Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why aren't there more cows?

I found a place selling baked goods I had not seen before and stopped to have a look. Tom the English guy and I have been lamenting the lack of fresh baked bread in Veliko Turnovo since we first sunk our teeth into the boring white bread they eat here. There is still a Soviet mentality here when it comes to food - no variety. Take cheese, for instance. You can have sirene, which is a wonderful feta-like cheese, and there is kashkavel, which is an oily, yellow cheese. I would like to cook Cincinnati Chili for the hostel - you know, something to share from home - but cheddar cheese is nowhere to be found, and it is an essential ingredient! The other ingredient I'm worried about finding is Worcestershire sauce. I'm not sure how I could substitute for that.

Last night, Tom, Fedio, and I were sitting in the common room when Tom asked Fedio why there aren't more cows in Bulgaria. The question came up while we trekked to the monastery when we talked about how most of the beef here is veal, and even that isn't common. Strange considering the cost of veal. Anyway, Fedio blames communism. In 1956, if I remember correctly, the Bulgarian government, which had been "voted" into power by "Bulgarian" citizens, nationalized the land and cow farms were split up since no one could own more than everyone else, so the cows had to be redistributed. Thousands of people resisted and were killed or put into concentration camps and displaced from their lands.

Fast forward to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Imagine the mess the new Bulgarian government had to go through in giving the land back to its rightful owners or their heirs. Many of the documents used to prove land ownership were destroyed under communism, and many people have died or were killed and left no heirs. Hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farm land lay unclaimed across the country. Some people have managed to prove ownership and are living on the family farm. Others are using the land to build hotels or resorts or condos in a get-rich-quick-and-now mentality rather than trying to build the necessary infrastructure to turn Bulgaria into a developed country. Corruption is rampant, with bids going to contractors who have friends in government or who have paid large bribes. No one seems willing to be patient and put forth the hard work and effort it takes to raise cattle or other crops because the fruits of this labor are not immediate.

It kills variety, it really does. So when I saw the croissants in the store window, I rejoiced, despite them being filled with kashkaval. They were warm and had been baked in the morning, and in my ravenous desire for freshly baked bread, I threw my change down and stuffed one into my mouth right there on the street. It was by no means the best croissant I ever had, but by god, was I grateful for it!

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