Sofia Shopping: 15 Things To Memorize Bulgaria By
1. Ethnic Garments
In terms of types and applied terminology, women’s costumes are much richer than men’s, and the reason for that is found in the Bulgarian folklore and cultural traditions. One of them implies that a woman’s hair must be plaited and tidied. An old Bulgarian superstition suggests that the devil hides in a woman’s hair, hence it must be plaited.
It was once considered that only mythical wood nymphs could wear shirts, all white and with loose hair. This cultural mythologema elevated decoration of a Bulgarian woman's costume to the level of art. The patterns used in decoration of female costumes reveal patriarchal belonging of the wearer. It also bears some sort of a code which tells if the woman is engaged or free.
A huge stock of shirts and other garments can be found at a souvenir store in the Ethnographic Museum of Sofia. Prices range from $45 for a shirt up to $650 for a set of shirt, skirt, apron, bodice, belt with buckles, and shoes.
00359 2 9896 416
2. Traditional Dolls
Alongside those, there are ritual dolls associated with certain traditions, including the most popular ones "Pijo and Penda" - a girl and a boy made of white and red yarn, called "martenitsa". Each year, on the 1st of March, people present each other with martenitsas in wishing of good health and prosperity for the coming year.
There are also dolls depicting mythological creatures, such as fairies, eyesores, vampires, goblins, and ghosts; dolls made for certain celebrations, e.g. the day of the herbs, marked on June 24; doll idols; and even the dolls made of ritual bread.
Particular mention deserve big dolls, called melon-field scarecrow, that the people - just as the name suggests - put in their melon fields to scare off sparrows. These are usually made of gourds, straw and tree branches.
Prices range from $6 do $45.
In the underpass of the Presidency, Sofia, Bulgaria
Open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm.
00359 2 980 4378
3. Ceramic Plates and "Gyuvetch" Pots
If you want to expand your cooking horizons and experiment in Bulgarian style, you will definitely win the applauds of your loved ones back home with the help of gyuvetch pots in your kitchen. Just follow a simple rule - all gyuvetch cooking must be done on low fire.
To reinforce the impact, it is also important to serve it on proper ceramic plates bearing the same distinctive pattern, called the "Troyan drop". These plates will not only keep your food hot for long, but will also give your dinner a typical Bulgarian taste.
Prices range from $6 for a plate to $10 for a gyuvetch pot.
Open daily from 6 am to 6 pm.
Shop : Sofia, Lyulin district, block 446, entrance G, Sofia, Bulgaria
Open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm
00359 886 989936
4. Rose Oil
Prices start from $15 for 1 cl of pure rose oil (15 drops).
5. Palamarka – Swap Hook
Nowadays, it is possible to order a customized palamarka with either an icon painted on or a special wish written.
Prices start from $9.
4 Paris Str., Sofia, Bulgaria
Daily open from 9 :30 am to 6 :30 pm
00 359 2 989 5210
6. Traditional Bulgarian Musical Instruments – Kaba Gaida, Dvoyanka, Tupan
There's hardly any celebration in Bulgaria possible without folk music being performed, and this, in turn, makes traditional instruments ever so popular. Among them, #1 is the so-called "kaba gaida," the main accompanying instrument in a highly popular Bulgarian folk song chosen to be included in the playlist of the golden record carried by two American space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977. As an instrument with a very powerful sound, it is often played at weddings, during grape harvest festivals and public holidays, like Trifon Zarezan in February, when the vines are clipped, as well as at Nestinari (barefoot walking on burning coals), Koukeri (mask parades), or other public games and gatherings. Gaida is a popular instrument in many parts of Bulgaria, but it is particularly loved in the Rhodopi Mountains region.
Another prominent folk musical instrument, called "dvoyanka" (double chanter), is associated with herdsmen who, back in the old days, used it to play a set of specific melodies for herding the sheep.
Other popular instruments include tupan, gadulka, tambura, piskun, kaval, and duduk. There are craftsmen still left in Bulgaria who can carve these instruments manually out of wood. The types of wood used for this purpose are linden tree, walnut, cedar, and juniper.
8 Karlovo Str., Sofia, Bulgaria
00359 2 8322010
The prices start from 48$ for a « Kaval » , 292$ for a « Tapan », 300$ for a « Gadaulka », 300$ for a « Gaida ».
