Nazdrave!

There will be no divulging by me of secrets close to the heart. You may pummel me with oranges as if we were at the Carnival of Ivrea but my lips remain sealed on how it came to be that last night I drank for the first time rakia.

Rakia, also spelled rakiya, is the national drink of Bulgaria. I’m told by the person pouring that this particular bottle, procured directly in the country, is of high quality — and the standard 40% alcohol by volume — whereas the moonshine versions run about 60% ABV, enough to ignite a bonfire.

A whiff from the opened bottle penetrates my stuffed sinuses, revealing the scent of alcohol and fragrance of plum. Plum is one of the many fruit varieties of which rakia is derived; others include apples, apricots, figs, grapes and peaches. The mash of fermented fruit is distilled into a crystal clear liquid that by Bulgarian tradition is languidly partaken with salads (Bulgarians reportedly rather like their salads) as a first main course, or beneath the shade of trees to escape the sun. After salatka i rakiya (translation: little salad and little brandy), they switch to beer or wine with the main courses, then may revisit rakiya with the closing coffee.

A clear shot glass with a border of red painted flowers is set on the counter to capture the pouring of liquid that presents a slighthly syrupy viscosity. I raise it to my nose and detect the pleasing aroma, much less overpowering than the anise of Ouzo and without the sickenly sweet scent of peppermint schnapps. I bring it to my lips and take in a sip, then let it speak. Light plum, not sweet, then a hit of heat. It brings to my memory Japanese plum sake on fire..

Through the course of the night I imbibe and still never empty the shot glass, for rakia’s character does, yes, lend itself to languidness, relaxation, comfort, socializing. There’ll be further opportunities to warm my senses with rakia, without traveling a few thousand miles for it, though I certainly wouldn't refuse that opportunity, and perhaps other liquid treasures from across the seas as well … for it seems that when this girl with clipped wings can’t get there, there comes here. It was a captivating night.

Nazdrave! Cheers! in Bulgarian.

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