I go back to check out their practices every once in a while, a few times a month.
Included in their repertoire are a number of Bulgarian rock songs (yes, they exist), as well as a surprising number of English songs (incl. "I Want to Break Free" and "Soldier of Fortune"). I’ve noticed that a lot of their songs are covers of a band here in Bulgaria called the Mary Boys Band (check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRFwv9dw7N0&feature=related - "Идва Ноща" or "The Night is Coming" for an idea). The lead singer flies through the songs with passion, while the drummer keeps time on either his electric drumset or a traditional one, and tosses in some creative fills. And of course, the keyboardist brings everything together, adding that extra layer of harmony to the sound.
The bassist is really good, and along with the lead guitarist, there is a lot of potential evident in the group. In between songs, the guitarist throws down metal riffs and Nirvana songs. The bassist thumbs through tabs, trying to get each song technically perfect...
Since I've been here, I've only seen them perform once outside of practices and that was at the obshtina's big annual Christmas concert, at which they performed a holiday song that I hadn't heard before. I want to see them put on more live shows, but really just hanging out in the chitalishte after tutoring is great too. Hey… I’m not complaining; it's a good time.
Until next time…
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I started and ended my week in Plovdiv (of which I'll post some pictures), and it was incredible getting to just walk around and explore the city for a while. I was also able to watch the Super Bowl and its amazing finish huddled with some good friends around a laggy internet stream of the game, but we indeed saw it all. Tampa looked good ;) . My birthday came and went in the midst of IST sessions, but it was alright because I was with friends, and I got to blow out a giant awkwardly placed candle in the middle of a piece of cake. Sweet!
As for IST itself – I got some really good ideas from the other volunteers, and at times the sessions were pretty informative and interesting. Above everything, however, it was awesome getting to spend the week with some of my favorite people here. Outside of the sessions we played some classic American games and bowling to pass the time and keep our minds off of work. The best part was probably the warm mineral pool at the hotel, where we hung out almost every day (not to mention the slide, hot tub, and sauna… fantastic).
I found out exactly how much I have progressed in the language by taking another LPI, and I got “Intermediate-High” which is a step above what I got last time I took it. I really can’t imagine what it's going to take to get to advanced level, since even though I am feeling more confident with the language, there are a lot of things that I still have problems with... There's a lot of things that I'm unable to say. I guess it just goes to show that I still have a long way to go. Even so, I picked up a Turkish language book to start studying later, since a lot of the kids at the orphanage speak it (and use it as a sort of "secret language" to hide things from the staff).
My counterpart and I have decided to work on a project involving a resource center for life skills materials at the orphanage, with which we will coordinate a life skills class for the kids there. This is something that I wanted to do going into site, but this has made things a bit more concrete on that front, and we now have something to work for, and we’ve banged out some ideas. Another volunteer and I are also going to coordinate a camp here for some of the kids, pending the approval of the directors of both orphanages. It would be a lot of fun and great for the kids to have this kind of learning experience and exchange, especially since our two orphanages are so different. The theme will be centered on the archaeological digs at the ruins of the old capital here, and hopefully we'll be partnering with the museum in Preslav as well. This is still kind of hypothetical right now, but I’m getting pretty excited about the idea of it.
For now, however, it’s back to life as usual in Preslav, with preschool in the morning and the orphanage in the afternoon. The change will be that I have some new ideas for groups, projects, and activities, and I’m really looking forward to trying some of these out. I think I’ll also try posting more about life here in Bulgaria in general, with more posts about food, culture, etc…
In the meantime, enjoy these pics of Plovdiv: