Where the Bulgarian and the Bavarian meet
Everyone living and working in a multicultural environment is aware that each country has its own specifics as to the ways of communication, business practices and even leisure. In my years-long work at the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, I have had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in this. My German partners make a distinct difference between the professional and the personal, whereas for Bulgarian business people this line is blurred and personal contacts are given somewhat greater weight. German entrepreneurs know how to make long-term plans, in contrast to their Bulgarian counterparts, who are very flexible and adapt easily to changes in the environment in which they operate.
Gastronomy is no exception, and I am privileged to enjoy the cuisines of both Bulgaria and Germany. Since 2003 the chamber has been representing Bavaria in Bulgaria, and when I am in Bavaria, either on business or to visit with friends, I lose no opportunity to taste bretzels, Schweinehaxe, wursts and the inimitable Käsekuchen.
But much more often I am here in Bulgaria — the chamber, whose members are more than 430 leading companies from the two countries, is a business bridge between the two countries. As we provide market and legal information, investment consulting, search for business partners and personnel, very often we entertain colleagues from Germany. Every time the occasion permits, I take them to places of historical significance — Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, the Rila or Bachkovo monasteries. Usually they are fascinated not only with the sights, but also with the Bulgarian food and spices. I recall a colleague of mine, a German businessman, who was so charmed with our cuisine that he felt like staying in Bulgaria longer than he had planned. Recently I took guests from Germany to the Dalboka mussels farm on the northern Black Sea coast between Kavarna and the village of Balgarevo. Although, admittedly, the food that is served there cannot be classed as strictly Bulgarian, the result surpassed our expectations.
But let me return to Sofia where the chamber is based. There are lots of good restaurants, I cannot single out just one. Competition picked up in recent years, food quality improved, and new restaurant brands and chains emerged. But I still prefer taking my colleagues and friends from abroad to places which serve Bulgarian food in a traditional Bulgarian environment. My list for such occasions includes Pri Yafata (28 Solunska St; phone: 980 1727), Vodenitzata, or The Watermill (Dragalevtsi; phone: 9671058), Pod Lipite, or Under the Linden Trees (1 Elin Pelin St; phone: 866 5053), Manastirska Magernitsa, or Monastery Kitchen (67 Han Asparuh St; phone: 980 3883). All these venues have been proven to meet every standard — my guests feel equally good in each of them and service is excellent. The shopska salata and rakiya are excellent, and the well-cooked roast lamb and skewers never fail to impress.
I am a sports buff and I never miss the morning jogging and the sports events of the German community in Sofia. We follow a tradition to gather for a football or volleyball match at least once a month. Afterwards, a glass of beer is sheer delight. German-beer aficionados know that the perfect place for a cold Hefeweizer, Bavaria's typical beer, is Warsteiner (7 Gurko St; phone: 981 4005). Drink it with Nuremberg or Frankfurt wursts. If you prefer the Berlin Eisbein – this is pork knuckle with mustard and kraut – go to Bitburger Club (20 Stefan Karadzha St; phone: 981 9665). At least for a little while you are guaranteed to enjoy the difference in cuisine.
*Dr Mitko Vassilev is general manager of the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce