Bulgarian food is delicious, hearty and truly satisfying.
If you have ever wondered what food do they eat in Bulgaria or fretted as to what you will be subsisting on when you travel to the country, wonder/fret no more.
Expect fresh salads, chunky soups, slow-cooked stews and lots and lots of red meat. With its juicy, melt-in-the-mouth quality, pork tastes the best in Bulgaria. From thinly sliced dry-cured sausages called ‘lukanka’ and ‘sudjuk’ and served as an appetiser to large chops plucked straight from the barbecue, you will find pork taking a pride of place on the Bulgarian national table no matter what’s the occasion.
Vegetable- and meat-based stews are very popular too, especially in winter when the temperatures drop below zero and a deep blanket of snow covers the country. To keep warm both vegetarian and meaty soups are often cooked and a beaten egg is blended in them to improve even further the flavour. Pickles, relishes and sauerkraut (all, ideally, homemade) complement lunches and dinners and, usually, a thick slice of bread is eaten with every meal.
In summer seasonal vegetables provide the bulk for enormous bowls of salads. Soft brined cheese is then crumbled on top and it is all liberally seasoned with salt, vinegar and copious amounts of sunflower oil.
Ah, the sunflower oil! It plays a leading role in
The women of Bulgaria know how to use it generously so that the flavours of the meal hit all the pleasure points in the brain and the stomach of the lucky eaters. After spending several years in London and getting used to cooking with a spoonful of oil at the very best, I remember gasping at the huge amounts of oil my mum uses in her home cooking every day.
She lifts the bottle, tips it over the large pan or pot in which the day’s dish is to be prepared, and lets the golden liquid flow freely for a while. I always tell her: ‘That’s too much oil!’ She never fails to reply: ‘It’s not quite enough yet!’ The flavour of her dishes is incomparable though, whereas mine are usually a bit dry.
Being an off-shoot of the Balkan cuisine, Bulgarian food shares several dishes and many cooking techniques with Bulgaria’s neighbours, most notably Turkey, Greece, Serbia and Romania. Yet, Bulgarians have changed them and adapted them to suit our own national taste. For example, a moussaka in Bulgaria is customarily made with cubed potatoes rather than slices of aubergines.
So, yes, keep an open mind about
I mean, just because you may have had a dish with that exact name before, it doesn’t necessarily mean that in Bulgaria it will be prepared the same way or have the same flavour as in Greece.
It may just surprise you and, actually, taste better.
Today, in order to introduce you to traditional Bulgarian food, I have picked ten dishes eaten either for breakfast or lunch/dinner in Bulgaria. I have spelled their names with both Latin and Cyrillic letters to make it easy for you to order them when in Bulgaria.
Make sure that you give them a try!
Now, before we dig into the dishes and their stories below, here is one final note. All the Bulgarian food in the photos in this blog post (bar the kebapche in white bread roll) was cooked by my mum for meals with my immediate and extended family.
It was very difficult to photograph it, I am afraid. People around the table were so eager to tuck in their food that I was rarely given more than a few seconds to snap a quick photo here and there. I had to be really quick; there was no time to experiment with light and angles.
Eating the food whilst it was still hot and sharing the meal with relatives and friends around the table was much more important. So, I invite you to this virtual Bulgarian feast.
Bulgarian Food – Ten Traditional Dishes You Must Try in Bulgaria
1. Banitza (Bg: баница)
You can’t go to Bulgaria and not have a piece of banitza! It’s a Bulgarian national food staple. Banitza is a tasty baked pie made of filo pastry, eggs, yogurt and brined cheese. Across Bulgaria there are many regional variations of banitza. A slice of banitza can be eaten for breakfast, as a mid-afternoon snack or it can be even enjoyed as a light lunch or dinner. Banitza is often coupled with a bowl of thick natural Bulgarian yogurt, a bowl of homemade fruit compote or a glass of boza – a thick fermented drink made of wheat or millet. My English husband became a staunch fan of banitza and while we lived in England, I would make it every fortnight as there it’s very easy to buy Bulgarian brined cheese. As in Italy, or at least in the Veneto where we reside, we find it very hard to source proper brined cheese, we hadn’t had banitza for close to a year. So, when my mum treated us to this beauty for breakfast, it was so quickly eaten, that I had to guard my slice in order to take this picture.
2. Shopska Salata (Bg: шопска салата)
Shopska Salad is Bulgarian summer in a bowl. Fresh crunchy cucumbers are peeled off and sliced thinly. Big red juicy tomatoes are then added to the mix cut in bite-size pieces. If you are feeling particularly healthy or generous, throw in a handful of julienned peppers. Season with salt, vinegar and oil and then crumble on top a large helping of brined cheese. Grab a salad spoon and mix it all, not too vigorously though so as not to crush the tomatoes. The Shopska Salad is a staple in every Bulgarian restaurant. At home, people have it as a starter while enjoying a drink. Definitely give it a try when you are in Bulgaria. There is something like a national obsession with it, so it is unlikely that you won’t have it at least once.
3. Green Bean Stew (Bg: яхния от зелен боб)
This is such a simple dish to make, yet it is so flavoursome and satisfying. All you need is a kilo of fresh green beans, some ripe tomatoes, onions, seasoning and oil and in no time you can enjoy a tasty vegetarian stew for lunch or dinner. Once you have eaten all the green beans off your plate, the sauce can’t go to waste. In Bulgaria thick slices of bread are served on the table with every meal. Breaking off a large piece of bread to mop the green bean stew sauce is a pleasure like no other. Give it a try!
