Morish pintxos | Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

I love good food, and all different kinds of it. I can’t resist France’s fatty foie gras, the umami that is Japanese miso soup, the freshness of a Bulgarian shopska salad, the light deliciousness of a Greek octopus, or even the heaviness of a good medium-cooked American hamburger and home-made fries.

But my absolute favorite food of all are the bite-sized pieces of deliciousness that are the Basque pintxos. Basically little snacks, pintxos consist of a head-dizzying array of mouth-watering delicacies flavored to perfection – anything from tuna/bonito, anchovies, shrimps, crabs, jamon, beef, mushrooms, stuffed or roasted peppers, eggs, tortillas or croquettes, usually in a combination, served on top of a little slice of bread and pierced through by a toothpick. (This method also gives them their name – from the Spanish pincho, meaning ‘spike’. The toothpicks are used not just to hold them together but also – as the serving system usually involves taking whatever you want from the bar counter, where they are beckoningly arranged, and paying later, as a way to show and pay for the number of pintxos eaten.)

The first time I was exposed to the glory of pintxos was about eight years ago in a Basque pintxos bar in Madrid, where I was shocked not just by the deliciousness of the snacks, but also by the fact that the bar’s floor was barely visible from the countless napkins strewn across it. (My efforts to daintily leave my napkin on the bar were countered by the unfaltering wait staff who swiftly brushed them off the counter top and onto the floor. I suppose, just as a crowded restaurant in many places is seen as a sign for the quality of its food, the napkins on the floor signaled a numerous and happy clientele. ) The toothpicks were presented to the cashier in the end and not one could be seen among the napkins, as getting rid of them was a grave offense punishable by a fine.

Since then, I used every chance I got – during subsequent trips to Barcelona and Madrid, to stuff my face senseless with the little morsels of heaven.

So, you can imagine my rapture when I ended up in Bilbao and pintxos were available at literally every street and every corner. During the two days I was there, not one opportunity to put some in my mouth was wasted – whether it be a few with my morning coffee, several to pass the time after ducking inside a bar to hide from the rain or the head-spinning dozen devoured after a long day spent at the Guggenheim (I’m all for feeding my soul and spirit, but my body just couldn’t resist.)

The last place is where the above picture was taken and, if you look closely, you’ll see some discarded toothpicks lying alongside the napkins on the floor. When I voiced my concern about how they would be able to charge us in the end, the man on the other side of the bar calmly assured us that we would just simply tell him how much we’ve had. And yes, I was tempted to lie, not because I wanted to pay less, but because I was slightly embarrassed by the whooping number twelve that I polished off, compared to the modest four or five everyone else seemed to be paying for.

Point is, once you start eating pintxos, it is very difficult to stop – they are the epitome of the word morish, used in reference to addictive food that makes you want to continue to eat more and more of it, which I learned, not incidentally, while stuffing my face with pintxos in Barcelona (thanks, Slave, for the vocab lessons!).

But in addition to not being able to stop once I start eating them, I am also pretty sure that – if I had to chose a single type of food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be pintxos. I could really have them every single day, numerous times a day.

But, in a way, it might be a good thing that I don’t have constant access to pintxos. Among other gastric challenges it would present, I believe that eating them everyday would surely lead to the demise of this blog, as my protruding belly would quickly make it impossible for me to see my own feet. I’ll just keep telling myself that, anyway. It’s the silver lining, people, the silver lining!

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria

My two favorite twins fine2meline finally made it to Sofia for a week-long visit of fun fun fun. Thinking back on it, it seems that much of our activities were centered around eating. When we weren’t actually eating, we were either talking about it, planning our upcoming feasts, commenting on past meals, making restaurant reservations, shopping for groceries, cooking (in which case, by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’), setting the table, clearing the dishes or trying to digest the copious amounts of ingested food.

So, as you can imagine, we didn’t have much time for pictures.* It is, in fact, a small wonder that we were able to do anything else at all. Even when we did, eating managed to make its way into whatever else we were doing. Take a stroll around Sofia? Only after we fortify ourselves with some delicious soup and then take a few beer breaks along the way. Have a look at the Women’s market? Why not use the chance to stop by for some mekitsi (fried dough) and a meal at a Turkish restaurant (where we were the only female customers)? Go to the Rila Monastery? Sure, and we might as well have some delicious sourdough bread (and mekitsi again!) in between all the sightseeing, the hiking, the writing of prayers (on small peaces of paper, which then get folded and places between rocks) and the making our way through cave holes (made precarious by our growing girths). Hang out with friends? Would love to, provided it all happens over a dinner table. Join the evening crowds at the Night of the Museums and Galleries? But of course, assuming they let us into the museums with two loafs of said sourdough bread in our bags. Go out on the town? Not without a heavy dinner to start with and a classic sobering-up visit to Divaka in the middle of the night. Staying in? Sounds good, considering we could have some of my grandmother’s sarmi or cook dinner ourselves.

