Food in Bulgaria
Bulgarian cuisine is representative of the cuisine of South-Eastern Europe. It has some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography provide excellent growing conditions for a variety of vegetables, bean, herb and fruit crops. Bulgarian cuisine is particularly varied.
Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also renowned for the variety and quality of dairy products and the variety of local wines and alcoholic beverages. Bulgarian cuisine is also characterised by the variety of traditional hot and cold soups and many main dishes based on a myriad of locally grown vegetables. Meat-based starters which are usually served after the main course are not to be missed. Bulgaria is also famous for the abundance of pastries in its cuisine.
A traditional Bulgarian meal begins with a choice salad and a strong alcoholic beverage. Bulgarians like to drink wine or beer with their main course, followed by the chosen drink at the end of the meal. That is why in most restaurants salad is considered the best combination for strong alcoholic drinks.
In recent years, restaurants serving international cuisine have also established themselves in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian and contemporary international cuisine.
It should also be noted that due to Bulgaria’s advantageous geographical location and the slow technological progress in the agricultural sector of the economy, the vegetable products used in typical Bulgarian cuisine are all organic.
The most common foods in Bulgaria
Most Bulgarian dishes are baked, steamed or stewed. Frying is not very typical, but grilling – especially for different kinds of meat – is very common. There are oriental dishes in Bulgarian cuisine, the most common being moussaka, gyuvetch and baklava. Pork is the most common meat in Bulgarian cuisine. Fish and chicken are widely consumed, while beef is less common.
Yoghurt (Kiselo mlyako) is very popular. It is mixed with water (a drink called ayryan or airian) and added to main dishes (especially liver or minced meat). Cottage cheese (brine) is also a very popular ingredient in Bulgarian cuisine. Salads are often garnished with it and it is often added to soups and main dishes.
- Banitsa (also diminutive called banichka) is a traditional Bulgarian food prepared by superimposing layers of filo pastry with various ingredients. Cheese is the most popular, but there is also spinach, potatoes, minced meat or kraut (in winter). People usually eat it for breakfast, but it can be eaten at any time of the day.
- In the bakeries you can also find various flour-based cakes such as kozunak (sweet bread, Easter cake with sultanas), kifla (chocolate or jam rolls) and some savoury variants with white or yellow cheese.
- Tarator is a cold soup based on yoghurt and cucumber (dill, garlic, nuts and sunflower oil are sometimes added), very popular in summer.
- Shkembe’s chorba (tripe soup) is widely regarded as a hangover remedy. There are a few places in Sofia, open 24 hours a day, where young people go early in the morning after a party to have a Shkembe.
- Shopska salad is a traditional Bulgarian cold salad, popular in the Balkans and Central Europe. Its name comes from the people born of Sofian descent called “shopi”. It is prepared from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions/shallots, raw or grilled peppers, white cheese in brine and parsley.
- The Snezhanka or Snow White salad is made with yoghurt and cucumber. The Snezhanka (Snow White) salad gets its name from the fairy-tale character Snow White, but the only reason for the name is the predominant white colour of the salad.
- Trushia is served mainly in winter – pickled vegetables. It is a traditional starter (meze) that accompanies rakia, an alcoholic drink. It is often served in restaurants or can be bought prepared in supermarkets. There are different recipes based on garlic, chillies, celery, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables, as well as dried aromatic herbs marinated in vinegar, salt and different spice mixtures, which usually include whole black peppercorns, ginger, etc.
- Kyopolou salad is a popular dish in Bulgaria and Turkey, mainly consisting of roasted aubergines and garlic. Peppers, tomatoes and parsley are added.
- The green salad, very popular in spring and at Easter, consists of lettuce, radish and cucumber. Boiled eggs are added at Easter. Sometimes it is served topped with yoghurt.
- Lyutenitsa (Ljutenica or Lutenica) is a vegetable speciality. It consists of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, onions, garlic or black pepper. There are many varieties. Lyutenitsa comes in jars and is often used as a spread on toast and bread. It is also very popular with many meats, meatballs and kebapcheta.
- The kebapche (plural Kebapcheta) is a minced meat grilled with spices (black pepper or cumin). The meat has an elongated cylindrical shape, similar to that of a hot dog. A mixture of pork and beef is usually used. The kebapche is a grilled food. It is never fried or baked.
- The kyufte (also Kiufte, plural Kiufteta) is a minced meat, with traditional spices, in the shape of a flattened ball.
- Sarma is a dish of grape or cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling usually made from minced meat.
