If the answer is yes, you should consider a trip to Gagauzia — in particular, a lovely family-owned vineyard and restaurant in the very south of the region
Author: Helle Willumsen and Mihail Shalvir
Gagauzians are proud of their gastronomic heritage, which is – at least with regards to names of dishes – similar to Turkish (e.g. gozleme, kaurma, sarma). The individual dishes taste and are made a bit differently than in Turkey, but the names are the same.
Every housewife and babushka will make these dishes often – and children and grandchildren speak with respect and fondness of their family dishes.
At this point of time, there are unfortunately not many places where you can go and taste Gagauz food unless you know a local family and get invited to their house. There are no traditional restaurants in the main Gagauz city, Comrat, neither are there restaurants in the region where you can come in from the street and order your favourite dish.
But do not despair. There are a couple of places where you can taste good Gagauz food, even if you have no friends in the region. However, you have to know where they are and you have to place your booking beforehand. You also have to organise some transportation and separate overnight accommodation as only one of them at this point – “Gagauz Sofrasi” in Congaz – has a hotel, where you can stay overnight.
My favourite place for Gagauz dishes (and wine) is Kara Gani winery in the very south of Gagauzia — in Vulkanestj, a city with approx. 18,000 inhabitants.
The main house is situated in a quiet suburb of the city, but the recent advent of helpful municipal road signs guide would-be visitors to the correct place.
Kara Gani itself is owned by a lovely couple, Larisa and Georghi Cherven, who are also producers of an eponymous selection of white, red and rose (my favourite) wines. They also produce sweet wine and a grappa.
The best part about it however is the wonderful homemade food, which Larisa Cherven and her crew produce: usually lamb with soup first, followed by more lamb with vegetables and wonderful homemade brinza (a local cheese, similar to feta). Accompanied also by Larisa’s spicy homemade chili sauce. Wauw!
Sometimes you also get gozleme or other special dishes, but the menu is set when you come and you just have to sit back and enjoy!
The name Kara Gani
Although the present-day Kara Gani seems a fairly young winery, the Cherven family has a heritage of over 130 years in wine production. The first mentions of the vineyard date back to the 1880s, when the then 0.5 ha of vineyards around Lake Cahul — previously known as Frumoasa Lake — belonged to Cerven Gani, Georghi’s great-grandfather.
It was this same great-grandfather than lends his name and inspiration to one of the newest wine brands in Gagauzia. «Kara» and «cirnu» (the root of the surname) means «black» in the Gagauz and Slavonic languages respectively. However, it appears that the family name is also derived from the Cherven fortress in northeastern Bulgaria, and was brought to southern Bessarabia with the ancient Bulgarian and Gagauz settlers of the early nineteenth century.
The grape plantations stretch out from the lower Trajan’s Wall (built in the 3rd century) which passes near the town of Vulcanestj.
Grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot spread over an area of approximately 10 hectares, including another 1.5 hectares of recently planted Feteasca Neagra.
Truth be told, it is not easy to get to Kara Gani if you do not have access to a car or driver – nor are there (at this point) any decent hotels in the area. The owners of Kara Gani are currently building a 6-room hotel attached to the main house and restaurant, but this is not expected to be ready to host guests until September 2019. Until then you will have to do with the local hotel Speranta (not particularly recommended) or you can choose to stay for a couple of nights in nearby Cismikoy, where a couple of families have recently opened guesthouses (one of them with its’ own ostrich farm attached…a topic for another blog, another day!). But do not let these logistical challenges put you off, the food, wine and hospitality at this place makes it definitely worth making an effort to visit.
Enough words are said, come see and taste for yourself!