About the Project
The map of (Near) Eastern tastes outlines a flavourful dive and discovery into the culturally abundant area around Tsar Simeon st. Here you can definitively find a multitude of precious foods, spices and human stories. The salesmen, the confectioners, the bakers and the cooks from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey and Palestine, create combinations of tastes and scents, which guide us through multiple sensory journeys.
Our motivation to create this map lies in the desire to offer one possible route for interaction with the owners of these places, where you can find different interesting products.
For tens of years the area, which the map outlines, has been inhabited by people from different countries, cultures and religions. And because it continues to be so motley to this day, it enriches us and the life in Sofia both culturally and socially.
Whether you visit often or you’ve never been here before, we invite you to dive into the area first online and then - offline. We invite you to peep behind the bakery window, to have a closer look at the numerous jars filling the shelves of the shops, to close your eyes and inhale the scent of an unknown spice.
Have a pleasant journey!
Illustrations: Vesela Kucheva-Petrova
Photos: Mihaela Draganova
Video: Georgi Kozhuharov and Georgi Totev
Sound artist: Rossen Pavlov
The project is implemented with the financial support of National Culture Fund.
Khaala Sara Foods
Sarah is a young, audacious woman who cooks delicious food!
Enough with the rhymes, but still we have to admit there is poetry in the way she moves through her everyday deeds, juggling with the roles of a cook, an owner of a small restaurant, a mother and a woman. We’re extremely delighted that she opened her Khaala Sara Foodz restaurant! Now we could have a bite of Palau with Mung beans, different kinds of kebab, sambosa and many other delicious things from the menu.
In this video Sarah shares more about her favourite dishes, which she prepares in the restaurant.
Lilan Pastry Shop
This confectionary took its name from the daughter of a dear friend of the owner Joan - Lilan. He and Rony are the master chefs here. All sweet and salty delicacies have the signature of their hands’ mastery. We recommend that you try the date-filled Maamoul cookies and the Kurdish Shaabiyat!
Rony loves to talk to people and he’s currently learning Bulgarian. He will be happy to have more opportunities to practice it, so whenever you pass by, don’t hesitate to have a word with him!
Diwan Iraqi Restaurant
Diwan’s menu includes every dish you would typically find in an Iraqi food place: Basmati rice, hummus, okra. A small piece of advice: a little spinach on top of Basmati rice makes a great combination!
Haydar is the owner and the cook of the restaurant. We’re used to seeing him bustle around the kitchen, cooking numerous dishes at the same time.
He came to Bulgaria a few years ago and since then we can always find him and his place right in front of a very special contemporary mural, based on the stories of women from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestine.
100 spices shop! Besides spices, you can find quite a lot of other curious goods. Few of our favourites include “the oldest toothbrush in the world”, healing nigella oil and different natural soaps.
The most interesting part, of course, is speaking with Ahmad. He’s lived long enough and he’s done lots of diverse things that if you stop by for some red lentils, you can end up spending an hour talking with him.
Just like the other food shops and business owners in this area, he also loves to cook. He would gladly recommend particular products and share ideas on what to prepare with them.
Arabic Shop Diyala
Mustafa first captivated us a few years ago, when we began our Food and Spices Walking Tour, and his place holds a precious part of the Tour since then. We stop by the shop each time we walk through Tsar Simeon street.
He grants us his widest smile whenever we ask about the ingredients in the peculiar-filled jars and is eager to give us advice on what to cook with them.
Diyala shop is named after the city in Iraq where Mustafa comes from. Unplanned circumstances brought him to Bulgaria, but he felt good here and decided to stay. Mustafa dreams of having a herd of sheep one day, while living closer to nature.
We once asked Imad, “How come so many people who offer food around here, are Iraqi?” The immediate answer was, “Well, because we know how to cook and we do it very well!”
We sure agree!
In this bakery, aside from the magical scent of freshly baked bread, you can enjoy a whole lot of pastry such as the emblematic flat bread with zaatar.
