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Sokoni Tasting an Indian dish is a first date with Indian cuisine. Cooking one is starting on an adventurous path to discover its secrets


20 Maria Luiza Blvd., Varna, Bulgaria
+359 52 699 229
09:00 - 19:00
  • Kind: Shop
  • Multi Kulti Recommended
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Cards Accepted

Tags: indian shop, sokoni, Varna

True 21-century migrants, they grow roots in one country after another and travel untiringly. To them, cultural diversity is a way of life with the rich taste of India always in the picture. Each newly discovered cuisine is given an Indian touch by adding their favourite ingredients to the dish. According to the Shahs, owners of Sokoni Food Store, the world is wide, full of colour and flavour, and they take it with them everywhere they go.

(scroll down for the interview)


Sima and Jinal Shah were born in Kenya where they formed an authentic Indian outlook on life thanks to the strong ethnic community in which they grew up. This same community inspired in them a restless passion for adventure and entrepreneurship, so they never feel intimidated residing in foreign countries or venturing new beginnings for both family and business some place new. Before moving here, they used to live in the UK which has left an imprint on their culinary taste. Looking for a suitable destination in Europe to become their next home, they stumble upon Bulgaria where they choose Varna. Naturally, because Varna has the sea. The young couple quickly and skilfully transfer their previous experience into this new community by opening the Sokoni Food Store which gradually expands into the abundance of goods and a space in the most popular part of the city.

‘Markets in India fascinate with a rich variety of foods, fibres, colours and flavours,’ Jinal explains, his eyes full of pride and inspiration.

Suddenly, we realise this is what the Sokoni Store (from “sokoni” in Swahili meaning “market place”) is essentially about with its impressive 1,800 products originating in various parts of the world. Among them are all the must-haves of Indian cuisine and culture joined by top Brit treats impossible to find elsewhere in the city and craved for by expats and Bulgarians alike, especially those who at some point in their lives have set foot on that foggy island which was once the Shahs home, too.

‘Most popular products include clothes, jewellery, incense sticks as well as some well-known traditional desserts and spices,’ Sima explains to help us draw a picture of what our fellow citizens recognise and dare use among all things Indian.

Different foods and spices and how to combine them in original Indian recipes still pose a greater challenge to the majority of their clients. Most people will look for and recognise turmeric, lentils and rice (though rarely in their variety), and garam masala. The owners have observed a growing interest in Aurvedic cooking attracting new people to the shop that has long become a safe haven for the quickly expanding vegetarian and vegan community in the region. Yet, what strikes them the most is the newly risen popularity of Indian tv series and their noticeable contribution to increased curiosity about Indian cuisine. Having just seen the new episode, clients arrive at the shop with questions about particular recipes and products, often confused and unclear but motivated to watch and learn.

‘Together we try to guess what dish they might have seen in the series, then recover the recipe and select the products. Soon, the clients return with a new query.’

The fact that you arrive at the store, looking for those ingredients and inspired to cook, proves that you begin to develop an attitude and understanding about the food and cuisine of India. Going to a restaurant and tasting a dish is important but not everyone will ask themselves questions about its origin, food ingredients and spices, or the way they are combined. But once you get to the store, there you have a sign that you have ventured into the complex, colourful and aromatic world of Indian cuisine and have thus set on the path of discovering some of its secrets.

What is fascinating is that among those who choose to become part of the experience are people of all ages. No surprise comes at the fact that young people go for snacks or cosmetics – all ready-to-use products. This is just a door, their door to the world of Indian culture. But the Shahs find it exciting when local elderly people visit the shop to buy their products. They know that these are the Bulgarians most strongly connected with local tradition and conservative about experimenting with food, many of whom consider Bulgaria and its cuisine their only home in this world.

This is the right moment to ask Sima and Jinal about the place they call home having connected to different places and cultures across continents. We already know that among the languages they speak are Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, English, Swahili and Bulgarian. We have followed their family story from India, through Kenya, to the UK, to this day when we find the two of them in Bulgaria. So, their answer is a bit unexpected.

‘Home is where you were born, grew up and spent some part of your youth. In this sense, for us this place is Kenya.’

Home is also about keeping in touch with your family.

‘At this point, we have chosen to be here. When people suggest that perhaps we find it difficult to be separated from our closest relatives by a big distance, we comment with a question: “You and your parents live in the same city but how often do you see them or stay for dinner? Most likely, you rarely meet and instead use technology to communicate just as we do. So, how is this different?

But when Sima and Jinal get together with their relatives – and they are used to travelling – the meeting becomes one big celebration accompanied by extremely tasty food for the whole family of some 300 people.

They show us their favourite foods grown in a variety of countries, passionately explaining their origin and use. Special sweets for Diwali Festival of Light just delivered for this year’s Indian dinner they are hosting in Varna, the patli (rolling board) and velan (rolling pin) for the chapati bread, and their favourite dessert gulab jamun.

Having heard certainly just parts of this rich family story, we see the Sokoni Food Store differently now. We detect small fragments of the unique individual tales of various products displayed on the shelves, of their origin, character or role in Indian cuisine. We realise that in the future some of our visits to this shop will take us on yet another journey with the stories of the Shah family, while others will become our own daring culinary and cultural adventure, here or around the world.

Interview: Amorpha Youth Group
Photos: Alexander Lazarov for Amorpha Youth Group
Translation from Bulgarian: Amorpha Youth Group
Illustration: Kremena Cholakova for Compote Collective
30 November 2015