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The savoury dish distinguishes Bulgaria on the culinary atlas of the world

Have your banitsa pie and eat it… in good company

Photo: BGNES-library

Food unites, food connects us all, and through food we get to know each other. But not all foods are equal. The world culinary encyclopaedia of traditional dishes Taste Atlas has catalogued both popular and forgotten dishes from around the globe. Bulgaria has a significant place on the world culinary map, but it seems that the delicious Bulgarian pastry dish "banitsa" is the newest discovery of the Taste Atlas authors.

"Banitsa can tell a lot about the region it comes from," ethnographic researcher Desislava Dimitrova says in an interview for BNR's regional radio station in Vidin.

„Bulgarian sharena sol (a signature Bulgarian spice, mixture of salt, herbs and spices) used to be at the top of the list in this Atlas, and now our filo pastry dish banitsa is gaining popularity. In Bulgaria, every region has its own varieties of banitsa", explains researcher Desislava Dimitrova. "For example, in the Ivaylovgrad region they prepare it with sesame and tahini. In the mountainous areas people prefer a banitsa with leafy vegetables, rather than the much richer banitsa with eggs and cheese. I would say that this is a Bulgarian regional, not national food."

The exact historical moment when Bulgarian women started to prepare banitsa is yet undetermined, but perhaps it was around the time people learned to use wheat flour. In order to roll well, the flour for the thin sheets of the filo pastry must have a fairly high gluten content, which is characteristic of wheat flour, Desislava Dimitrova explains.

Berkovitsa in the early 1920s, women preparing the special Banitsa filo dough

"Judging by this I think that the banitsa is a relatively new dish in historical terms. Banitsa is not called that way anywhere else, except in our country, but this does not make it a uniquely Bulgarian dish. It is popularized by Bulgaria, but we must keep in mind that there are many masters of baked pies and pastries outside our borders. This in turn connects us with our neighbours here in the Balkans,“ the ethnographic researcher adds.

Pies and dishes of ​​sheets of filo pastry with a filling inside  such as the ingredients of the traditional banitsa, are prepared in a large area - from the Middle East to the end of the Balkan Peninsula in the west.

For the Bulgarians, however, the smell of a freshly baked banitsa is associated with home, family and coziness. It brings back childhood memories of grandma's kitchen, the researcher points out.

"Banitsa is the only Bulgarian dish for which it is essential to have company when you eat it. It is made at once in a large pan, and it is good to eat it still warm. That is why the pie is usually made for a holiday, so that people can get together and enjoy it,” explains Desislava Dimitrova.

“I associate the banitsa with my childhood. I used to live with my grandmother in Montana, who was a gourmet cook. The aroma of baked sheets of filo pastry and of pie in general always brings me back to that taste in my childhood. My Montana grandmother was originally from a village in the Balkan Mountains. My other grandmother was from Zlatia, which is a village on the fertile land on the banks of the Danube.

My Montana granny used to prepare banitsa with green leaves - saltbushes and docks, while the Zlatia granny used to say that the only true banitsa was the one with eggs and cheese. This is a proof that in the Northwest of Bulgaria they have different idea of the pie as a status signifier, i.e. “we from the flat field can afford our pie to be rich - with eggs and cheese, and those people who are having a harder time living in the mountainous areas must use greenery for the filling of their pie."

Compiled by  Gergana Mancheva /interview by Victoria Topalska, BNR-Vidin/

English version: Elizabeth Radkova

Photos: BGNES-library, Facebook/TasteAtlas,
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