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Charles, Theodore Parker (2023) Reinventing Foodways in Contemporary Bulgaria. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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More than thirty years after the collapse of socialism, Bulgaria’s foodways are undergoing a transformation. Bulgarians who have traveled or lived abroad are returning with experiences that influence how they engage with their food heritage. Restauranteurs are transporting dishes from their grandmother’s kitchen tables to Sofia, seeking to revalue homecooked foods in new contexts. Producers involved with organizations like Slow Food are combining local celebrations with models tested in other countries, leading to a proliferation in food festivals and a model that is uniquely Bulgarian. Thousands of years of history can be experienced daily, whether by passing Roman legionaries sipping 19th century mead in the open archaeological displays of central Sofia, or while eating tripe soup in a trendy bistro decorated with socialist period artifacts. The Bulgarian present is a mosaic of past migrations, tragedies, and triumphs, digestible through its foodways. This thesis unpacks how the movement of peoples has influenced the contemporary reinvention of foodways in Bulgaria. Imagery and ethnography together illustrate how Bulgaria’s heritage food movement draws upon postsocialist, or even post-Ottoman, ideas and representations. Ambivalence towards the existence of national “Bulgarian cuisine” is juxtaposed with “gastronationalism” inherent in the process of food heritagization, drawing upon both the triumphs of Bulgaria’s past empires while acknowledging shared Balkan foodways. The history of Bulgaria is one of immigration and outmigration, the travels of people from rural communities to urban or transnational markets. These movements brought goods, ideas, and peoples to an imperial breadbasket, or what is now the hinterlands of the European Union. The author incorporates still photography to better examine the juxtaposition of historical periods that can be felt in the present, as well as engage with the multidimensional nature of cooking and eating. Through the act of documentation and reflection, this thesis offers a critical analysis of the role of the researcher as photographer, suggesting ways to both make the documentarian less obtrusive and more supportive to their interlocutors.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Jakob Klein and Elizabeth Hull
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2023 13:20

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