American tripe, he says, is the “Mercedes” of tripe.
“It is so white, so neat, so well cleaned and tasty.” He speaks of it with warmth, with almost patriotic pride. Despite the fact he’s Bulgarian.
61-year old Todor Traychev started his career as a pop singer in the 1980s, when Bulgaria was still under the spell of Russian socialism. Then, together with his wife, he was performing Nashville-style country music.
Today his entire life, including his music, is built on another American export: beef offal.
Tripe fans around the world
The United States has been the world’s biggest exporter of offal (the insides of animals) for over a decade. According to the US Department of Agriculture offal is primarily used to make hot dogs, sausages and dog food. But supply significantly outstrips demand among American consumers.
American variety meats, as they are euphemistically known, are “more highly valued,” according to the USDA, in foreign markets. China and South Korea are enthusiastic consumers of American tripe.
And so, until January 1 2007, was Bulgaria.
Since Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU), offal products imported from outside the EU are subject to quotas. Only a small quantity can come in at a lower duty rate. The rest becomes impossibly expensive. Good bye American tripe!
But even if it’s not on sale any more in this southeastern European country, it certainly has not been forgotten.
A fortune built on tripe
Mariana and Todor Traychev were music stars in 1970s and the 1980s. But then they suddenly emigrated to the States. “It was for personal reasons,” explains the singer today. There was another incentive too. Their country music, Traychev explains, was seen by the socialist government as dangerously Western.
Sample one of Todor’s hit songs:
In 1994, after spending a number of years in San Francisco, Todor Traychev returned to Bulgaria.
He came home without his wife but with 15 containers – or 300 tons – of American tripe “It was the quality and the price of this product in the States that gave me the idea,” he says.
Bulgarians are dedicated consumers of tripe. They eat it in stews, in gelatin but most of all in shkembe chorba – a garlicky, spicy and vinegary soup. It is widely considered to be the mother of all cures for hangovers.
Traychev’s business was launched at an open air concert entitled “Country and Garlic” in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. The shkembe chorba was handed out to the crowds in bread bowls. It was an immediate success.
The Bulgarian legacy
American tripe caused a revolution in Bulgaria’s tripe industry. “When the customs officers opened the containers,” remembers Traychev, “they couldn’t believe their eyes. They had never seen tripe so neat, white and clean.” Hygienic standards went up. New technology was introduced.
But he misses his American tripe. “It is the best one,” he says, “I am so sorry it is not being imported anymore.”
And he continues to be grateful. “It was with the income from my tripe business that I recorded the “Country and Garlic” CD as well as my daughter Teodora’s solo releases and our duet album “I want to paint a portrait of you.” It’s all my golden songs, sung with a new voice and with new emotion”.
Todor Traychev says his dream is to open a restaurant, a restaurant with country music, American beer and tripe. To some this combination may sound a bit bizarre. But to him it simply brings together all things nice and American.
His “Hot Toddy”, the Bulgarian way.