Salad and chicken livers in butter plus homemade rakia in Sunny Beach on Tumpike Lane. Bread here comes by its own, it doesn’t need asking for it.

Sunny Tumpike Beach Lane or Foodstalgia and Homesick

Never been there since the age of four, in Iraq, when I was missing my snow sledge and I was longing for a gevrek - a hybrid between a bagel and a pretzel -, else to say a double - boiled and baked - cooked dough. Gevrek as I remember it - from when I was four - doesn't exist anymore. It is gone then and there - freshly boiled and baked - at the corner of my childhood street; spreading its smell 360° round within miles.

Long story cut short: Gevrek is nomore and nostalgia and foodstalgia is how growing old feels - very very old actually - : many of the things - together with people - you knew are nomore. Taken by what will always look as a premature death.

Yet, the good thing about growing old abroad is that you are not alone in the NosFoodStalgia. Diasporas revive things longdead on the big mainland - just think about the ancient French Canadians speak or the old Bulgarian Macedonians speak. Diasporas are strange timespace islands.

And maybe this is the charm of all of Little Italy, Little France, Little Arabia, Little Bulgaria - Tumpike Lane - and all Little NosFoodStalgia of Anywhere else. You - all NosFoodStalgics - are there much more together than in any Big Italy, Big France, Big Arabia, Big Bulgaria or every Bigwhere else.

In Sunny Tumpike Beach Lane you have all the accumulative Bulgaria NosFoodStalgic mirage consistent of cigarettes smoking while drinking coffee or else, white firm non-feta cow cheese, pink tomatoes, tripe-in-milk soup, butter cooked tongues and hearts and livers all at £5.50, homemade rakia - like French eau de vie, not raki as in Turkey or Greece - espresso and cakes.

Many a time while working in North London I’ve wondered whether to have a look at Sunny Beach - the original geographical place is not one I would ever spontaneously think to visit either - but then have told myself “Nah, what is Bulgarian cuisine without the gorgeous vegetables of Bulgaria”. Because really, what a Shopska would be without the sunredded tomatoes and peppers and the garden smelling cucumbers? In today’s London Estee Lauder’s DayWear facial cream is the closest one can get to the smell of a Bulgarian garden cucumber. Based on this logic I’ve always skipped Sunny Beach. Always until yesterday, when my unusual nostalgia and homesickness took the control over my feet and I watched them trot pass Tumpike Lane Tube Station and down Westbury Avenue. The sight of Sunny Beach on Tumpike Lane is rather horrendous. It has the aspect of many inter-cities bus stations, such as Sofia's Central Bus Station and Varna’s one too. The sight is such that one usually tells oneself first “Ужас/Horror” then after a second glance “Отврат/Disgust”.

And just as I hear myself thinking “Horror and Disgust” while I am getting in I know that I am already high because of the “Horror and Disgust” precisely. Quarter of an hour later I am even higher on homemade rakia and a pink tomatoes salad with Bulgarian cow cheese. The tomatoes are the right sort - certainly specially imported - but not the right quality - frozen or deeply cooled? - Yet, what gives the salad it’s very Bulgarian taste, apart from the cheese, are the old white onions and small, kept in oil rather than bream, black olives. These roughly chopped old white onions and black olives that took me back in the 80s when come wintertime Olives with Onions was a popular salad. This is how NosFoodStalgia works - it puts together the givens of various timeslots - the good tomatoes and cheese from the past decade with the 80s Olives with Onions.

I am particularly high on the test of rakia combined with the test of Bulgarian cheese and the smell of cigarettes’ smoke coming from the tables nearby - so 80s and 90s too.

Later on, having finished my lunch I ask on the top of my voice but in a vague direction “Anybody a spare cigarette?” I am offered three cigarettes - one from each table around me. I take all three. A woman neary offers me a coffee and says pointing at her cigarettes “Smoke as much as you like”. The espresso is fantastic.

21 October 2020