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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Bulgarian pasta dessert (Επιδόρπιο με μακαρόνια από την Βουλγαρία)

Spaghetti bolognaise, carbonara, puttanesca, pastitsio, lasagne - we know our pasta, and we like our pasta. How about pasta cooked with a sweet milky sauce? Never heard of it. Margaret told me that she often made it for her children (who are all grown up now) in Bulgaria. Well, I thought, if kids like it, then it must be good enough to eat. Would you like me to make you some? she asked. What a nice offer from someone who has to bear the grouch all day, and she still finds the energy to cook something. Yes, I thought, why not try it.

From this dessert, one could make the following assumptions about Bulgaria under the communist regime: life must have been difficult. Everyone had the same amount of everything, but there was not quite enough to go round. Whatever food was available had to be used, nothing could be wasted. Food had to be simple to make, yet tasty enough to eat. And you had to eat, to beat the freezing weather, so your food had to be rather stodgy. Basic ingredients had to be used and re-used in ever more creative ways in order to avoid eating them again and again in the same form. Hence, the creation of such a dessert: thick boiled spaghetti, with a hole in the middle, baked in an oven tin, with a sugar-egg-and-milk sauce. Something like a rice pudding.

Rice pudding! That's the answer. I couldn't eat this as it was. I sprinkled some cinnamon over my portion and added some sugar; I could have sworn I was eating Greek bougatsa. I couldn't have fathomed eating something so plain in our overly sophisticated world. If I made this again (which I probably won't), I would add a bit of nutmeg, a handful of raisins and maybe use less sauce. We all tried it, although it wasn't something that left a lingering taste in our mouth. But it did teach us all a thing or two about economising, and waste not want not. It is a recipe I would like to keep in mind for harder times, because you never know when they will come your way.

This post is dedicated to Margaret.

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