Bulgarian cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in Europe. It’s a mixture of traditions and influences of neighboring countries: Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Hungary, Italy and countries of the Mediterranean basin. Many dishes of Bulgarian cuisine have Turkish and Greek names. It consists of numerous salads, pastries and bread, soup and many other local dishes. Many dishes from Bulgarian cuisine are prepared using recipes that are transferring from generation to generation.
The warm climate of Bulgaria and its geographical diversity provide a huge selection of fresh vegetables, fruits, and greens, which is grown in a natural (organic) way. Thanks to this variety, the food in Bulgaria includes a large number of stewed vegetables. Salads are the main appetizer and soups are also popular, both hot and cold. Domestic inhabitants living in rural areas, or in villages, cultivate their own vegetables, which is why the taste of salads in Bulgaria is different. Tasty homemade vegetables made salads a central place in the tradition of Bulgarian cuisine. As in Serbia and Bulgaria, the so-called “salty salad” is the most popular, but others are also famous: shepherd salads, salad with cereals, baked peppers, snowmen with special Bulgarian yogurt, monk salad with tomato, wellness salad with young cheese and many more others.
However, despite the above, the meat products (pork, veal, and chicken) still dominate in the dishes of Bulgarian cuisine. To preserve the taste of the products and their nutritional value most of the dishes of Bulgarian cuisine are steamed or baked. For cooking and salad dressing Bulgarians use sunflower oil instead of olive oil.
Spicy and juicy Bulgarian cuisine is a gourmet paradise
Spices and herbs play a huge role in Bulgaria. Today, Bulgaria is the third largest exporter of spices in the world. The most common are fenugreek and chubritsa (savory). There is a huge variety of ready-made spice mixtures. One of the most popular “Sharena Sol”, which includes fenugreek, thyme, corn grains, fried pumpkin seeds, hot and sweet pepper, salt.
The tradition of Bulgarian cuisine, created throughout generations, has preserved some special features in cooking, using a lot of fresh produce and unique spices – mostly prepared or extracted from medicinal herbs, with significant medicinal properties. The lentil soup is a Bulgarian traditional specialty, as well as a banica, i.e. cheese pie. The most popular food in Bulgaria is yogurt, which gives its inhabitants longevity and vitality. Yogurt is a basic dairy product that serves almost all dishes in Bulgaria. Bulgarians start using yogurt when they are three months old, and yogurt mixed with water and ice cubes is a favorite drink during the summer. Green cheese from the region of Tscherni vit is a Bulgarian unique product, which is the only traditional moldy cheese in the Balkans. The tradition of production of sheep cheese is preserved and nurtured by the mayor of the village, Tsvetan Dimitrov, who is truly dedicated to the personality. It is possible to get here by bus, but it is necessary to change the bus in Teteven city. In the village, there is a beautiful holiday house and is available to visitors who decide to discover this unique product and pride of the Lovech and Bulgaria regions.
It’s very difficult to imagine Bulgarian cuisine without delicious cheese and yogurt. “Sirenye” – a famous white cheese, very similar to feta cheese, often served in salads. “Kiselo Mljako” (Bulgarian yogurt) is known for its nutritional properties, and the presence of the bacterium “lactobacillus bulgaricus” in it. Bulgarians also consume a large amount of ordinary flatbread, ” Pärlenka “, which is served with main dishes, and traditionally breaks with hands.
Meat – especially pork and lamb are important foods for the preparation of numerous Bulgarian dishes. Pork meat is the most commonly used in Bulgarian cuisine, and chicken and lamb. Cufte and kebapche are the best-known meat products in Bulgaria, which are prepared from minced pork and beef meat, with the addition of spices. Cufte and kebapche are prepared in different shapes and with a variety of spices, the traditional way of preparing – the barbecue. Cufte and kebapche, with tomato, cucumber, baked potatoes or some salad, are a favorite Bulgarian specialty. The traditional seasonings and flavors of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, garlic and black pepper are added to the grill. The shkembe chorba is often prepared in Bulgaria and sprinkled with a variety of cheese and extremely delicious smoked sausage. Other popular dishes in Bulgaria are of Oriental origin – mousaka, djuvech, sour cabbage with pork or lamb meat and potatoes, tomato with sarma, paprika or cabbage filled with pork and rice. Shopska salad, fresh salad of tomato, cucumber, yogurt, and feta cheese and the recipe represents the special characteristics of Bulgarian cuisine.
The Bulgarian cousin of former Yugoslavia’s famous ćevapčići and Romanian mititei, a kebapche is the perfect dish with a glass of cold Bulgarian beer on a summer day. Though Bulgarians may debate about that, whether the beer is a Kamenitza or a Zagorka makes no difference. The important part is that the kebapche contains at least three pieces of meat and some kind of sides, usually French fries with grated sirene cheese on top, to make the classic “three kebapcheta with sides”. The dish itself is an elongated piece of grilled minced meat, similar in shape and size, though not in contents, to a hot dog. As with the smaller ćevapčići that you can taste in Serbia, the meat is usually a mix of pork and beef, although it can be only pork just as well. A beef version exists but is uncommon. Typically, spices like black pepper and cumin will be added to the meat, for a gently spicy taste.
