You might have already been to Bulgaria, in which case you know what Bulgarian food is like. I am certain you were not disappointed. We are often asked:” What type of food to expect in Bulgaria?” or “What do Bulgarians eat? Is Bulgarian cuisine close to the Mediterranean?” and questions of a similar character.
Well, to put it short, Bulgarian food is tasty. It is quite a statement but we will not only explain why the food is so important to Bulgarians but will also give you a more in-depth look on what to expect in Bulgaria in terms of food.
We will be delighted if you start exploring Bulgarian cuisine by cooking some of the recipes we publish here. We try to reflect all seasonal variations of our cuisine and use all the different products available in Bulgaria.
Happy browsing and cooking and don’t forget to share your experiences with us.
Overview of Bulgarian cuisine and what Bulgarians eat
In Bulgaria food is still cooked with fresh, naturally grown products and ingredients. If one tries to describe the Bulgarian cooking style in short that would probably be: Slowly prepared dishes with generous use of flavor-packed vegetables and herbs.
The traditional Bulgarian cuisine
For historical reasons, the traditional Bulgarian cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines and to lesser extent by Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. This is so for many reasons among which are the facts that Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for almost five centuries, the geographical location – the country is situated on the crossroad between Europe and Asia and also because of its proximity to the Mediterranean region. In other words, Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Still, if definition is needed, one can describe the traditional Bulgarian cuisine as one using a lot of spices and herbs, elaborate to cook and time consuming.
What do Bulgarians eat?
If you are lucky enough to be a guest in a Bulgarian home and the hosts decide to treat you to a Bulgarian food, you will most likely be served a few courses meal. Bulgarians will almost always start with appetizers or/ and a salad, reflecting the season, often accompanied with some additional starters, such as cold cuts, grilled, pickled or marinated vegetables, olives, spreads and other stuff resembling Turkish and Greek mezes.
To follow Bulgarians will have some kind of meat for as main course. Most popular meats are chicken and pork, usually served with potatoes, rice or cabbage on a side. Beef and fish are consumed by Bulgarians, but are not that popular, partially because of their higher price and partially because traditionally there were not part of Bulgarians’ diet. Lamb (but not mutton) is largely appreciated by Bulgarians; however it is not eaten on daily basis but rather on special occasions.
In recent years, lifestyles are changing, the assortment in supermarkets is becoming richer and richer, Bulgarians’ living standard is rising and this reflects in the eating habits of Bulgarians.
The national drink of Bulgaria is rakia, a strong alcohol beverage, very much resembling brandy and grappa. Typically rakia is made of grapes and has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 40%. Here is one thing you need to know – Bulgarians drink rakia with their starters and not after they’ve finished with the meal. They take their time with savoring the combination of Rakia and starters and can easily have few drinks during this time. If you are offered Rakia, just go for it – it’s well worth trying and it doesn’t mean you need to match the number of drinks your Bulgarian friends will have.
The style and orientation of home cooking depends on many factors, but the most important one is the family cooking tradition. For example, at home, many Bulgarians will incorporate many recipes and eating habits adopted from their parents and grandparents cooking. A distinctive feature of most Bulgarian recipes is that you start with cooking the meat first, gradually adding all other ingredients. This also means that at the end of the cooking you will have completely finished the cooking, using one saucepan or baking tray. This method saves time, especially if you work from scratch.
Below is a concise list of the locally produced foods that Bulgaria is either self-sufficient in or of which it produces some quantities:
Meats: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, ostrich, fish;
Dairy products: the main type of milk Bulgarians eat is plain yogurt, therefore it’s produced in enormous quantities, followed by fresh milk and cheese. Cows’ milk is the most popular type of milk, but sheep, goat and buffalo milk is also produced in Bulgaria. The most popular types of Bulgarian cheeses are sirene (white brined cheese) and kashkaval (yellow semi matured cheese);
Legumes, rice and corn are all produced in Bulgaria;
Vegetables: potatoes, cabbage (green and red), carrots, tomatoes, green peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, garlic, courgettes, pumpkins, onions (yellow and green), peas, celery, spinach, cauliflower, lima beans, lettuce, radishes, turnip, gumbo, mushrooms, olives;
Fruits: apples, cherries, sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, watermelons, melons, grapes, quinces and many more;
Nuts: peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts;
Herbs: many different – thyme, horseradish, tarragon, sage, rosemary, bay leaf and coriander, to name but a few
Wine: although wine is not the focus of this article, it’s worth mentioning since it is produced in large quantities and of ever increasing quality, and is one of the main exports of Bulgaria.
What’s available on the market?
The short answer will be pretty much everything. All of the above listed products are freely available in convenience stores and supermarkets. More exotic foods and products will be found in speciality stores and delicatessens which are popping up everywhere.
Nevertheless, some Far East food products and South American products, such as durian, quinoa, Chinese or Japanese noodles or mushrooms, as well as many spices, herbs and condiments are still difficult to find in Bulgaria.
What not to miss?
You should not miss trying some Bulgarian recipes. Bellow follows a list of recipes, which by no means is definite and could be somewhat subjective, but its idea is to provide some orientation:
Lyutenitsa – is a national relish (or dip, or spread) of Bulgaria, made of bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, black pepper, sunflower oil and salt. It could be made from both sweet and hot peppers so the taste will vary from sweet to hot.
Baklava – is a type of sweet layered pastry with a either ground walnuts or ground peanuts filling inside, all soaked in sugar syrup.
Banitsa – is a traditional Bulgarian pastry prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of sirene (white brine cheese) between filo pastry and then baking it in an oven. Again the recipes will vary, and you can have Banitsa with different fillings such as: leeks, cabbage, spinach and cheese and even pumpkin.
Bob chorba – traditional Bulgarian beans soup
Patatnik – is Bulgarian and more precisely Rhodopean potato pie, made of grated potatoes, eggs, onions, salt and peppermint
Shopska salad – Shopska is probably the most famous of Bulgarian salads, made of cubed tomatoes and cucumbers, finely chopped onions and depending on the season either baked or fresh sweet peppers, all covered with grated sirene (white brine cheese).
Mlechna salad (also Snezhanka) – is made of strained yogurt, finely diced cucumbers and vegetable oil, a touch of garlic, all sprinkled with chopped dill and grated walnuts.
Tarator – It is made of diluted yogurt, finely diced fresh cucumbers, grated walnuts, dill, a touch of garlic vegetable oil, and it’s served chilled.
Elenski but – is a dry-cured ham from the town of Elena in northern Bulgaria and is the Bulgarian version of the Italian Prosciutto or the Spanish Jamón.
Lukanka – is a Bulgarian spicy, half-raw and half-dried, flattened, cylindrical sausage, unique to Bulgarian cuisine.
Sarmi – minced meat (usually beef, pork or a combination thereof), rice, onions, and various spices, including salt, pepper and various local herbs are mixed together and then rolled into large plant leaves, which may be cabbage or vine leaf (fresh or pickled).