Bulgarian cuisine is rich and varied. It offers many healthy and indulgent options for people of all tastes.
Bulgarian culinary traditions are typical of the Balkan peninsula, featuring many dishes whose alternative versions can exist in the neighboring countries. Historically, Bulgaria‘s territories have been occupied by the Ottomans for five centuries. Naturally, the local cuisine bears some similarities with foods typical of Western Asia.
Contrary to the custom in many European countries, Bulgarians like to have savory breakfasts.
- Banitsa is the most typical breakfast food that is also often prepared for religious holidays and family celebrations. It is an oven-baked pastry dish made with thin dough sheets garnered with eggs and white cheese. You can also find Banitsa with a different filling such as leek, onion, nettles, or spinach with cheese. Less commonly, you may get it with a sweet filling, for instance, Turkish delight, pumpkin, or apple.
- Mekitsa is a deep-fried kneaded dough that comes with a variety of toppings. Most commonly, mekitsas are covered with powdered sugar, although other sweet versions include honey or jam. If you prefer something savory, you might enjoy mekitsas with traditional Bulgarian white (sirene) or yellow (kashkaval) cheese. Typically, mekitsas are home-made or offered at street-food kiosks. These days some hipster restaurants offer all-time classics such as mekitsas, taking advantage of the nostalgia modern locals have for the breakfast their mom used to make every Sunday.
- Fried toast, similarly to mekitsa, is not the healthiest breakfast out there, but it is nonetheless delicious. Bread slices are dipped into a mixture of egg and milk and are then fried in a pan. The Bulgarian fried toast, commonly known as purjena filiika, can be eaten plain, with cheese, or with jam.
- Toast with lutenitsa (also spelled lyutenitsa or ljutenica) is a simple yet beloved breakfast that can make almost any Bulgarian reminisce over their childhood. Lutenitsa is a red pepper and tomato relish. The name suggests it should be spicy. However, there are many non-spicy variants. There is a large selection of lutenitsas you can purchase in any supermarket. Spread it over some bread and top it with crumbles of white cheese.
- Yogurt (kiselo mlyako) is widely used in many Bulgarian dishes and most locals adore it. It is the base of: a popular drink (ayran), a salad that reminds more of a spread (snejanka), a cold soup (tarator), and many sauces. It is a popular ingredient in baking or a topping to some dishes (Panagyurski Eggs). For breakfast, locals enjoy eating yogurt with sugar, jam, or fresh fruits.
Bulgaria has a large selection of salads, although most of them feature the same most-commonly used ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers, and white cheese.
- Shopska is the most popular Bulgarian salad, easily found in restaurants across the country. It has a few staple ingredients that represent the colors of the national flag: white cheese, cucumbers, roasted red bell peppers, and tomatoes. Some variants of the salad have onions or parsley. If you are visiting in summer, you might get a chance to try the one-of-a-kind Bulgarian pink tomatoes. These are a sort of large tomatoes that are typical of the region, rich in taste and flavor.
- Cabbage and carrot salad seasoned with fresh parsley is also quite common. Unfortunately, most restaurants fail to prepare it properly. It takes some time for the cabbage to soften and show its flavor. Let’s agree, though, you wouldn’t want to wait for a couple of hours for the salad you’ve ordered.
- Turshia (or trushiа) is a mix of pickled vegetables that many households prepare and consume during winters. The recipe generally includes cabbage, carrots, green tomatoes, red bell peppers, and cauliflower. Thanks to the fermentation of the vegetables, turshia is a healthy appetizer or side dish that boosts the immune system during the long winter period.
You can choose from many main dishes, including healthy and vegan options.
- Moussaka is a baked potato and minced meat casserole. It is topped with a layer of eggs and yogurt. Moussaka can also be found in Greece but the recipe is different, featuring aubergines and courgettes as the base.
- Kebapche is a popular street food that is often sold at festivals. It can also be ordered at traditional Bulgarian restaurants. Kebapche is made from minced meats (usually a mix of 60% pork and 40% beef) and spices, shaped into a cylinder and grilled. It goes perfectly with a salad and some fried potatoes.
