This popular non-fiction book presents a lively, in-depth account of how the communist regime determined the Bulgarian people’s everyday food experience between 1944 and 1989. It examines the daily routines of acquiring food supplies, cooking, and eating out at restaurants through the memories of Bulgarians and of people from the other side of the Iron Curtain, who visited the country during communism.
How did Richard Nixon inspire Eastern European ham production? Why were the communist shops always empty and their long shelves occupied with endless rows of the same product? How come, while Dalia Smith and Betty Crock were flooding British and American media, nobody in Bulgaria knew what the country’s most prolific culinary authority even looked like? How did French aristocrats’ cuisine end up on every communist restaurant’s menu? Was the communist food industry actually concerned with consumers’ health? Why did Sofia in 1975—at least on paper —have more restaurant seats per capita than New York in 2014? Why were architects designing tiny kitchens even when building large apartments? Why did the country, which became the greatest industrial producer of canned vegetables in the Balkans, nevertheless encourage city folk to make and subsist largely on home preserves? In what ways did a communist leader’s humble culinary tastes affect restaurant cooking?
The Bulgarian edition of Communist Gourmet (Oct 2014) was announced to be N6 best selling book for 2014&2015.
By looking back on a wide array of issues and events, Communist Gourmet attempts to explain the paradoxes of daily existence, as it was imprinted in the collective memory. The book relies on dozens of human stories that are touching, sometimes dark, but often full of humor and anecdotes. Nearly one hundred people were interviewed in search of answers: some of them are Bulgarians who survived the communist food industry, either as its consumers or its employees, while others are people from the US and Western Europe who got to experience the culinary raptures and disappointments of communist Bulgaria. In addition, the highly censoredLessons from a small country,that ate well... until its government thoughtit should eat betternational press, the officially published cookbooks, the Communist Party documents, and other previously unstudied archives were also researched.The narrative constructs a compelling and rich portrait of the communist era in general, where the kitchen becomes a meeting point between personal stories, ideology, politics, and culture. The book also provides an insightful, at times quite intimate, view of a society, which the regime attempted to turn into a labor collective.In the context of the growing global discussion of how political intervention could affect the production and management of food resources, this book offers insight into the communist experiment of managing food through central planning. The text’s contextual frame goes beyond the issues specific to Bulgaria, and offers a broader overview of the Eastern Bloc, often in comparison to developments on the other side of the Iron Curtain.The study provides insight not just into the restrictions imposed by ideological considerations, but also into the state’s systematic failures in a variety of spheres, which determined the way Bulgarians ate and thought about food. It traces the industrialization of food under the particular conditions of centralized rule, the communist agricultural reforms, and the specifics of the centralized trade network. The book examines the development of the ideal for the perfect communist woman and the authorities’ efforts to reduce women’s housework load by creating a wide network of accessible public dining establishments. The effect of politics and ideology on the official cookbooks is surveyed as well. Also addressed is the widespread practice of making home preserves in what were almost industrial quantities, which Bulgarians retained even after relocating from the villages into the cities. The book’s longer chapters are interspersed with shorter stories on curious phenomena from the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, such as the ambitious program for the production of astronaut food, the fascinating story of how Coca-Cola broke through the Iron Curtain, and the Bulgarian communist authorities’ flirtation with luxury cruises.
Coming in 2019 with CEU PRESS