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Bulgaria is one of those last remaining gems of Europe that has largely avoided mass tourism. Tucked away in Southeastern Europe, this beautiful country captures a decent slice of the Black Sea coast. It is bordered by other less-commonly visited European nations like Romania, Serbia, and North Macedonia.
Much like the country itself, Bulgarian food has also gone largely undiscovered until just recently. Bulgarian cuisine shares characteristics with other Balkan dishes and exhibits similar flavors to its other neighbors Greece and Turkey. Of course, several Bulgarian dishes are also quite unique, being that the country has such a very long history.
Because Bulgaria isn’t an especially large nation, the food in Bulgaria doesn’t vary a great deal between the different regions. That being said, you will find unique dishes in places like the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria and along the Black Sea coast.
If you’re one of the many travelers who are unfamiliar with traditional Bulgarian food and drink, we’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered up some of the most authentic flavors around the nation, which will hopefully entice you to check out this stunning country yourself.
You’ll find that Bulgarian food prices are much more reasonable than some of the other more heavily visited Western European nations, and most dishes are quite healthy. There is a huge focus on natural organic ingredients, with many Bulgarian restaurants choosing to grow their own produce.
Whether you’re a lover of meat or a vegetarian, Bulgaria doesn’t disappoint. So now that we’ve built up your hunger let’s take you around Bulgaria to explore in detail just what incredible food and drink you’ve been missing. We’ll begin with dishes that can be found throughout the nation and then focus on the Black Sea Coast and Rhodope Mountains region.
Okay, so let’s crack on with discovering what food they eat in Bulgaria…
General Traditional Bulgarian Food And Drinks
Here are the most popular dishes in Bulgaria:
Banitsa – Yummiest Bulgarian Breakfast
Banitsa, sometimes written as banitza, is not only one of Bulgaria’s most famous foods, it’s also one of its most versatile. This baked pastry can be served hot or cold and can be made to be sweet or savory.
Banitsa is made up of layered sheets of buttered filo pastry that contains eggs, and most commonly, a white cheese known as sirene as a filling. It is a common Bulgarian breakfast item, but the sweeter varieties that are filled with ingredients like apples, pumpkin, or walnuts are often enjoyed as popular Bulgarian desserts.
While this may be one of Bulgaria’s rare high-calorie foods, you can opt for varieties that are filled with spinach, onions, leeks, or cabbage as a bit of a healthier option. You’ll often see people eating banitsa with a side of yogurt, and during the festive winter season, the pastry often contains good luck charms or coins.
Sudjuk – The Ultimate Bulgarian Sausage
Packed with tons of protein and also versatile in its uses, sudjuk is a fermented sausage that is a widely popular part of the Balkan diet. You can liken it to salami, with its bit of a bite coming from spices like red and black pepper alongside cumin and sumac.
You’ll most often see sudjuk made using beef, pork, or lamb; however, some recipes call for horse meat to be used. Many people choose to pan-fry or grill sudjuk and then enjoy it alongside their eggs for breakfast or as a topping on a pizza for lunch or dinner. Pair dishes made with sudjuk with a nice Bulgarian red wine or rakia fruit brandy for the finest experience.
Not to be outdone in the cured meat section, lukanka may actually top sudjuk in terms of popularity in Bulgaria. Similar to sudjuk, it presents a bit stronger flavor and has a bit more pungent smell. Lukanka can be recognized by its flattened cylindrical shape, which comes about during the drying process, taking up to two months or more.
Lukanka is popular as an appetizer before you settle into your main Bulgarian meal. The sausage often contains pork or veal meat which is housed inside a dried cow intestine casing. Similarly spiced to sudjuk, you often see a few more spices added, such as nutmeg, paprika, and coriander. You’ll find some of the finest lukanka in the Balkan Mountains of central Bulgaria.
Somewhat resembling an odd-looking, uncut black nori seaweed wrapped sushi roll, lozovi sarmi uses the same concept of wrapping ingredients inside a casing. In the case of lozovi sarmi, the casing is made of fresh grape leaves which have been flash-boiled in salty water. You then have the choice of creating vegetarian lozovi sarmi packed with ingredients like white rice and onions or ones that add mincemeat to some Bulgarian recipes.
Lozovi sarmi make great appetizers and can be served hot or cold. They are best served with yogurt as a dipping sauce, and drinking mineral water with them is said to enhance the flavors. An alternative to using grape leaves for the casing is to use pickled cabbage.
It is jokingly said in Bulgaria that a suitable partner must know how to make good Bulgarian moussaka. Moussaka may be thought of as being more Greek, but the Bulgarians have their own unique recipe, which is adored throughout the country. Bulgarian moussaka substitutes the traditional eggplant found in the Greek variety with potatoes and contains minced or ground meat, egg, and sometimes mushrooms.
