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Traditional and Tasty: North Central Bulgaria

The BTA English Service is running a series of stories on traditional foods and recipes in the six planning regions of Bulgaria: North Central, South Central, North Eastern, South Eastern, South Western and North Western. The opening story is about the cuisine of the North Central Region.
One of the culinary symbols not only of North Central Bulgaria but also of the entire country is the Gornooryahovski Sudzhuk, a dried sausage dating back centuries. According to ethnographers, local people began making the delicacy as early as back in the 16th-17th century. 
The Gornooryahovski Sudzhuk is made from natural gut filled with machine-minced beef that is mixed with herbs. Over the years, producers took into account the dry and lighter air currents in the northeastern part of Gorna Oryahovitsa, which contribute to the easier drying of the sudzhuk and the formation of the typical white noble mould on its surface that serves as a preservative.  The Director of the History Museum in Gorna Oryahovitsa, Plamen Mademov, told BTA that the documents of local traders from the 19th century contain detailed data about the amount of meat purchased and how much it cost to make the delicacy. In 1861, the Gornooryahovski Sudzhuk won its first international distinction: an award for producer Mihail Nikolov at an international industrial fair in Italy. 
On December 21, 2011, the Gornooryahovski Sudzhuk was listed in the EU’s geographical indications register as a Protected Geographical Indication.  
Only three companies from Gorna Oryahovitsa have the stickers certifying that the sudzhuk they produce meets the EU’s standards, Mademov said.
Another dried meat delicacy typical of North Central Bulgaria is Role Trapezica, made out of raw pork based on a recipe dating back to 1981. Since then, the product has become popular across the country, BTA learned from Engineer Pavlina Lilova, chief expert at the Association of Meat Processors in Bulgaria. Role Trapezica has been registered by the European Commission as food with traditionally specific character. The area of Elena is famous for its Elena-style leg of pork, the preparation of which is a centuries-old tradition here. The fresh leg of pork used in the traditional recipe is cured in salt for over a month then hung in an airy place to dry up for about a year.
There are five producers of Elena-style leg of pork registered at the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency, the head of the local tourism council, Stelian Dimitrov, told BTA. Each year in October, Elena has a day dedicated to the delicacy where people can try Elena-style leg of pork and learn how it is made.   In the Gabrovo area, one of the most typical dishes is the shtirnik, a type of banitsa [traditional Bulgarian pastry dish] where the filo pastry sheets are filled with a specific variety of orache the locals call shtir. Shtir grows in almost every garden but in some parts is it considered a weed. According to a recipe provided by the Regional Ethnographic Open-Air Museum Etar, the shtirnik can also have a filling of dock or spinach, depending on the season.  In the Ruse area, the specific local dishes include raki, echenitsa, and the makarina, BTA learned from ethnographer Iskra Todorova of the Ruse Regional History Museum.
Raki is a dish made of dried red peppers stuffed with groats. 
Echenitsa is a fish sauce, mostly used on grilled carp. According to a recipe from the village of Ivanovo, the sauce is made with vegetable oil, butter, walnuts, garlic, vinegar, parsley, salt, and black pepper.
Makarina is a type of banitsa. According to the recipe originating from an older woman from the village of Beltsov, several of the filo pastry sheets for makarina need to be thicker than the rest and to be steamed. The sheets are stacked with cheese in between.  Razgrad Region is known for the Kapansko yogurt, the local recipe for which dates back centuries. The Deputy Director of the Regional History Museum in Razgrad, Daniela Gancheva, told BTA that this yogurt is so thick that you can cut it with a knife and even if you turn the open pot upside down, the yogurt will not fall out. In the past, locals chose their daughters-in-law based on their skill in making this dairy delicacy. 
An interesting detail in the traditional recipe is that while you are boiling the milk, you need to blow on the forming cream three times while making a specific sound, believed to have a magical power and keep bad luck away. Once the boiled milk is mixed with yogurt to ferment in a copper or clay pot, you need to wrap the closed pot in wool and leave it for 3 to 4 hours at a stable temperature of 38C to 40C; more hours equal a stronger taste.
Another local specialty is the kombastiya, Gancheva said. It is a dessert made of pumpkin, dried fruit (prunes, pears, and apricots), and sugar.
The village of Smilets is known for its madjun, or watermelon honey. It is used as a sweetener and is suitable for diabetics. The locals make madjun by boiling the insides of a watermelon once to get juice and a second time, after the seeds’ removal, to thicken the juice. The boiling process happens over a fire in a specifically made hole in the ground with a nest for the pot and an exit for the smoke. The community centre in the village of Nova Cherna has a Romanian recipe for mamaliga from the 1940s. The dish is made by mixing corn semolina and milk to form dough balls that are filled with cheese then grilled. The community centre has been organizing a mamaliga festival for ten years now.
BTA correspondents Marina Petrova, Radoslav Purvanov, Sadet Kurova, Martin Penev, and Alexander Levi contributed to this story.