Traditional Bulgarian Food is mostly famous for its variety of cheese, yogurt and quality vegetables. Bulgarian Cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding Balkan countries as well as Turkey and Greece, yet they put their own little twist on their dishes. It’s typically fresh, hearty and contains a variety of mild spices. The most common meats are pork, lamb and chicken. Depending on the region, you will find that seafood, fish, and veal can be popular as well.
While in most Eastern European countries the cuisine revolves around meat, and Bulgaria is no exception, there’s still plenty of dishes that are perfect for vegetarians (like me). I’ve tasted my way through a lot of Bulgarian menus (with my meat-eating local friend) and I’ve had a hard time choosing between all the delicious salads and vegetarian side dishes. Starving wasn’t exactly a problem in Sofia, let me tell you that much! Basically, there’s something for everyone and I’m pretty sure you’ll find some new favorites you want to try at home as well. Most likely, one of the following will be on that list of yours!
18 Traditional Bulgarian Food Favorites you should absolutely try when you visit:
1. Shopska Salad
Every dish in Bulgaria needs to be accompanied by a fresh, simple Shopska Salad – a combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers and grated cheese on top. If you’re up for a really Bulgarian experience, have it with a shot of rakia before you start “the real meal”. Cause there’s a lot more to come 😉 Maybe the Bulgarians like it so much because it matches their flag’s colors? White cheese, green cucumbers, and red tomatoes and peppers – a real traditional Bulgarian dish.
2. Tarator Soup
Although the combination sounds weird, this is the tastiest cold soup I’ve ever had. Tarator consists of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, and dill – a match made in heaven! Except for maybe a beer, nothing could be more refreshing and hydrating on a hot summer day. It’s unlikely you’ll find a Bulgarian restaurant that doesn’t have Tarator soup on their menu. Some may add some olive oil and walnut crumbles on top. It’s a great introduction to the famous yogurt they’re so proud of. My absolute Bulgarian food favorite!
3. Shkembe Chorba
This Bulgarian dish is not for the faint-hearted, it definitely requires some “guts” to try tripe soup. For one, because tripe is not regularly used in soups, and for two, because it’s very generously spiced – you’re supposed to add oil, vinegar, salt and chili to it. Like, a lot. You’ll often see people eating this soup in the morning – it’s considered a traditional hangover remedy. Goes without saying that the spicy, hot sips should be accompanied with an ice-cold beer (just like any Bulgarian food) 😉
4. Chushka Biurek (Stuffed Peppers)
A perfect Bulgarian dish for vegetarians; made of coated fried pepper stuffed with eggs and white cheese. It is usually served as a main dish, but can be shared as a side dish as well. Typically, long red peppers are used to prepare this meal, served in a cast iron pan and swimming in a delicious tomato sauce. There is a non-vegetarian version as well, where regular peppers are filled with minced meat and sometimes rice.
Probably the most popular item on the grill: Bulgarian Kebapche. It’s similar to meatballs, but shaped like a big long sausage and spiced with cumin (maybe you’ve heard of former Yugoslavia’s ćevapčići?). The minced meat is usually a mix of pork and beef or solely beef, if not stated otherwise. Ideally, there are three of them that come with a cold beer on a summer day, as well as some fries on the side.
6. Madradjisko (Egg & Cheese in Clay Pot)
This is probably my best secret tip for Bulgarian food, most non-Bulgarians won’t know about it although it’s super delicious (and also super heavy!). On the bottom of the clay pot you’ll find fried onions and peppers, followed by a thick layer of Bulgarian cheese. On top come the eggs, and the delicious dish is baked for 15-20 minutes. Dive in and enjoy every bite, but don’t expect to get any sightseeing done after this hearty meal!
7. Palačinka (Bulgarian Pancakes)
Actually, although pancake would be the correct translation, Bulgarian pancakes are rather crêpes since they are very thin. They’re made of a dough from eggs, flour, milk, and salt, and fried in a pan with butter or oil. You can usually choose from a huge selection of savory or sweet fillings. They are eaten at any time during the day, from breakfast to dinner. My personal favorite is one filled with Bulgarian cheese and olives, but the sweet ones with Bulgarian jam are a treat as well! The most traditional are apricot, plum or strawberry jam fillings, by the way, or honey and walnuts. Of course, there are also modern versions with Nutella
Baklava is a rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped walnuts, that is held together with syrup or honey. If you’re into sweet flavors, this is your go-to-dessert, it’s like a sticky sugar explosion in your mouth (and on your fingers!).
Banitsa is a Bulgarian pastry, eaten typically as a dessert, but also for breakfast. You’ll find sweet and savory types of this layered and buttered phyllo dough. While the homemade versions are usually baked, the fast-food banitsas you get on the street are often fried. Fillings can range from eggs, spinach, pumpkin, sweet milk, yoghurt, feta or other white cheeses. The sweet banitsa is very common especially at Christmas or for New Years, when you may find lucky charms or sayings written on paper in your piece to bring you luck.
10. Garash Cake
This dessert is not as famous as baklava or banitsa, but a very traditional Bulgarian dish nevertheless. It’s a walnut-chocolate cake that consists of five 2mm layers made of ground walnuts, egg whites and sugar. Once these are baked and have cooled down, they are arranged on top of each other and covered in frosting made of sweet cream and chocolate. Bon appetit!
Here are some more traditional Bulgarian dishes that you should try, but don’t require a longer explanation:
11. Jatvarska Salata (Farmer Salad)
12. Bean Salad
13. Selski Kartofi (Villager’s Potatoes)
14. Fried Lentil Balls
15. Mish-Mush (Scrambled Eggs)
16. Fried Pork
17. Shish Kebab
18. Chicken & Rice
If you’re a traveling foodie (or just want to switch up your cooking and discover new flavors), you might find these interesting as well:
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