- Musaka (Moussaka) is a dish based on potatoes and minced pork. The top layer usually consists of yoghurt mixed with raw eggs.
- Yoghurt is a popular dessert served with jam, dried or fresh fruit or honey. In the Sofia region it is often called Vezuvii (Vesuvius) or given other “marketing” names in restaurant menus.
- Baklava is a very popular dessert, but it is rarely served in Sofia’s restaurants. It can be found in boxes in supermarkets.
- Garash cake is commonly found in pastries and restaurants. It is made of ground walnut kernels, sugar and covered with a chocolate icing.
Vegetarian food in Bulgaria
There are a number of traditionally vegetarian dishes in Bulgarian cuisine, including salads, soups and some main courses.
Salads – the main ingredients of Bulgarian salads are tomatoes, cucumbers and cottage cheese. The most popular Bulgarian salad is the Shopska salad, which is a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, raw or grilled (preferably roasted) peppers, cottage cheese and is usually seasoned with parsley. The vinaigrette of the Shopska salad consists of salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
Soups – Traditional Bulgarian vegetarian soups include : Bob Chorba (боб чорба) which is a bean soup with mint, Leshta Chorba (Леща чорба) which is a lentil soup with mint and Tarator (Таратор) which is a cold soup with yoghurt and cucumber.
Main dishes – there is a wide variety of vegetarian dishes that can be boiled, fried, breaded or roasted.
- Panagyurski Eggs (Яйца по панагюрски) – Open boiled eggs served in yoghurt and cottage cheese, seasoned with red pepper and garlic
- Mish-mash – fried eggs mixed with peppers (and onions) seasoned with fresh spices
- Byurek Pepper (Чушка бюрек) – baked pepper, stuffed with a mixture of seasoned eggs and cottage cheese, breaded and fried
- Vegetarian Sarmis (посни сърми) – rolls of vine leaves or pickled cabbage filled with seasoned rice and served with yoghurt
Traditional milk products in Bulgaria
There are only two indigenous types of cheese: Kashkaval (Кашкавал), yellow in colour, more or less similar to Dutch Gouda, and the more popular White Sirene (Сирене), a type of Feta cheese, similar to Greek Feta in taste but more sour. Originally made from sheep’s milk, it is available from cow’s or goat’s milk, or mixed.
Pride of the Bulgarian people, yoghurt has Bulgaria as its motherland. Yoghurt of Bulgarian origin (kiselo mlyako) contains Lactobacilicus Bulgaricus, a bacterium which is the basis for the active cultivation of “natural” yoghurt in other countries. Normally made from cow’s or sheep’s milk, it can also be prepared from buffalo milk, with a remarkably stronger taste.
Bulgarian yoghurt is a staple food and a favourite throughout the country. It is also the ingredient of many dishes, the most famous of which are the Tarator cold soup and the Ayran drink. Yoghurt is also one of the main ingredients of a white sauce used in baking.
There are a lot of dishes served with yoghurt on the side as Bulgaria is the home of the product.
Traditional meat-based snacks in Bulgaria
Bulgarian cuisine has a large number of traditional starters based on all kinds of meat. The most consumed meat, however, is pork. Traditional meat-based appetizers are prepared from the meat of the animal or its intestines, but some delicacies include both. Other ingredients include leek, garlic, sometimes rice and a wide variety of herbs and spices such as savory, thyme, parsley, cumin, dill, black pepper, red pepper and others.
Traditional baked meat snacks include fried liver (usually chicken, pork or lamb), lamb intestines roasted with herbs and spices, breaded veal tongue or veal tongue with mushrooms in butter, and veal stomach with butter or mushrooms and cheese. Other popular snacks made from cooked meat are sazdarma (саздърма) and bahur. The sazdarma is made from minced meat and is usually seasoned with Daphne leaves and black pepper. It can be made from veal, lamb or mutton, while bahur is made from minced pork and liver, with rice added and seasoned with allspice, savory and black pepper. Although some may think that these appetizers are not at all attractive, many feel that they are a jewel once they have tasted them.
Appetizers made from smoked and/or dried meat can generally be divided into two types: pastramis and salamis.
Among the most popular pastrami-style starters are the Elena pork tenderloin (a salted tenderloin dried in the open air, covered with a salty sauce, thyme and other herbs) and the Trakiya tenderloin (again, a salted tenderloin dried in the open air, juicier than the Elena tenderloin and covered with red pepper). There is also a wide variety of classic pastramis (air-dried and then smoked and steamed) based on pork, veal, mutton, lamb and turkey. In Bulgaria, pastrami is transcribed under the name пастърма (pastarma). Air-dried mackerel (in Bulgarian veyana skumriya (веяна скумрия)) is another popular appetizer, which can be found in restaurants all around the sea.