Musaka is liked in many variations throughout the Balkan region. The Bulgarian version includes potatoes, eggs, and diced pork meat and is a known favorite of Bulgarian men, among whom it is a popular joke that they cannot marry a woman who can’t cook the perfect musaka. While the Greek type of musaka may be based on eggplant, the Bulgarian dish relies strictly on potatoes with a layer of meat. The whole thing is traditionally covered with delicious Bulgarian yogurt on top.
Practically in any menu of the Bulgarian restaurant, you can find offal (tripes), in various forms and variations. Bulgarians don’t like to throw anything away and try to use all parts of the animal. From the calf stomach, it turns out a wonderful soup (shkembe chorba – tripe soup).
Lyutenitsa is favorite of children. Ask any Bulgarian and they would say this gourmet relish of tomatoes and peppers is the best thing you can cover your toast with. Nowadays it is commercially produced and sold in small jars, although it is still usually made at home by many Bulgarian families. When you can smell the aroma of roasting peppers originating from the balconies throughout the country in autumn, you know the homemade lyutenitsa season is coming! Due to the onions, and garlic used to make it, lyutenitsa will always be at least slightly hot in taste, to which it owes its name, and its popularity. Lyutenitsa is a special favorite of children. Parents know that a slice of bread covered with lyutenitsa and spattered with sirene cheese, as everything seems to be in this country!
Another important food product of Bulgaria is bread, which is usually purchased fresh, every day. The favorite meal in Bulgaria is a slice of warm bread, covered with feta cheese and fresh tomato slices. Oriental baklava cake/walnut bark layers, dipped in sweet syrup is a favorite dessert and it’s used extensively in Bulgaria. Bulgarian cuisine is also known for its excellent quality of dairy products and various salads, mineral water, refreshing, slightly mineralized flavors, as well as abundant types of wines and local alcoholic beverages such as brandy, mastic, and mint. Bulgarians prefer to drink strong coffee, which they call Turkish coffee.
Banitsa represents a baked extravaganza. This piece of greasy pastry deliciousness can be bought in bakeries all over the country. Its standard fillings include a feta cheese, or it can be filled with onions, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms or pumpkin. If you like sweets, you can also try banitsa with apples and nuts. Banitsa in any of its forms is an inseparable part of a classical Bulgarian breakfast. You can combine it with thick fermented wheat drink boza for a traditional Bulgarian experience. You must be careful when chewing your piece of banitsa at Christmas or New Year’s Eve because, on those dates, banitsa is filled with lucky paper charms which are sometimes easy to chew through. The luckiest person will find the coin which means that he or she will enjoy a very successful year.
The Bulgarian desserts, in the majority, are borrowed from the Turks. Desserts are often made from fruits and nuts, with the use of various syrups and puff pastry. Bulgarian honey is a very valuable natural product, with an impressive nutritional value.
In the majority, Bulgarians consume plenty of fruit juices and mineral water, but a bit of tea. Strong coffee, espresso, Bulgarians drink at any time of day and in large quantities.
The boza is a combination of an ecologically clean and healthy drink, vitamins, and alcohol, made by fermentation. This drink is quite popular in the Balkan Peninsula countries and is made from wheat, corn or millet.
Rakija – schnapps
Alcohol is also a constant companion not only of the feast but also of the daily life of the Bulgarians. The main meal begins and ends with a “Rakija” that they simply adore.
“Rakija” serves as a striking example of the alcoholic traditions of the inhabitants of Bulgaria. They make rakija mainly from grapes, plums, apricots, and peaches. This drink is traditionally consumed before the main dish, as the Bulgarians themselves say, to stimulate the stomach and increase appetite.
The geographical position and climate of Bulgaria, contribute to winemaking, whose traditions go back centuries.
The wine has always been produced and consumed in Bulgaria. Trachani, the oldest people in this region were the most famous wine producers in the ancient period. The wine of the Thracians, who lived in the territory of modern Bulgaria, was first mentioned in the 6th century BC by Homer himself. Wine was considered a mirror of the soul, which relaxes the inner, hidden and true nature of the human being. The wine has always been the beginning and end of everything in life, and after it.
The wine production in Bulgaria is still very successful today. Bulgaria exports wines all over the world and by 1990 it was the second exporter in the world in terms of quantity of bottled wine.
In 2007, 200 000 tons of wine was produced in Bulgaria, making this country the 20th largest in the world for production. Among the most famous varieties of local wines are Dimiat, Mavrud, Red Misket, Rouen, Rubin, Melnik 55, Shiroka Melnishka Loza, Pamid. Mavrud is a red variety of grapes originating from the Straits of southern Bulgaria, and today it is one of the oldest varieties in the world. In the southern part of Bulgaria, around the generously sunny Melnik, grapes are grown that contain the breeze of the morning, the warmth of the day and the love of the evening. Only in this region are world famous ancient varieties of grapes broadleaf melon wine and Keracuda.
There is also a lot of legends about these wines, made from the worthy hands of winegrowers, who, along with their oenologists, speak to visitors during visits to a local winery and in the Museum of Wine in Melnik.
On the Bulgarians Black Sea coast, the conditions for growing grapes are excellent, especially for white varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, Aligote, and Riesling. The largest wineries are in Varna, Pomorie, Shumen and Preslav Krum. The most famous varieties of red wine are produced in the eastern part of the Black Sea coast: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Frank.