Does every good travel story start with a quest?
The thing about a quest, I've since learned, is that it's almost always more work than it's worth unless you are really, REALLY committed to your objectives. Now, I enjoy apple pie. I enjoy it very much indeed, even though I secretly think that using chunky pieces of apple and white sugar is an unpardonable sin compared to the glory which is the rarely found version of thinly sliced apple layered with brown sugar (but I digress....) But I don't often seek Japanese food nor did I think Sasa would serve up the kind of home style dessert I was after. I probably should have gone to check it out but already I was losing a bit of steam. I needed a sympathetic ear and I needed someone local.
Before I travelled to Bulgaria I had heard that Sofia had a hip underground scene, but I always assumed that the term “underground” referred to dance clubs and music venues. Little did I suspect that my search for the best apple pie in Sofia would lead me to go underground as well!
It was wee. Plain. Not much more than a display case, a counter, and a short bar with a few stools for any patron who might choose to eat their treats on site. It was also clean and bright and uncluttered. It was cozy and it shone with pride. It was a good place. The kind of place where you trust the proprietor. A baker clearly owned the little spot.
Just was just one problem. I couldn't see any pie.
It was sweet and chewy and there was a dense, stick-to-your-ribs quality about it that felt reassuring in its heft. It was covered with powdered sugar and had all the sweetness of a dessert without losing the flavorful soft baked apple within.
In short, it was perfect. Was it pie? No. But the apples were carefully layered and baked until they were just shy of melting into sauce. And it was made with heart. This was no factory made pastry but something lovingly formed by hand. I loved it. Hey, maybe I was more into my quest than I thought!
I've since learned that this kind of pastry is known as a Banista, which is traditionally made by layering a mixture of whisked eggs, natural yogurt and pieces of feta cheese between filo pastry. Apple is a common sweet version, as is pumpkin and from what I understand, when it's sweet, it's known as Tikvenik. I'm happy to declare Banistas of Sofia the best of Bulgaria, despite my less than exhaustive investigations. They're snug and savory and that's good enough for me!
If you want to go on your own food quest in Sofia, I've since learned that a company called Balkan Bites offers a free food tour of the city (I'm sure tips of appreciation are expected at the end). You can find their schedule here. While it doesn't look like they visit my special Banista spot on a regular basis, a friend has told me that she has been there while on the Balkan Bites tour so perhaps it's an occasional visit.
If you want to visit my special bakery on your own, the map below will send you to the Starbucks I mentioned and you can go to the bakery directly using the pedestrian underpass. Be sure to let me know where your own quest led you!
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