I was a little heart-broken after Tina and Nina went back to Slovenia. Thankfully, there was the homemade cheesecake they left behind, which kept my spirits up for a few days (Thank you! Hvala! Merci! – and not just for the cheesecake. “Still hungry!”).

*Incidentally (or not), both of the pictures in this post were taken immediately after eating – the first one is on Shishman Street, just a few steps away from our favorite souperie Supa Star, and the second is the entryway of the Street Bistro on Tsar Asen Street, which boasts some of the tastiest meatballs and the most outrageously entertaining waiter in the city. Protruding bellies were diligently cropped out.

Graffiti beneath my feet | Sofia, Bulgaria

Sunday afternoon was supposed to be spent at home, working and dealing with various piles (of clothes, magazines, books, dirty dishes) that have accumulated over the past week. Instead, it got much more exciting when I headed out to meet a friend for coffee and ended up running into an old acquaintance, browsing through a small design show, having lunch with my friend, meeting up with a new one, then getting some tea and, in the end, running into three more friends.

One of my favorite parts of the afternoon was asking the guy who was spray painting the floors of the bar where we were having tea to hold still, so I can take a picture of his hand without its getting blurry.* What can I say, sometimes I am brazen like that. Or maybe it was the spray-paint fumes that filled the bar and made me light-headed.

*Lesson learned: to always bring my camera along, so that I’m not forced to interrupt creative processes while trying to take a photo with my phone. Apologies for the low quality of the picture.

Good Bye, Lenin! | Sofia, Bulgaria

… or, how the mighty have fallen.

The experience of sitting in the Toba&Co bar, located at the back of the former palace and the current national gallery in Sofia, is pleasurable as it is. But, in addition to the hot chocolate, the blankets on the chairs in the autumn and spring, and the standing sculptures scattered around the small park it overlooks, an unexpected and easy to miss delight is the absurd view of a large monument of Lenin – lying belly down and arm outstretched, in the grass.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name | Sofia, Bulgaria

I have a thing for having a regular bar. Lately, that bar has been Butcher’s, located on Sheynovo Street in one of my favorite neighborhoods of Sofia. In the past year or so, it has been the place where I pop in, through the heavy velvet curtains at the door, for a drink after dinner in the next-door restaurant (of the same name and owners); the place where I go to meet friends for an early evening quick drink; or where I end up as a last stop on a long night of running around other parties in the city. During Sofia Design Week, I was bound to stumble into it almost nightly after the open-air party in the nearby Academy of Fine Arts’ courtyard had shut down, too early for the taste of the party-goers-turned-design-aficionados.

Even just over a year ago, Butcher’s was one of a handful of cool bars on Sofia’s otherwise lively nightlife scene. Though it has since been joined by several more – thus complicating the previously non-existent dilemma of where to go, it remains one of the coolest. It stays open late, the music is almost always good, the crowd without fail has familiar faces in it, and the bartenders are just the right mix of attentive and not-in-your-face. It’s a good place to go for a quiet chat with someone or to stumble in with a rowdy group.

But what really sets it apart is its interior – paradoxically the most minimalist Sofia’s bar scene has seen. In the smoky, just dark enough space, the polished concrete bar top stretches along its entire length, the old tables and chairs are pushed against the roughly finished walls, across from the hand-assembled bar stools that are so precarious that I vowed to not judge anyone falling off of them.

Down to its bathrooms (in the picture above*), which are unisex – to the confusion to those more prudishly inclined, Butcher’s has perfected the mix of shabby simplicity and good taste that so evades most of Sofia’s other watering holes.

Butcher’s, however, is probably just a temporary sidetrack from my usual regular bar, Hambara. With an interior that is also quite minimalist, but in a very different way and with very different results – wooden bar tops and high chairs and candles everywhere, it has held a special place in my heart for the past six-odd years, when it was really the only place where I always felt like stopping by. To this day, the bartender pours me my usual drink without waiting for me to order. As a result, Hambara has been the scene of all kinds of important events and celebrations for me – birthdays and name days, New Year’s nights, first and last dates, welcome back parties, post-wedding drinks and pre-departure gatherings. It’s now lost its underground feel to an extent – to get in before, one had to have a key or knock on the unmarked door, but it is still one of Sofia’s most special places. Without fail, it always arises fire hazard concerns among foreigners who visit it.

One place I don’t particularly like and where everybody most definitely does not know my name, is another recent newcomer to Sofia’s nightlife – the Culture Beat club. Its interior is too busy, too pretentious and trying too hard and its crowds are too self-consciously hip for me, but lately I have been ending up there quite frequently, because of friends (thanks a lot, Victor!).

Truth be told, though, I have actually kind of started to enjoy observing the vanity fair’s procession. And besides, watching the sunrise from its terrace almost makes me forget the annoying hipsters inside.

*Apologies to the guy who had to wait outside the bathroom while I took forever trying to get a good photo.