Bulgaria, the land where Balkan and Slavic revelry meets eastern European grit and stoicism. The country is also incidentally the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet! Bulgaria is fast gaining ground in other countries in Europe as one that is high on most backpackers’ lists of where to visit. A big part of this interest lies in the diverse geography, ecology, the history of the people and of course, the Bulgarian food.
If you ever venture on a Bulgarian holiday, remember a few things: Bulgarians love to catch up with family, welcome visitors, feed them, and talk to them about their lives and culture. A big part of this bonding happens over meals. Bulgarian food, traditional drinks and Bulgarian cheese all compliment the splendid hospitality and surroundings. Here’s what you can expect from a traditional Bulgarian meal.
Getting Started with the Food of Bulgaria
This traditional Bulgarian pastry is something you’ll find across the country at bakeries, coffee shops, canteens and bus stations. It’s buttery, cheesy, goodness is highly addictive. This snack (that goes very well with coffee) is prepared by stacking up layers of filo pastry dough – or fini kori as the Bulgarians call it, with butter and traditional Bulgarian cheese before it is baked. If you’re on a diet, you’ll definitely overshoot your calorie limit with a couple of Banitza, but trust me – it’s worth it.
If you’re looking for a quick snack or appetiser in Bulgaria, your best bet is to grab a roll or slice yourself some Lukanka. A traditional salami, Lukanka is the Bulgarian variant of the Italian soppressata.
Lukanka is great as a snack, to eat with veggies or with cheese over drinks. The salami is a mix of meat and fat, cured with spices and herbs before it is cased and dried out. Every region in Bulgaria has its own unique way of making Lukanka, and some even patent their local Lukanka at the Bulgarian patent office!
Shkembe (Tripe Soup)
Bulgarians love soup and salad. The shkembe is a traditional Bulgarian soup made from tripe. If you look at a Bulgarian cookbook, chances are ‘Shkembe’ will be one of the first recipes you come across. So “What is tripe?” you may be thinking. If you remember what it is, chances are you’re wondering what it may be like in a soupDon’t miss the beautiful clay pot or ‘Gyuvetch’ that the soup is served in!
For the uninitiated, tripe is, of course, the thick stomach lining found in the bellies of cattle. But wait. Before you get grossed out, learn more about it! This traditional recipe is made by boiling cut or minced tripe for several hours with paprika, milk, and oil. Apparently, the more the paprika the better the shkembe. Little known fact: The shkembe isn’t just a traditional soup, it also doubles as a post-drinking snack to settle the stomach, and is a great hangover cure.
Tarator: Cool Cucumber Soup
According to Bulgarian tradition, Shopska Salata or the Shopska salad is what newlyweds sit down and eat as their first meal together after the ceremonies. The recipe may seem simple, with just a few fresh cut vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and peppers as ingredients.What you’re often missing though is the traditional Bulgarian white cheese or ‘Sirene’ that is grated on top of the veggies, giving this salad its unique flavour. The name ‘Shopska’ was apparently inspired by a big group of very frugal folks called the ‘Shopi’ who are of Bulgarian ethnicity, often living in the mountainous regions of the country.
Kebapche is a variation of one of the most classic dishes of our time across the world: (drumroll please) The Kebab. ‘Kebapche’ as they are called in Bulgaria contain minced meat, spices, and herbs rolled into a long sausage-like roll.
What sets the Bulgarian kebab apart is the fact that Bulgarians grate Sirene, their white cheese, on top of the roll. The kebapche is a great snack for when you are on the go in Bulgaria. At Sofia, a plate would cost you approximately 5.5BGN.
Lozovi Sarmi (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
One of the unique Bulgarian dishes you can taste is the Lozovi Sarmi. Often eaten as a starter and sometimes even a main course, Lozovi Sarmi uses grape leaves as a base, and stuffs them with minced meat, rice, herbs, yoghurt and more. Pro Tip: Dip the stuffed leaves in some yoghurt and down some mineral water after every leaf to feel the flavours, wash down the food better and cleanse your palate every.