Rory Miller's book reveals the hidden face of rural life and food in Bulgaria
Rory Miller's book Eyeball It: Village Culinary Adventures is a funny, warm and sometimes poignant exploration of rural Bulgarian life, and its food and people in the 2020s. On the pages of this semi-travelogue, semi-memoir and semi-cookbook you will encounter semi-abandoned villages in the northwest and the southeast. You will walk dusty streets, enter old kitchens that have changed little since the 1980s, and watch how the chicken for the soup is caught, killed and plucked. Then you will sit at tables covered with oilcloth and share the feast with your hosts, drinking their homemade booze and listening to their life stories. These are seemingly unremarkable as most of the people that Rory Miller met while researching his book have rarely ventured far from their villages. And yet, in the eyes of their American guest diligently eating their mekitsi, or fried dough, and drinking their wine, they seem quietly content and comfortable with their lives. If only the roads to their villages were better and there was some healthcare...
The idea behind Eyeball It is simple. Miller visited a number of ordinary villagers from Bulgaria's northwest, officially the poorest region in the EU, and the comparatively affluent southeast. He stayed in their homes, ate their food, wrote down the recipes and listened to the stories of his hosts. He quickly realised that most of the things in the lives of these people could not be measured and labelled, from the exact recipes and ingredients of the dishes they cooked, to their love for their villages, gardens and traditions, and their simple, frugal lifestyle. This is why he named the book Eyeball It.
Rory Miller is an American who moved to Bulgaria 15 years ago and sampled everything imaginable on the local food scene. He made craft beer, was a chef at several restaurants, created menus, and competed in MasterChef, a cooking reality show. Eyeball It is his latest project.
It is a genuinely funny book filled with generous portraits of his hosts and local recipes you will not find in any traditional restaurant. Some have rather ominous names, such as Godparent Rooster, White Man and Priest's Stew.
Miller's book could easily have become a sugar-coated picture of rural Bulgarian life in the 21st century. It escapes this because of its author's willingness to engage with the hardships in these lives: the bad roads, the lack of healthcare, the unemployment, the skimpy pensions and the depopulation.
Eyeball it: Village Culinary Adventures was published in Bulgarian in September by Knigolandia. Its US edition will be published in January 2024