This traditional Bulgarian food is easy to make and is extremely delicious. For a bit of a tangy flavor, some recipes call for a topping of yogurt, while others choose to top their moussaka with cheese.
Bulgarians may just consume more yogurt than anywhere else in Europe. Bulgaria offers visitors a truly unique yogurt variety known as kiselo mlyako, which contains two different types of healthy probiotic bacteria, including lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. While kiselo mlyako’s bacteria names may be hard for your mouth to handle, the yogurt itself goes down easy.
Kiselo mlyako is thick yogurt that presents a slightly sour flavor but is generally mild and has a pleasant creamy finish. It is definitely good enough to have by itself. Still, many use kiselo mlyako as the yogurt of choice to be used in numerous other Bulgarian dishes, some of which we have already mentioned. As we discussed earlier, you’ll find the yogurt being used in soups, desserts, salads, and as a dip.
Tikvenik – Unique Bulgarian Dessert
When it comes to dessert, who needs apple pie or carrot cake when you have tikvenik, this Bulgarian pumpkin strudel offers up just the right amount of sweetness so as to not leave you feeling like you may get diabetes afterward. Shaped in a coil, the strudel features flaky filo dough that embraces a concoction of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla, and maybe some pecans or walnuts if you’re feeling a bit nutty. Top it off with a bit of orange zest and powdered sugar, and you’re all set.
On to drinks, boza is a popular malt beverage that many Bulgarians pair with their banitsa at breakfast. Made in Bulgaria from wheat and millet, the drink is served cold and offers a sweet and sour refreshing taste. While it does contain a trace of alcohol, you’ll struggle to get intoxicated from its roughly 1% alcohol content. More importantly, than it containing alcohol is that it offers up a number of vitamins.
Bulgaria’s national drink, rakia, is a far cry from boza in terms of alcohol content. Commonly, the drink contains around 40% alcohol, but homemade varieties, which are common across the country, can contain upwards of 50% to even 60% alcohol.
Rakia is served at all kinds of important occasions in Bulgaria, including weddings and funerals, making it undoubtedly the most popular drink in Bulgaria.
So what is rakia? Rakia is a strong fruit brandy most commonly produced from grapes such as muscat or sauvignon blanc grapes, but it can also be made using a range of high sucrose fruits such as peaches, plums, or apricots. There is even a unique variety of rakia found in the Rose Valley region of Bulgaria, appropriately named rose rakia.
Rakia is an aperitif in Bulgaria, unlike the similar strong drinks of other countries, which tend to take the role of digestifs. While it may be often served in a shot glass, it’s important to take things slow and sip rather than down in one gulp. If you happen to be sampling homemade rakia for the first time, you’d be wise to maybe add in a bit of water to dilute the alcohol content.
Moving on to the heavy hitters of Bulgarian cuisine, tarator soup is a standout dish and easily one of the most famous Bulgarian dishes. You’ll quickly discover that tarator soup is listed on nearly every Bulgarian menu.
A ubiquitous sight during the warm summer months, this chilled soup is simple, light, and very refreshing. Commonly served as a first course, tarator soup may just be your initial introduction to authentic Bulgarian cooking when you arrive.
Traditional tarator soup usually contains a blend of the beloved special Bulgarian yogurt, chopped dill, cucumbers, sunflower oil, and maybe a bit of garlic. Coldwater or even ice cubes are added to make it all that more refreshing.
Some varieties may see the soup topped with walnuts for a bit of a crunch, and there’s a salad version of the soup that omits watering down the yogurt.
Bulgarian Shopska Salad
While tarator soup may be loved nationwide, many regard shopska salad as the Bulgarian national dish; it has rapidly become a national culinary symbol of Bulgaria ever since it was created during the 1950s. You’ll even find every color of Bulgaria’s flag prominently displayed in the dish through its ingredients.
The salad, which has won a Taste of Europe contest in the past usually contains a mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, olive oil, and grated white sirene cheese, which is said to be the key ingredient to giving the salad its unique flavor.
Much like tarator soup, this cold salad is frequently served up during summer. You may find a few different variations being offered around the country, some of which may contain extras like mushrooms or eggs. Regardless of which variety you choose, this is easily the most recognizable dish in Bulgaria.
While most foods of Bulgaria are quite tame, shkembe chorba may take a bit more courage for some to sample. The issue lies with the soup’s main ingredient tripe, which, if you are in the know, is the stomach lining of an animal. Bulgaria’s recipe usually calls for the tripe of a cow or sheep. It is boiled for hours and then diced before being added to the soup and combined with fried paprika, hot red pepper, and chili.
Because the soup can have quite a kick in terms of being spicy, this is another reason you may need the courage to order the soup if you tend to favor bland dishes. The often added garlic gives the soup an even greater aroma but can be avoided if you’re someone who likes to maintain their fresh breath.