If you happen to stop by during lunchtime, don’t be surprised if you find Imad and Mustafa from the shop next-door sharing a meal or just chatting in the middle of the bakery.
If you enter Arabesk, there is a good chance you’ll see lavash flying, right before they toss it in the oven. Ahmed claims that he could make a record-breaking amount of flat breads in no time and we, of course, trust him, because we’ve seen what he can do in 3 minutes.
He is an entrepreneur in the fullest sense. And he has many diverse talents. If he’s not in his restaurant, you can find him in his hair salon, where he can give you a completely new look. Ahmed loves music and supports his son in becoming a musician. He dreams that one day he will be able to host little concerts in the restaurant.
What’s crucial for both the restaurant and the bakery is that Ahmed prepares the food together with his mother Fauzia. She makes whirlwinds of tasty warm dishes and takes care of the restaurant all the time.
Kosher Point Alegria
If you’re looking for Shakshuka - look no further! Though this is reason enough to visit this place, if you’re still not convinced, here’s a glimpse into what else the shelves and the menu offer: Harissa, Matbucha, aubergine with mayonnaise.
This is the perfect place to learn more about the typical practices and traditions in Jewish cuisine.
Turkish Restaurant Ikram
Will the ayran-making machine be the first thing you notice when you enter? Or the people behind the counter? Or the photos of old Sofia?
The mission of this Turkish restaurant is to offer authentic recipes which can’t be found anywhere else. Among them, you can find many kinds of kebab (Tas, Urfa, Adana), Turkish soup (chorba), and grilled meat.
As you can easily tell by the name - Кunefe is held in high regard around here. You can try it freshly baked or take it home with detailed instructions on how to prepare it.
Since Ahmet opened this sweet station 6 years ago, he’s been making sure that Kunefe is being prepared in the most proper way. We asked him what the secret of a good Kunefe is and the answer was - cheese. The most suitable one is hard to find even in Turkey.
Besides Kunefe, as you will taste yourselves, there are many other tempting Turkish desserts - more than 15 kinds of Baklava. Our top 2 favourites are the Pistachio and the Hazelnut Baklava.
On your way out you will most probably be accompanied with the words: Sweet appetite!
If you want to visit another treasure-house with Turkish goods, continue right towards Maria Luiza Blvd. where you will find a shop called Istanbul market.
There are days when our team is in a hurry and needs to grab a quick and tasty bite. Of course, you can stop by this place when not in a hurry and enjoy a tasty dish in a slow and pleasurable manner.
The master chef Mahmout can prepare tens of dishes and has а flair for cooking which he constantly seeks to improve. He’s worked in big restaurants and has a dream to open such a restaurant one day. He also radiates a kind of hospitality, perfectly recognizable to those who’ve travelled to Turkey. You can communicate with him in English.
Beside the doner, here you can enjoy wonderfully flavoured lentils, Yayla chorba (a cold soup) and pilau.
Chinese Shop Liu's
Where do we start ? In addition to typical products you might expect here, you can also find and taste marvellous ones not available in other places. Together with some common products, you can find marvellous ones here which are hard to find and taste in other places.
In Mr. Liu’s shop one can find tens of shelves filled with goods such as spicy Wakame salad, Snowy rice biscuits, spicy bamboo, fried and marinated turnip and tapioca starch. There are also both well-known and unknown objects.
Luckily enough, the salesmen are there to guide you, but the rest depends on your boldness to try - literally and metaphorically. We discovered and bought a hieroglyph notebook from there.
This is the biggest Korean shop on the Balkans. And it’s easy to see why!
Curious discoveries pop-up from each shelf. Numerous exceptional products are there for the taking and the salesmen are available to help you better orientate among them. Some of them include Juk-magou rice snack, Surasang crackers and noodles in sweet and sour sauce.
Indian Shop Dassouki
You’ve already met him - this is Ahmad from the Viktoria shop (location #4). He gives every lover of Indian goods, or every potential one, in Sofia an opportunity to get to know more about Indian products and dishes or to discover new uncommon treasures.