White, green and red! These are the colors of Bulgaria’s flag. These are also the colors of the Bulgarian culinary masterpiece – the Shoppe salad. It has become the trademark and emblem of Bulgarian traditional cuisine, but has also stirred quite a number of Balkan disputes.
Obviously the symbiosis between sunshine-grown Bulgarian tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions cut in small pieces and covered with mashed white brine cheese and fresh parsley creates a unique taste that everyone adores. In fact one of the first phrases foreigners learn when coming to Bulgaria is “shopska salata”. The charm of this salad comes from the simple combination of mutually complementary but also contrasting tastes of fresh vegetables and cheese. Its triumph beyond the borders of the country brought it fame but also disputes on its origin and “intellectual property”. The latest one was stirred by a Serbian newspaper, which claims that the Shoppe salad is rather a Serb specialty and not a Bulgarian, Macedonian or Czech one. The reaction of Bulgarian chefs was immediate. The Plovdiv guild stood up with the argument that void of the patriotic approach, the Serbs mix the dish with lots of chili peppers and use no cheese. The decisive word was that of Miroslav Stefanovic alias Master Miro, a 4-time culinary champion of Serbia, currently owner of the most popular Serb restaurant in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. His firm opinion is that the Shoppe salad is Bulgarian and that “a salad is nothing to open a war for, anyway”. But disputes got so heated that opinions were heard for the need to obtain a registered trademark on the culinary piece. Perhaps Bulgaria would demand recognition of “Intellectual property” on the Shoppe salad similarly to Russia and Poland who are arguing about whose word “Vodka” is. Other known international disputes are those about the “Sacher” cake, the Cognac and Champaign.
Which is the motherland of the Shoppe salad and what is the secret for its triumph?
“The Shoppe salad appears for the first time in a recipe book published by the socialist Ministry of Trade, which was at that time in charge of tourism as well, explains Ivan Zvesdev, culinary expert and host to the very popular TV show “Bon Appetit”. It was not before 1960 that it became the symbol of the restaurants of the “Balkantourist” socialist chain. That was a period when traditional style wineries were gaining popularity, launched as a way for attracting more guests from abroad by offering them a unique product. Recipe books from around 1890 and later on – about the 1930s do not contain such a dish. However, on the Balkans and throughout Central Europe the Shoppe salad is very much loved because in the past most foreign tourists came from the former socialist states – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia. It is only natural that they should have kept the memory of this fantastic salad served with grape brandy. With time they started preparing it in their own countries.”
Similar to the Shoppe salad is the Greek “Horiatiki” but the taste is different. The vegetables are cut in larger pieces, the cheese is in cubes and it contains olives as well. The Bulgarian salad is widely spread in Hungary. In some Czech and Slovak restaurants it is on the Menu list with its original name “Shopski salat” in a somewhat more Czrech variant – either without peppers or without onions but with a pinch of sugar. However, there is no other European salad with so rich a taste and at the same time so fresh and healthy. It is unique for Bulgaria. And those countries that have learned to make it could only be thankful to us.
English version: Iva Letnikova