The traditional Bulgarian soup has even become a so-called hangover cure by many. And if you’re looking to be even more courageous, some varieties of shkembe chorba actually substitute the tripe for intestines.
Bulgarian Black Sea Coast
Here is what to eat in Bulgaria when you’re by the sea:
Bulgarian Fresh Fish
Moving on to the Black Sea Coast, it should come as no surprise that seafood is the main feature of local menus. You’ll actually find a nice sampling of both saltwater fish caught fresh just offshore as well as freshwater fish thanks to Bulgaria’s numerous rivers and lakes.
Many fish species are seasonal, so what’s on offer is likely to vary depending on when you visit. Popular saltwater fish that find their way onto menus include jack mackerel, whiting, mullet, hake, Black Sea turbot, cod, and European seabass. Popular freshwater fish include brown trout, blue and channel catfish, European perch, and common carp, which are usually baked and stuffed.
You’ll usually find fish served up fried, baked, or grilled alongside salad or potatoes. However, you may also want to try the very popular Ribena chorba, which is a traditional Bulgarian fish soup. The soup often contains a nice variety of diced fish or fish heads that swim alongside a gathering of vegetables which usually includes onions, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes.
One fish dish that gets a special mention is deep-fried sprats. It’s Bulgaria’s answer to English fish and chips. An order of fried sprats consists of a few dozen small fish that belong to the herring family, which have been deep-fried whole with salt and garlic powder. You’ll be crunching into the head, tail, and all.
The sprats, or tsatsa as they are known locally, are usually accompanied by a side of fries and lemon wedges. Fried sprats make the perfect midday summer snack in Bulgaria.
One of the more exotic traditional foods in Bulgaria is the veined rapa whelk. This marine sea snail may now be the main seafood harvested from the Black Sea, but ironically the whelks are not native here. Rapa whelks actually originate from the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan, where it is thought Russian WWII military ships helped the stowaway whelks find a new home in the Black Sea.
The whelks population exploded, so Bulgarians decided to start harvesting them to control their numbers. The now very popular dish along the coast is said to resemble abalone in taste with a texture that is reminiscent of raw clams. You may find whelks served fried, boiled, and thinly sliced with a white wine sauce or served in a salad.
The main ingredient in many coastal soups and salads are Black Sea mussels. They may also be stewed in a white wine sauce, much like rapa whelks. There are numerous mussel farms along the coast, with the largest and most prominent being the Dalboka Mussel Farm in Kavarna, which offers up a lovely restaurant with exceptional coastal views.
Rhodope Mountains Of Southern Bulgaria
Patatnik is one of Bulgaria’s top comfort foods that originated in the Rhodope Mountains. It’s a shredded potato pie that typically features Bulgarian sirene white cheese, but you may also see it prepared with local grated kashkaval yellow cheese. The dish also features a hint of mild locally grown mint.
The traditional Bulgarian cooking method of patatnik involves slow cooking it over an open fire. Still, nowadays, you often see it prepared in a pan on the stove or baked in the oven. It may not be the quickest dish to make, taking around 30 to 40 minutes from start to finish, but the flavor is worth the effort. Some varieties may also include eggs or peppers.
The Rhodope Mountains are also home to a unique type of pancake called a marudnik. Made with flour, eggs, baking soda, and once again yogurt, the dish is actually eaten as more of a dessert rather than as a breakfast item.
Traditionally, marudnik pancakes are cooked on a flat hot stone, but you can simply prepare them in a pan. Serve them alongside your favorite jam or wild berry preserve, with maybe a bit of powdered sugar for a bit more added sweetness.
A hearty mountain breakfast packed with energy, the polenta-like kachamak is often just a simple blend of cornmeal, water, salt, butter, and local sirene cheese. Fancier versions may see heated lard, paprika, pumpkin, or walnuts added. And of course, like with many other Bulgarian dishes, it’s not unusual to pair kachamak with a side of yogurt.
Much like kachamak, bob chorba is another dish that is prominently made to be vegetarian. Bob chorba is a white bean soup that is often cooked and served in a clay pot. While many different vegetables can be added to the soup depending on your individual tastes, it’s common to see peppers, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. Much like patatnik, many bob chorba recipes also call for a bit of mint.
In addition to being vegetarian, most bob chorba varieties are also vegan and gluten-free, making them suitable for nearly everyone. That is probably why this dish is considered to be the national dish of the mountains in Bulgaria. You can, of course, add a bit of pork or sudjuk sausage if you like your meat or simply want some added protein.
These are just a sampling of the many unique and very delicious foods and drinks you’ll find while traveling throughout Bulgaria. The longer your stay and the more you roam the nation, the more hidden flavors you’re likely to encounter.
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