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Holding a slice of bread with lyutenitsa in hand ...

21 November 2014 / 17:11:02  GRReporter
2486 reads

Ivan Petkov

Almost every child who was born and grew up in Bulgaria under communism remembers the slice of bread with lyutenitsa (a sort of vegetable relish) spread on it, this memory evoking…colourful nostalgia. If there is unanimity in contemporary Bulgarian society in terms of the era before 1989, then it is expressed by the fact that this page is still open, one way or another. There are many ways to look at our controversial past, one of the most interesting being through the prism of food.

Youth or childhood, for today’s adults it is the memory of a slice of bread with lyutenitsa spread on it, or marmalade or halva with butter. Marzipan, in the Bulgarian way, boza (a fermented wheat beverage) that cost 0.08 leva (this was its highest price at that time), Vienna sausages, baked with yellow cheese, russensko vareno (a tin of boiled pork/veal), the sediment in true beer that "endured" only a few days, chocolate "Krava" (Cow) and candies "Caramel moo"...and more, and more. Some will associate this with deprivation and with the queues that formed at holidays, when shops offered bananas or goods that were rarely supplied; or with the stands of identical goods and their antithesis, Corecoms. Others will associate this time with equality, with the fact that there were few things but they were sufficient for all, that money was enough and one could afford everything.

Regardless of what we think and feel under the pressure of memories that come from our taste receptors, the fact is that we still feel nostalgic or harbour bad memories. This is how food becomes the cause for another separation in our society.

The book by journalist Albena Shkodrova "Sots gourmet" which is now in bookshops, tries to look at our communist past precisely through the prism of food and people's attitude towards it. At first glance, the book seems large, if we judge according to our expectations for a work on such a "trivial issue". A second glance, however, reveals that something more hides behind the subject. The author has collected in the book over 80 interviews with, and memories of, the people involved in the production and distribution of socialist food, revealing the attitude towards it. She has collected the stories of the most famous products at that time as well as interesting photos.

While turning over the pages of the book, for a moment I felt like I was holding in my hand a slice of bread with lyutenitsa spread on it of which I had already taken a bite or two of, I felt as if I was running while my mother or my grandmother was calling me to stop and eat my slice of bread in peace. I remembered a friend who used to quote his grandfather who had told him that our lyutenitsa "is poor but that of the Greeks is true because there is cheese in it." I do not even know if this is so, I just remembered it, because I used to sprinkle some cheese on my slice of bread.

In addition to the personal memories and senses provoked by the study, I have concluded that food reflects in a particular way the era, the way people live and even their thoughts and the ideologies imposed on them. Today every child can buy what we knew as "an egg from Corecom." I think that sometimes we forget the essence of those times and let the memories and nostalgia for childhood or youth take precedence.

I experienced this personally, it could not be otherwise. Therefore, this article has become pretty personal, somehow with "a slice of bread in hand." Maybe it has evoked good memories in you. We can proceed in our development as people and society only by appreciating our common past and then let it mature for the generations to come.

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