Nastrave to Rakia – Bulgaria’s National Drink
(fermented fruit is placed into the fire-heated kazan for the distillation process)
Italians have grappa, Japanese have sake and the Bulgarians have rakia, a colourless type of homemade, fruit brandy that is prevalent in most Bulgarian homes. If you are offered rakia from a friendly Bulgarian, don’t be worried you have to keep up with them otherwise you could find yourself blinded by booze and crawling home as the percentage of alcohol is usually between 40-60% proof!
The beauty of rakia is that you can make it from any fruit as the process involves mashing up fermented fruit, sugar and water in a barrel or container over a period of two to three weeks. It’s then poured into a copper kazan, or still over a fire for several hours to undergo the distillation process. Few people are brave enough to try the first results due to the exceptionally high alcohol content which is akin to drinking meth…so I’m told.
Although rakia can be produced from all types of fruit: plums, pears, apricots, peach, quinces…a common practice is to make wine from the grapes and then use the leftovers to make yet more rakia. However, the strength of the drink is pretty much always the same – high! Once made, additional food such as herbs, walnuts or honey can be added for extra flavour depending on the family recipe and is intrinsically linked to their daily lives.
Although not exclusive, traditionally, rakia is toasted at the beginning of a meal, with salads or pickled vegetables (trushiya) and is a hospitable gesture that I can never refuse from my neighbour – no matter what time of day I’m offered it.