Salami-style starters are mainly made from pork and are only air-dried. The most popular are lukanka (minced pork meat with black pepper and cumin), ambaritsa (minced meat with red and black pepper and garlic), babek (minced meat and breast with red and black pepper and dill or savory) and staret (minced meat and breast with black pepper, cumin, allspice and rarely leek or garlic).
Bulgarians have a long tradition of making meat-based snacks and many of them vary in terms of recipes throughout the country. Most of them can be found in different forms in restaurants and food shops. Most of the most popular appetizers have regional recipes that give the distinct flavour of the region.
Popular local meat dishes in Bulgaria
The most popular Bulgarian salad is shopska salad. However, there is another traditional salad that takes the ingredients of the shopska salad and adds its own touch. Ovcharska salad is a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, parsley and cottage cheese combined with mushrooms, boiled eggs, yellow cheese and, above all, ham. The sauce is again composed of salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
You can have a main course :
- Bulgarian moussaka – a rich oven-baked dish made of potatoes, minced meat and a white sauce made of eggs and yoghurt, traditionally served with fresh yoghurt;
- Gyuvetch – typical ingredients are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, peas and minced meat in a clay pot called gyuvetch (hence the name of the dish).
- Sarmi – rolls of vine leaves or cabbage pickled with yeast and meat
- Drob sarma – a dish of lamb liver, belly and kidneys with a white sauce covered with rice and baked in the oven, served with yoghurt
- Kavarma – fried meat with tomatoes, onions and peppers
Kapama – rolls of pickled cabbage leaves, garnished with four types of meat and at least one type of tomato and onion sausage, baked in a gyuvetch oven.
Fast food restaurants in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria there are traditional bakeries that prepare different kinds of pastries. Banitsa and mekitsa are the preferred sweet and savoury (respectively) pastries among others such as tutmanik, milinka and kifla. Barbecues, such as kebabche and kufte (made from minced meat), karnache (a variety of sausages) and shishche (a king of shish-kebab made with chicken or pork meat) are also a traditional fast food option in Bulgaria.
Pizza, dyuner (döner kebab), sandwiches and toast, or hamburgers are also very easy to find in the streets of Bulgaria. There are also many local and international fast food chains. Although the premises vary from region to region, some of the internationally renowned McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Burger King can be found in all major cities.
Drinks in Bulgaria
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs in the country, so it is best to taste and drink this water. However, tap water is not safe to drink in some areas.
Among the most popular traditional non-alcoholic drinks in the country are ayran/ayryan (yoghurt, water and salt) and boza (sweet millet beer).
Another popular non-alcoholic drink is the soft drink “Etar” which has a strong caramel taste.
Viticulture and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the Thracian era. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Well-known local wine varieties include
- the dry red wines Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza ;
- sweet red wines Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Malaga (made from raisins), Muskat, Pelin (with sour notes), Kadarka ;
- and the white wines Keratsuda (dry) and Pelin (sweet with sour notes).
Beer (bira: бира) is produced and consumed all over the country. You can easily find excellent local varieties such as Kamenitza (from Plovdiv), Zagorka (from Stara Zagora), Ariana (from Sofia), Pirinsko (from Blagoevgrad) and Shumensko (from Shumen), as well as licensed beers from Western Europe produced in Bulgaria such as Tuborg, Heineken, Stella Artois and Amstel.
- Rakia/rakiya (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic beverage. It is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. It is a strong (40% vol.) and clear brandy that is most often made from grapes or plums. However, there are as many varieties of alcohol as there are fruits. Some of the best special selections are made from apricots, or pears, or cherries, or peaches. In many areas, people still distil their rakia at home. Home-made rakia can contain special ingredients such as aniseed, honey, milk, natural gum and lozenges. Home-made rakia is then usually much stronger (about 50% to 60% vol.).
- Another popular drink is mastika (мастика). It is a strong drink (47-55% vol.) with an aniseed flavour very similar to Greek ouzo. It is usually consumed with ice, with water in a 1:1 mixture.
- Menta (мента) is a Bulgarian peppermint liqueur. It can be combined with mastika to make the Cloud (Oblak) cocktail. Menta can also be combined with milk to make a low alcoholic but tasty cocktail.