The palette of colors seen in everyday life finds due reflection in the fabrics and rugs made here since the times immemorial. Rugs hold a special place in the Bulgarian household culture; the richness of their patterns traditionally outlined the social status of the family. Big, heavy and colorful rugs were mandatory part of a bride's dowry.
There are only a handful of weavers left in the country who can still make rugs by hand, using nothing but natural materials only, such as cotton and wool, without any ready-made yarn. The also do coloring themselves, utilizing natural and, sometimes, chemical dyes.
Back in the old days, however, all the dyes were made from organic ingredients obtained from natural sources, e.g bark of the alder or ash tree was used to produce black color, onion leaves and stems for yellow, leaves of young quinces for gray, peach or walnut leaves - green, and so on. Red dyes were made of madder root, brown - from walnut flakes, and olive green - from the leaves of pepper.
Just as important in this trade are the materials used for fixing the colors, so that they don’t fade away after several washings. The most commonly used ingredients for that are cabbage broth and pears, as well as some mineral stuff, like crushed cinder and dirt from the whetstone.
8. Traditional Knits and Embroideries
Luckily, in the very heart of Sofia, just outside the city's biggest Cathedral, you can find some old women sitting by and knitting and embroidering all day before one's very eyes. However, you won't see there fashionable skirts or pullovers on sale. All there is are the various sorts of blankets, tablecloths, traditional napkins, and handkerchiefs, many of which are decorated in the Bulgarian-style lace embroidery of red or green yarns. Many of the ornaments – geometrical, floral and animal themes, straight or undulating lines, knitted or sewed on white cotton or hemp canvas or silk canvases - are similar to the ones used in other Slavic cultures. Threads and stitches differ, however, depending on the item, with cotton being the most common, along with the silk and even the gold or silver fiber yarns. Rest assured, though, whatever you buy here will be, with a very high probability, a one-off item. The most commonly used color seen here is red, largely regarded in Bulgaria as a symbol of good health and well-being. The best spot to buy embroideries and various hand-knitted stuff is the square in front of the Cathedral. Everything sold here is strictly handmade. The grannies themselves are extremely friendly and open to price negotiation, especially if you are a first client that day.
9. Stomna (Pitcher), Baklitsa, Barduche
"Stomna", a ceramic jar used by women to bring water from the well. Back in the old days, young men in the process of courtship were often seen carrying heavy stomnas filled with water for their beloved. Pottery masters say that stomna is the hardest thing to be sculptured on a wheel. That is why making stomna is usually part of the exam taken by every apprentice who wants to start working independently.
"Baklitsa" is the most important ritual vessel used in wedding celebration. Traditionally, young boys go around the village and invite guests to a wedding party by offering to drink some grape liquor (rakia) from the baklitsa. It stays filled with rakia also during the wedding ceremony and when the groom is taking the bride from her house, her father must drink from it.
The "barduche" is a miniature version of stomna.
Prices vary from $3 for a small barduche to $8 for stomna.
Open daily from 6 am to 6 pm.
Shop : Lyulin District, block 446, entrance G, Sofia, Bulgaria
Open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm
00359 886 989936
10. Pafta - Belt Buckle
Archaeological findings suggest that belt buckles were known in Bulgaria as early as in the 9th-10th centuries AD. Later, in the 13-14th centuries, they were mass produced; lasting forms and ornamentation patterns were created around that time and continued to exist until the early 20th century, with a gradual increase in the buckles' size observed throughout the period.
While in Western Europe belt buckles were primarily a masculine attribute, because of its strong association with military gear, in Bulgaria they were seen primarily as feminine jewelry, highly important for women’s attire. Traditionally, only the married ladies wore buckles. They got them as a gift for engagement or wedding (only the married ones could wear metal adornments; during maidenhood, the only decorations allowed were those made of beads) and it served as a kind of protection against evil powers. In particular, the belt and the buckles were meant to protect female genitals.
The buckles were richly decorated in floral motifs (flowers, leafs, and grapes) as well as animal images (peacocks, doves, snakes, etc.). Also, some of the buckles featured biblical scenes, such as Nativity, Baptism, and Crucifixion. These were usually made of copper or some other gold- or silver-plated metal. Some were even decorated with mother-of-pearl, horns or bones inlaid with stones or lace-glass.
Middle size buckles cost from $22, big size - from $44.