- Kiufte is similar to kebapche, although it is ball-shaped and it has a few extra ingredients: onion, egg, and some more spices. As a result, kiufte is slightly more flavorful. There is a variant called Tatarsko kiufte that also has cheese added to the mix. In general, kiuftes are most often deep-fried and grilled, although some may choose to bake them.
- Meat sach is a popular dish that can be made of any meat or a mix of different meats and vegetables. They are prepared in a clay dish named sach that requires a special cooking approach. As a result, the meat becomes tender and infused with a variety of flavors.
- European sprat (tsatsa) is a type of small marine fish that is breaded and deep-fried, served with a slice of lemon and some French fries. It is a summer staple, best enjoyed with some cold beer by the beach.
- On December 6, many celebrate the day of St Nicholas, known as the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of the seas, lakes and rivers, sailors, fishermen, and merchants. The celebration of this Orthodox holiday includes a baked common carp (sharan), filled with a mix of mushrooms, onion, tomatoes, walnuts, and spices.
Vegan & Vegetarian
- Bob Chorba is a hearty bean soup with peppers, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. It is sometimes prepared with dried peppers, which gives the soup a distinct flavor. Bob Chorba is a crowd-pleasing dish that is almost set at the Christmas Eve dinner when, according to tradition, all dishes must be plant-based.
- Patatnik is a simple yet exquisite dish made with grated potatoes and onions. Oftentimes, the recipe includes eggs and cheese. Traditionally, patatnik was cooked over a fire but these days it is made in an oven or fried in a pan. This dish is typical of the Rhodope Mountains region, located in the southern part of Bulgaria. It is well-known for its scenic views and lovely villages where it feels like time has stopped. Imagine savoring patatnik, along with other local dishes, in this breathtaking setting.
- Tarator is a cold soup made with yogurt diluted with water and chopped or grated cucumber. It is seasoned with dill and garlic for more flavor. Some serve tarator with walnuts that add an extra crunch.
Bulgaria’s cuisine has many desserts that are easy to elaborate on but don’t fail to impress with their taste.
- Medenki are honey cookies that are easy to make at home. They are also commercially-sold at supermarkets, usually as large rounds half-dipped in chocolate. Some bakeries also offer freshly-made medenki. These cookies are commonly baked for Christmas and can be a delicious gift to friends and family.
- Kozunak is a type of sweet Easter bread that can have dried fruits or chocolate, although the plain recipe is the most widespread. The elaboration of a kozunak is laborious as it takes several hours and you must maintain a proper temperature for the yeast to rise. This is why during the holiday season many pre-order kozunaks at their local bakeries. You can find it year-round in the bakery section of some supermarkets.
- Kompot is a sweet beverage made by boiling fruit with water and sugar. It is commonly made with strawberries, peaches, prunes, sour cherries, or apples. Many households boil seasonal fruits and then put them into jars that can be preserved for winter. Kompot is also an excellent refreshment in summer.
- Keks is a simple cake topped with powdered sugar. It typically has a vanilla or cacao flavor or is a two-color mix of the two. It is excellent as an afternoon snack, a breakfast, or a dessert. Many Bulgarians love to pair it with yogurt.
This list is a short introduction to the extensive selection of Bulgarian dishes. There are many plant-based or vegetarian dishes, as well as dishes made with different meats or locally-sourced fish.
All of the foods on this list can be found in a supermarket, a traditional restaurant, or a bakery. Nevertheless, in case you get an opportunity to try them home-made – do so. You will taste the love in the ingredients and preparation methods.
Which dish are you most curious to try?
This is the third post on food from a country, the first one was about Dutch Traditional Foods you must try. What I know after reading all this, is that I actually want to go on a road trip to the Balkan, visit Ljubljana and Zagreb and then drive on to try all the amazing Bulgarian cuisine.
Eva Milano is an avid traveler and a natural foodie who loves to try dishes from every part of the world. She is also a yoga & meditation teacher and a freelance writer at All Things Hair. Follow her on Instagram where she posts about her passions.
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