Podcast in English
Text size
Bulgarian National Radio © 2023 All Rights Reserved

Halva, boza, cham zakaz

Photo: www.lostbulgaria.com
The Bulgarians born in the 1930s still remember the street vendors in Bulgarian towns and villages who would call out “Halva, boza, cham sakaz!” to invite people to buy from their sweets. Usually the vendors were young men who were the apprentices of halva and boza masters. The latter made in their workshops Tahini halva as well as boza, a malt drink made from wheat or millet. Cham sakaz, what was a chewing gum made from resin, was imported from Turkey.

Having appeared millennia ago, sugar entered Bulgarian traditional cuisine somewhat late. According to historians, it first appeared in India and China, but only received its name a few centuries before the Common Era. Its name is believed to have originated from Sanskrit and sounded like the word “sarkara”. Hence, we have “zucchero” in Italian, “seker” in Turkish, “zucker” in German, “sugar” in English, etc. The Bulgarian word for sugar, “zahar”, sounds like its foreign counterparts, too. Although scholars and folklorists have described a number of rituals that make use of sugar, the truth is that up until the early 20 century, Bulgarian households would hardly use this product. For centuries, Bulgaria’s traditional disserts had been dried fruits, honey and baked pumpkin. Sometimes the fruits and honey would be garnished with boiled wheat. For the people who were used to eating the fruits of their labour, sugar was a luxury they could not afford. Furthermore, since Bulgarians stored many different fruits in their cellars throughout the winter, they didn’t actually need sugar. Granny Elena from the town of Bansko, mother of Bulgarian genius poet Nikola Vaptsarov, wrote she would buy around 1 kilo of sugar once a year. “Just to have it at home”, she noted. Perhaps Bulgarians consumed most sugar when eating halva and boza.

The boza is a sweet drink made from different kinds of ground grain crops. Once, Bulgarian boza masters would produce the best boza from millet flour. They would prepare a dough which they baked until the crust was golden. After that, they boiled it in a cauldron filled with water for a couple of hours. The drink then had to remain in a special trough. It mattered what material was used to make the trough. The stories of old masters had it that the best container should be made from Bosnian Pine. To the boiled flour, they added yeast made with the help of well-tested technologies. The boza had to remain mixed with the yeast for 8 hours. Finally, it was mixed with sugar and filtered. The final result was a low alcoholic beverage that was sold in the sweet shops of towns. Boza makers would also sell their product in villages. They carried huge cans and smaller metal containers to measure the drink. It is believed that the boza originated in Albania. In Bulgaria, one could still hear stories about Albanians who sold boza and sweets in the capital. The most popular boza makers in Bulgaria were the ones from the town of Radomir. In fact, it is in Radomir that one can see the world’s only monument of the boza maker.
You can find different kinds of boza in Bulgaria’s sweet stores, shops and big supermarket chains. However, the people who still remember the clattering of metal pots in the streets and the calls of boza makers, claim today’s boza does not taste as good.
The citizens of Sofia would socialize over a glass of boza until the mid 20th century. In his book Memories For Old Sofia, writer Dragan Tenev writes that the capital’s centre had several popular sweet shops called boza shops. Back then it was quite common to see a young man declaring his love for the lady of his heart, holding a glass of boza. “Yes, this is what things were like in the boza era, when people still danced English waltz”, the writer concludes.

One of Bulgarians’ favourite disserts is Tahini halva. Like sugar, it also comes from India. Disserts made from sesame, sugar, honey, sunflower oil and various nuts can be found in almost every culture. The region of the Rhodope Mountain in Bulgaria has for centuries produced high quality sesame. In folk medicine, people use it to treat joint diseases and stomach problems as well as to boost the immune system. Once upon a time, the craft of halva making was passed down from master to journeyman. Later, when Bulgaria got its first certified confectioners having received their education in Austria and other European countries, they added the halva to their range of products.
The cham sakaz was also very popular among Bulgarians. It was an extremely healthy chewing gum made from the resin of a tree that grows best in the Mediterranean countries. This resin was called mastic in Greece. Bulgaria imported it from Turkey and Greece. The mastic was also used for the production of different varnishes, ink, etc. In Bulgaria, children would be treated with this resin when having mouth cavity problems and stomach aches. To the present, the mastic can be found in Bulgarian pharmacies. It is a favourite ingredient in many folk recipes, which are still widely used.

English version: Vyara Popova
По публикацията работи: Albena Bezovska
Listen to the daily news from Bulgaria presented in "Bulgaria Today" podcast, available in Spotify.

More from category

Kardzhali is hosting folklore dance festival of amateur clubs

For the 8th time, Kardzhali is hosting the Folklore Festival of amateur folk dance clubs "Perpera".   The forum will gather today on the stage of the theater in Kardzhali more than 420 amateur dancers from all over the country. They will perform..

published on 11/11/23 7:05 AM

Bulgarian folk costumes from the Rhodopes inspire young European designers

Bulgarian national folk costumes from the Rhodope region inspired young European designers, finalists in the Open Space Foundation's Echo Academies project , BTA reported, citing Alma Communication. In the recently concluded first stage of the..

published on 11/4/23 12:35 PM

BNR’s Folk Music Orchestra opens 71st season

The Bulgarian National Radio’s Folk Music Orchestra is entering its 8 th decade with a concert, tonight, 19 October, at 7 PM at the BNR’s Studio No. 1. The musicians and their conductor Dimitar Hristov, will present a programme with two..

published on 10/19/23 11:13 AM