On our last night in Sofia, Nick and I had two restaurants picked out, in case of summer closures or difficulty with reservations. One was a traditional Bulgarian place, the other was what I would call “New Bulgarian,” (like New American, but with a different set of traditions to build on and different local foodstuffs to choose from). To be honest, I was leaning toward the latter. Since we weren’t about to attempt a phone call in Bulgarian (a phrasebook only gets you so far), we brought our list down to the lobby of our hotel and asked the woman at the desk if she could make reservations for us, which she was more than happy to do. When she saw the first place on the list (Pod Lipite – the traditional Bulgarian one), her face lit up. “This is a Bulgarian place!” She exclaimed, excited and a little surprised. We took that as a good sign, so when she was able to get us reservations, we eagerly accepted.
Pod Lipite, it turns out, is something of an institution in Sofia. Founded in the 1920’s, it used to be a haunt for the city’s journalists and writers. These days it plays host to Bulgarians young and old, usually when they have something to celebrate.
(A short aside – as I write this, I’ve got a batch of rhubarb-Reine Claude jam going, so I’ve been getting up every couple of minutes to stir it and check the temperature. Now it’s done, but I find those jars of jam cooling on the counter very distracting. My mouth is watering just imagining how good it’s going to be on buttered pain de céréales in the morning, baked into a jam tart, stirred into yogurt, or, hell, spooned over ice cream. Of course we don’t have any ice cream at the moment, and there’s no room in the freezer anyway, or you know what I’d be eating right now. But back to Bulgaria…)
That helps. We started out by ordering a bottle of Bulgarian rosé, which we definitely preferred to the red. The table was set with an array of spices, we assumed for both bread-dipping and seasoning purposes.
But unlike Manastirska Magernitsa, the bread wasn’t brought out immediately. We ordered two servings of bread, and out this came: