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New Europe

Day Thirty-two: Godech

Tzeta 
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Tzeta sits outside the still with a huge bottle of rakiya. The cat waits for more sausage.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIt's in many ways an idyllic place, a repository of unreformed village life, with a donkey grazing at one end and coal-black chickens at the other. The donkey is completely placid until the camera turns to film my entrance, whereupon it becomes almost frantically active, rolling on its back and emitting a salvo of well aimed farts.

Beneath an apple tree, a table has been set with glasses, bottles of water and a plate of grilled sausage, already being attended to by a cat which darts out from behind an upturned wheelbarrow when it thinks you're not looking.

Lubo and Tzeta, solid and silver-haired seventy-year-olds, show me the shed in which they've been distilling rakiya for the past twenty years. The fruit mix is heated by a wood fire and rises into a copper still called the kazan, before cooling down and running out, rather prosaically, into a brown plastic bucket. The process is then repeated to strengthen the alcohol content. Tzeta dips a thermometer into a cracked glass test tube and pronounces that what's in the bucket today is fifty-two per cent proof.

When I ask how long they leave it to mature there's general laughter. Laying it down is a luxury. Or as Lubo puts it: 'There's no bad rakiya, only little rakiya.'
I ask if bootleg rakiya like this will be outlawed if Bulgaria joins the EU.

Kita nods a little gloomily. 'You know it's the same with the size of the cucumber. When we go to the European Union they'll want us to make exactly the same size of cucumber and they will want to stop this sort of breweries. But,' he warns, 'I think there will be a real revolution in Bulgaria!'

The meal that follows is a triumph of unbureaucratic self-sufficiency. Starting, in the traditional Bulgarian way, with rakiya, both of plum and prune, we have peppers in batter, aubergines stuffed with cheese, a plate of Bulgarian white and yellow cheeses, a red wine called No Man's Land, and, to finish off, cold beers.

As we all join the cat in tucking into the meze Kita raises a glass for two toasts. The first is to his favourite film. 'When I saw The Life of Brian the first time I fell twice from a chair.'

The other toast is to the donkey.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty-two: Godech
  • Country/sea: Bulgaria
  • Place: Godech
  • Book page no: 80

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