I’ve written a lot about places to visit in Bulgaria, but so far, I haven’t addressed one of my favorite topics: food. Bulgarian food is a mix of Greek, Turkish, and Serbian influences, and it varies slightly in different regions.
People in Bulgaria love pastry and fried dough in the mornings. One of the most popular Bulgarian pastries is the banitsa. Traditional banitsa is a round pie, filled with a mix of cheese, yogurt, and eggs. It’s perfect for a delicious savory breakfast and a glass of ayran complements it very well.
Mekitsa is another popular choice for breakfast in Bulgaria. They are deep-fried simple donuts and you can combine them with anything you want, either sweet or savory. The best way to savor a mekitsa is to slice it open and fill it like a taco with your favorite topping(s).
Bulgarian fried toasts are similar to French toast, but as opposed to those, usually come with a slice of cheese in Bulgaria. It’s a hearty breakfast that will keep you satisfied for many hours.
Lyutenitsa is a very popular Bulgarian delicacy. It’s a red-colored relish, made from peppers and tomatoes. It can also have eggplants, garlic, and spices. It’s delicious on a slice of bread for breakfast, but it also became a popular garnish for meat dishes. If you see it in the menu, don’t shy away from it. And if you’re staying in a self-catering apartment, a jar of lyutenitsa is a delicious budget breakfast option.
I have to mention one more breakfast dish Bulgarians eat at home, popara. It’s a type of porridge, made with hot milk, chopped bread, butter, and cheese. It doesn’t sound or look appealing, but it isn’t bad at all and kids love it.
Typical Bulgarian Food
A Bulgarian restaurant meal usually starts with a shot and a salad. By a shot, I mean fruit rakia, a pretty strong and flavorful drink. Salads come in all shapes and sizes, but from my observations, Bulgarian prefer simple vegetable salads with their drink.
Salads and Spreads
The most popular Bulgarian salad is a simple Shopska. To make shopska salad, you need cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and grated cheese. You can find slight variations of the Shopska: peeled tomatoes, roasted peppers, no onions, etc. Either way, you can hardly find a place where they don’t serve a Shopska in Bulgaria.
Remaining in the salads or appetizers department, traditional Bulgarian restaurants usually have a selection of spreads on the menu. Remember lyutenitsa? You can find it in most typical restaurants, together with an eggplant paste. You can also try kyopolou – an aubergine and roasted peppers dish, or katak – a spread of cheese, yogurt, roasted peppers, and garlic. Another must-try is snezhanka, a spread with cucumbers and yogurt, very similar to Greek tzatziki. Snezhanka can come with or without garlic, and sometimes it also has nuts. All of these go very well with the pita bread, which (again!) can come with or without garlic.
If you’re close to the sea, there is always a tarama (fish roe) spread to be tasted. If you can’t make up your mind, most restaurants have combined platters, so you can taste more appetizers. You can easily have a full meal on these salads and spreads, a Greek-style mezze meal.
Bulgarian Food – Soups
The choice of soups in Bulgaria isn’t very wide. A typical restaurant will usually have a decent chicken soup and some season’s veggies cream soup. Anyway, there are two stars of the Bulgarian soups show: fish soup, and tarator soup.
The fish soup is a must-try if you’re on the Bulgarian coast somewhere. There are some differences between the fish soup on the northern Bulgarian coast and the one in the southern sea area. In the north, the soup is more hearty, cooked with tomato paste and served with a chilly paste on the side to spice it up if you want to. In the south, the soup is more clear, with a lemony taste. Both of them are delicious, but if I had to choose one, I would go with the one in the north with a bit of the chilly paste.
Now, the tarator is something else. It’s a cold soup, made with yogurt, and cucumbers and served with dill. Though it’s very uncommon, and many people stay away from it, I find it very refreshing at lunch on a hot day. Give it a try and let me know if you liked it or not in the comments below!
Fish and Seafood
If you like eating fish, the Bulgarian coastline will seem (or taste) like paradise. Menus are full of mussels, sea snails, shrimps, or squid. They come steamed, fried, grilled, in risottos, and sometimes in soups. The fish can also be marinated, smoked, grilled, and fried, there’s a lot to taste. I love the fresh mussels steamed with wine and garlic.
Bulgarian Food – Meat Dishes
Bulgarian typical food is usually tasty and filling, and there is no shortage of meat dishes on the menus. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular meat dishes in Bulgaria.
For barbecues, Bulgarians have their kyufte and kebapche. They are both minced meat meatballs, but the kyufte is round and the kebapche is long. The unusual taste comes from the cumin they prepare the meat with. You can taste the Turks’ influence in these grilled dishes. They go very well with a cabbage salad, or maybe with French fries and lyutenitsa.
Sach dishes are a must-try if you find yourself in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. The sach is a clay pot where they cook meat and vegetables. Then, the sach pot comes to the table on a metal stand, and it stays hot for a long time, keeping the food warm throughout the meal. In fact, the food will be long gone and the pot will still be hot.
Kavarma is another typical Bulgarian food. It’s a mix of meat and vegetables cooked in the oven. The recipe varies from region to region and even from family to family, but it’s always a hearty meal, perfect for a chilly day.
I could go on and on about Bulgarian food, but it’s time to head to dessert. Just to set things straight, don’t shy away from other things either. A giant bean salad, vine leaves sarmi, some roasted peppers, or lukanka (traditional Bulgarian sausage), should not be missed when you encounter them.
The desserts in Bulgaria are mostly influenced by Turkish cuisine. You can find baklava and such in pastry shops everywhere. There are also a lot of shops that display a wide range of cakes you can have a slice of, but they never looked inviting to me.
My favorite Bulgarian dessert though is the nougat ice cream with figs, a treat with roasted walnuts and green figs preserve.
Final Thoughts on Bulgarian Food
As you can see, I love Bulgarian Food. The two smells that make me think of Bulgarian dishes immediately are peppers roasting on the grill and the smell of fresh figs. If you want to read more about Bulgarian food, or check out the trendiest Bulgarian city, read my Food in Plovdiv post next.