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Mussel Farming in Bulgaria

Mussels have been a healthy source of food for thousands of years. Today they form part of the Bulgarian diet; they are extremely versatile and can be severed smoked, steamed, fried, boiled or in a batter. Mussels should be cleaned efficiently and checked to ensure that they are alive because they quickly become toxic when dead and can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning due to the concentrated toxins. The way to check if a mussel is alive is to study it when it is exposed to the air; if it is alive it closes tightly when disturbed.

 

Mussels Dishes

In Bulgaria mussels are served in a variety of ways; often they are served naturally or in white wine and herbs as in the French dish moules marinières, breaded or filled with rice. They provide the perfect accompaniment to chilled Rakiya. Before you cook mussels you need to remove "the beard," a stringy part attached to the flesh of the mussels, it will not cause any harm but does affect the taste of the shellfish. When they are cooked, mussels open their shells by themselves revealing the softer parts of the animal. The best season for mussels is said to be those months with an “r” in their name, although in Bulgaria they are most popular during spring and summer when you can see amateur divers picking their own from the sea bed. Whilst freshwater mussels as well as mussels from the sea can be found here, freshwater mussels are generally regarded as to be inedible.

Bulgaria’s Largest Mussel Farm

If you look out to sea in Bulgaria you will often spot wooden posts standing tall in the middle of the water. These have been erected to trap mussels, but this method, whilst still widely used is somewhat dated. The country’s largest mussel farm is located in a cove known as Zelenka Bay close to the coastal town of Kavarna, 20 km from Balchik. It covers the farm over 157.2 ha and is surrounded by vertical, rocky cliffs, which lead down to a pebbled stretch of beach, a quiet and peaceful area with no construction and amazing sunsets.  The mussel farm lies 500 m from the shore. The location was chosen because the abundance of plankton in this area provides perfect conditions for mussels. The mussel farm looks similar to a North Sea oil platform but it houses a vast purification plant in the optimum location for the collection of black sea mussels or Muthilus Gallapro Vincialis. These mussels are ecologically clean as a species with a 98 % nutrition value made up of up to around 86% water, up to 14.6 % protein, 0.14-3.2% lipids. It is not possible to step onto the mussel farm and see it in action however there are plenty of people who work there who are happy to fill you in on the details. The farm processes somewhere in the region of two to three thousand tons of mussels a year. The plant cost seven million Euros to construct. The owner, Vesselin Prokopiev explains the reasons for starting the farm, “I was in the Bulgarian navy and traveled the world for eight years. I saw how mussels were cooked in many other countries, but in Bulgaria, they were being thrown away.” He found it difficult at first to raise the capital to progress with is idea, however in 2003, the Bulgarian American Credit Bank, part of the bank of the Bulgarian American Enterprise Fund (BAEF) lent him the money to start his mussel farm. The mussel farm was Prokopiev’s first goal; the restaurant was secondary to this. Its impressive list of customers, which include politicians and showbiz stars from Sofia is testimony to his success as is the fact that he also supplies mussels to many of the country’s top restaurants.

Dalboka Restaurant

If you like seafood, then Dalboka restaurant is the place to visit in Bulgaria, however if you don’t then there is another restaurant next to it, which serves a variety of cuisine and still allows you to take in the mussel farm and the amazing views here. Dalboka offers around 60 types different mussel dishes, some are even listed as deserts.  You will be spoilt for choice with the names alone - names like “the tears of the water-nymph” - steamed mussels in their shell served with vegetables, “sea mirage,” which is a mussel soup and the quirky “manipulations on a pan,” which is a dish containing skewered mussels and coconut. Mussels are extremely low in fat and are perfect for those diet-conscious diners and there is also a large selection of fresh Black Sea fish. The restaurant also has an exquisite wine list, which blends well with the quality of the food and because it is renowned for its fine cuisine and good wine it is always busy and visited by many famous people from both Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania. The location is totally unspoilt; there is in addition to the two restaurants a small beach with deck chairs and at the back of Dalboka a few rooms available to guests who wish to stay the night. The restaurant prices are reasonable, with starter dishes priced at around 5 lv. and main courses costing between 6 and 20 lv. The restaurant also sell bags of fresh mussels for you to take home. 

Directions

The mussel farm Dalboka and it is not easy to find but is well worth the visit as the owner has a seafood restaurant, which defies belief. The journey takes around 20 minutes from Balchik, passing through Kavarna and close to the village of Balgarevo. The turnoff for Dalboka is on the right hand side and is marked by a tatty rusty sign 300 meters before the start of Balgarevo.  The approach to Dalboka is by means of a dirt track and the steep hill down is often hard to navigate.

For reservations call:Dalboka Mussel Farm Restaurant: 048 911 377 or 089 991 13 77

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Zelenka Bay picture courtesy of Evgeni Dinev