Open daily from 10 am to Sunset.
11. Tsarvuli or Opintsi Shoes
There were several known methods of leather treatment and shoe-making. The most common of them was a rather crude and primitive method involving raw hides of the cattle, mostly oxen and horses. Pigskin was a more preferred material among peasants, though. The process started with drying the hide in a shade with ash or salt spread all over it. Then it was dry-scraped and the bristle was trimmed. The shoes made this way were worn for weddings much as for cleaning the stables, simply because it was the only type of shoes available to peasants in those days.
Nowadays, luckily, things are different, but performers of Bulgarian folk dances still use tsarvuly a lot. In fact, no folklore event passes without these shoes being worn. You can find them made of different types of leather now and with different ending on toes, depending on the region they come from.
Prices start from $64.
125 Sv. Sveti Kiril I Metodiy Str., Sofia, Bulgaria
The most popular local liquor is called Rakia and it is made traditionally of grapes, but also of peaches, plums, cherries or any other sugary fruit for that matter. There's a fairly good chunk of rakia production done privately, in people's homes, using huge copper distillers. If you're invited to a Bulgarian house, be prepared to run a test of the locally made rakia. NOTE: refusing a glass of this fiery drink may be taken as an insult. However, if you decide to keep up with the host, be careful, as it might be somewhat difficult. A small hint – don't forget to eat, while drinking rakia; help yourself to those flat Bulgarian sausages traditionally served with the drink.
Rakia is always present on the Bulgarian table, be it for a major celebration, party or special event, or just a regular dinner. You can also find it at any bar around town, and it's usually around 40% strong. Look out for the twice-distilled rakia; the more expensive, the better. This way, you will definitely save yourself some headache the day after.
48 Yanko Sakazov Str., Sofia, Bulgaria
Open daily from 10 am to 9 pm.
00359 2 9442084
http://www.casavino.bg/ (no English version)
13. Bulgarian White Cheese
The white cheese is made of goat-, cow- or sheep milk. For the best taste, it is left to mature for 60 days. The cheese is one of the key ingredients of Bulgarian “Shopska” salad, as well as the famous cheese-stuffed pepper. If you drink red wine, it is also an indispensable product on a table, especially if dusted with finely-ground red pepper and sprinkled with olive oil. It is also used as stuffing for the traditional Bulgarian salty pastry, called “banitsa”.
Price: from $9 per kilo.
The month of March is nicknamed “Baba Marta” (March Grandma), who is described in folklore as an old, grumpy woman; when she gets angry, the weather turns stormy and cold, but if she's in a good mood, it is sunny. Her mood changes quite rapidly, though, much as the March weather - it could be sunny and snowy on a same day.
Martenitsas must be worn until the first sighting of a stork or a budding tree. Upon that, people take them off and hang them on fruit trees so that the new year be fruitful.
Prices range from US$0.10 to US$7.
15. Kukeri Masks
Some of the masks have two faces – one pretty and the other ugly - symbolizing the good and the bad that exists in the nature and is thus unavoidable. Very important are the colors – the most used one is red, symbolizing fertility, the sun and fire. Black color symbolizes Mother Earth and the white - water and light.
More than 10,000 people partake in this colourful event each year and, if you're lucky, you might as well too - something you won't regret. Apart from the parades and dancing, the program includes an open workshop on mask-making.
1 Alexander Battenberg Square, Sofia, Bulgaria
00359 2 9896 416
Other Interesting Souvenirs from Bulgaria
If traveling to Bulgaria is not on your immediate agenda, or you simply can't afford an extra space in your luggage, fortunately, these days, you can find a wide selection of authentic and truly interesting Bulgarian souvenirs online. Presented here are some of the Bulgarian products sought by foreign visitors, now available online for your convenience.
2. Medicinal Herbal Teas - Organic teas, 100% raw from Bulgaria, packed to the brim with nutrients – magnesium, vitamin c, iron, potassium and folate – are there to help you live healthier and longer life. Some of them are kosher & gluten-free. Prepared from dried leafs of premium quality, these teas are renowned for their medicinal properties. Good diuretic and detoxifier, they will help your body fluids run smoothly through bladder and kidneys, prevent water retention, and even facilitate breaking down or dissolving kidney stones.
Sofia Walking Tours
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Travel Distance: 4.7 km
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