Bulgarians love to socialize, bond, and catch up with friends and family. Incidentally, most of this “catching up” is done while sitting at the kitchen or dining room table—while it is covered in the delicious cuisine of the country. A staple of any meal in Bulgaria is cheese, or sirene, as the Bulgarians call it, the white brine cheese known as feta in the English-speaking world. The cuisine has a perfect balance of meat, yogurt, cheese, and vegetables, and can be modified to suit any taste without sacrificing flavor. Other staples are salads, pork, and fish. Let’s review the traditions of Bulgarian food and talk about some dishes that need to be on your “Must-Eat” bucket list so you can be fully prepared for a culinary adventure.
Starting the Day
Breakfast in Bulgaria is usually a simple affair during the week. You won’t always find a selection of decadent foods and many Bulgarians choose to have breakfast on the go. Thankfully, there is no shortage of local corner bakeries where you can find something that fits the bill. Along with that all-important cup of coffee, you’ll find a delicious pastry known as Banitza. Made with filo pastry dough—or fini kori as the Bulgarians call it, it is buttery, cheesy, and most of all, incredible. Popular drinks include ayran, a salty yogurt drink, and boza, a sweet, thick brown liquid with a slightly acidic flavor that is made from fermented wheat.
Weekend breakfast in Bulgaria is an experience to remember. On weekdays, Bulgarians do not eat fried foods before lunchtime, but that rule is broken on Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll find a selection of fried bread or French toast served with homemade confiture, pancakes, and doughnuts, along with accompaniments such as homemade jam, honey, and sirene. Don’t miss out on the Mekitsas with sirene and ayran. This simple yet delicious deep fried dough is typically served with jam, honey, cheese, or yogurt, and can be topped with icing sugar. What a way to get your mouth watering.
You’ll find some great salads on the menu for lunch. Shopska salad is one of the popular choices, made from tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh or baked peppers, and of course, sirene. Tradition states that this salad is what newlyweds eat as their first meal together after saying their vows. Ovcharska salad is similar, with the addition of ham and hard yellow cheese. Soup can always be found at lunchtime, with popular choices being chicken, bean, and the cold summer tarator soup, which is made with cucumbers, yogurt, dill, and walnuts.
Another “must-try” lunchtime food is sarma, made with grape, cabbage, rhubarb, or chard leaves, rolled around minced meat, usually beef, pork, or veal. It can also be made as a sweet dish of filo dough wrapped around a filling of chopped nuts. Don’t miss out on the kyufteta, otherwise known as Bulgarian meatballs. However, these aren’t your typical meatballs! They are flavorful, delightful portions of meat that are like nothing you’ve ever had. Simple, yet tasty, these small meatballs are often served with bread on the side and are a meal in themselves.
When the time comes for a snack, there is plenty to choose from! Kebapche, a Bulgarian version of the Kebab, is made of minced meat, spices, and herbs rolled into a long sausage-like roll and topped with, you guessed it, sirene.
Another on the go snack is Lozovi Sarmi, which is grape leaves stuffed with minced meat, rice, herbs, and yogurt. Do like the locals and dip the stuffed leaves in even more creamy yogurt and drink some mineral water after every bite to appreciate the flavor.
Banichka, which is the mini version of the traditional round Banitsa, can be found in just about every local bakery in Bulgaria is great for a quick mid-afternoon snack.
Dinnertime in Bulgaria
Dinner is the main meal of each day, and the portions are generous. Be prepared to spend significant time at the table, talking, eating, laughing, and drinking. The locals usually enjoy plenty of Bulgarian wine, or the national drink, Rakia. Rakia is home-distilled using plums, apricots, pears, grapes, and other fruit.
A classic Bulgarian meal is Meshana Skara or mixed grill. It consists of consists of one kebapche, one kyufte, one pork steak and one skewer of pork meat. Also served with French fries, bean salad with chopped onions and lyutenitsa, you’ll want to drink plenty of beer with this dish.
Another dish that you need to try while in the country is Kavarma. The ingredients and preparation of the dish vary by region; however, the recipe mainly calls marinated cooked meat and vegetables, with herbs and spices being added to taste.
Bulgarians absolutely love stuffed peppers, and for good reason! The recipe is simple and delicious, so add it to your list. Red or green peppers are stuffed with ground beef or pork and rice and then boiled and topped with a seasoned tomato sauce or whisked eggs. The peppers can also be fried and stuffed with whisked eggs and cheese. One bite, and you’ll be hooked.
A Sweet Ending
One of the best parts of any meal in a foreign country is dessert, and Bulgaria is no exception! Baked apples are popular, made from peeled apples, butter, brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon. Once heated, the apples are served with ice cream or vanilla syrup and are sure to melt in your mouth.
Look on any dessert menu, and you are sure to find baklava. Consisting of filo dough, and sprinkled cinnamon and finely crushed walnuts, then brushed with oil, baked and topped with chilled sugar syrup, this dish has been a favorite for years.
Kiselo Miyako, or Bulgarian yogurt, is a tradition. One of the best types of yogurts available, it is pure yogurt in its most elegant form. How you eat it is up to you, as it can be enjoyed with fruit, plain, or with any topping you like. The bottom line is, there is no wrong way to eat Bulgarian yogurt.
Bulgarians love to eat, and why not? With all of these wonderful and traditional recipes, the food is simply fantastic. A trip to Bulgaria is the culinary adventure of a lifetime!