4. Kebapche (Bg: кебапче)
Kebapche (pl. kebapcheta) is one of my most favourite Bulgarian foods. Luckily, in Bulgaria kebapcheta are sold everywhere. You will find them freshly grilled in restaurants and food shacks and frozen in the supermarkets for you to prepare at home. A kebapche is made of pork and beef minced meat seasoned with cumin which gives it its amazing flavour. From a street stall you can grab one or two juicy kebapcheta in a bread roll to have as a quick and unpretentious lunch. At a restaurant, you can order two or three (or as many as you want, really) kebapcheta with a garnish of French fries with grated brined cheese, pepper relish and some fresh salad. This is definitely a Bulgarian food to enjoy as often as you can when you are in Bulgaria.
5. Pork Chops (Bg: свински пържоли)
I wasn’t fast enough! By the time I had the camera all set up and ready, the big plate piled up high with pork chops, which my mum had just placed on the table, was all but empty and everyone around me was too busy munching for me to take any pictures at all. You know the old saying – when you can’t beat them, join them. So, I tossed the camera aside and tucked into my own juicy pork chop. I don’t know if it is the climate or a closely guarded secret, but pork in Bulgaria tastes the best in the world. It is usually so dry in England, that I never enjoyed cooking or eating it there. But in Bulgaria is the type of meat most people eat on a regular basis and you need to try it for yourself to appreciate the difference. Pork chops are a very popular Bulgarian dish. They are often prepared for special celebrations. They are best barbecued or grilled, but you can also roast them in the oven in a tray greased with a generous glug of oil.
6. Mekitzi (Bg: мекици)
Mekitzi are little balls of sticky dough which you pull and shape with your fingers into a flat patty which is then dropped into a pan with hot oil and fried to golden perfection. Eaten hot the mekitzi are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. You can also have them cold. It’s just that they will turn slightly chewy. Mekitzi are usually served for breakfast or as a tasty snack. They are great enjoyed either with a little bit of brined cheese or with jam. Mekitzi are also delicious simply dusted with icing sugar. You can buy them from the little shacks selling pastries and doughy snacks which are ubiquitous in every Bulgarian city and town. Or you can make them at home. A Bulgarian wife/husband is not strictly needed, but it helps having one.
7. Meatballs (Bg: кюфтета)
There is nothing like a juicy Bulgarian meatball! It really puts to shame its namesakes from around the globe. First, it is much larger than, say, a minuscule Swedish meatball, and, second, it tastes great grilled or fried. To make meatballs the Bulgarian way, you need pork mince, chopped onion, a slice of stale bread soaked in water, an egg (to bind the mixture) and seasoning, like black pepper, cumin, paprika and salt. You need to work all the ingredients together, leave the mixture in the fridge for at least half an hour to settle and then tear it into plum-sized balls. Roll these between the palms of your hands and squash them only very gently. Roll the meatballs in flour, dust off the excess and fry them in hot oil. Skip the flour stage, if you decide to grill them instead. Yum!
8. Milinki (Bg: милинки)
Milinki are irresistible! You can’t help it, but treat yourself to yet another one and then another one and… You get the drift. Milinki are little dough balls stuffed with pieces of brined cheese. They are dipped in a mixture of butter and oil and then lightly dusted with fine breadcrumbs. The milinki are baked tightly packed in a large tray, so that as the temperature rises, they expand, stick together and, when you take them out of the oven, they resemble one large bread. You need to leave the milinki to cool down a bit and then the fun part begins. You tear them one by one and eat them as fast as you can. The milinki simply melt on the tongue. Their crust is nice and crunchy. The fine breadcrumbs that they are dusted with, add a little salty exaltation to the whole experience. Best enjoyed with a bowl of thick natural Bulgarian yogurt, a glass of ayran (yogurt thinned with water and with added salt) or a cup of boza – a drink made of fermented wheat or millet. If you don’t have anyone to treat you to a tray of homemade milinki, again you can buy them very cheaply from one of the little shacks selling pastries and doughy snacks in every Bulgarian city or town.
9. Tarator (Bg: таратор)
This is a lovely and very refreshing traditional Bulgarian dish. Tarator is perfect to have in summer when the temperatures hit an impossible high. It is made of yogurt, thinned with water, and grated or cubed cucumber. It is seasoned with dill, (optional) garlic, salt, vinegar and a glug of oil. Right before you serve it, sprinkle a generous portion of crushed walnuts on top. If you don’t thin the yogurt with water, but otherwise complete all the other steps of making a tarator, then you will end up with a cold dip, which in Bulgaria is called ‘Salad Snezhanka’ (Bg: салата Снежанка). Snezhanka means ‘Snow White’ in Bulgarian. Here is the right moment to suggest that, when you are in Bulgaria (or if you can easily buy it abroad), you simply need to eat lots of Bulgarian natural yogurt. On a daily basis, ideally. Bulgarian yogurt is thick, refreshing, sates the appetite and it has a slightly sour taste. We, Bulgarians, are very proud of it, not least because for the correct production of real proper natural yogurt you need to use special bacteria, called ‘Lactobacillus Bulgaricus’, where ‘Bulgaricus’ obviously means ‘Bulgarian’. These wondrous bacteria take care of the intestines and promote long life and health.
10. Stuffed Vegetables (Bg: пълнени зеленчуци)
This is a lovely traditional Bulgarian dish. It’s very healthy, tasty and it can be made either with meat or purely vegetarian. You need peppers, aubergines, courgettes and/or large tomatoes. Basically, any vegetable which can be hollowed out. Then you fill them up with a mixture of seasoned and lightly fried minced meat and rice, put them in a large pot, cover them with water and simmer them for a while. Then serve and enjoy. If you prefer a meatless meal, you can use mushrooms instead of the mince or simply increase the quantity of the rice. I remember posting the picture above on my Facebook page some time ago and it got so many likes and comments, proving how popular this simple yet authentic Bulgarian dish is.
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