What Bulgarians eat:
Although Bulgarians love their meats, salads and soups are also important elements of their cuisine. Traditional cuisine combines influences from the Ottoman Empire with peasant cooking styles.
Fresh vegetables are plentiful and these are eaten raw, roasted or stewed with meat in terracotta pots. Meat dishes mainly comprise pork, veal and chicken which can be grilled, fried or cooked as a stew, and lots of garlic, onions, oil and spices are used in their cooking.
Meals start with a salad
Bulgarians always start their meal with a salad. Shopska salad, made with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh or baked peppers, onion and sirene (a salty sheep or cow’s cheese), is the most popular. A variation of the Shopska salad is Ovcharska. This has all the ingredients of the Shopska plus grated egg, mushrooms and sometimes ham is thrown in. Other popular salads include:
- Snezhanka (thick creamy yoghurt with chopped cucumber or gherkins, walnuts and garlic)
- Russka salata (small chunks of vegetables in mayonnaise)
- Kyopulo (roasted aubergines and peppers with loads of garlic and parsley)
The salad is washed down with a glass of rakia, a local spirit made of grapes or plum.
We were offered this at our dinner at the Hilton Hotel. Tony tried it but I abstained as alcohol on salad alone would have knocked me out!
A Hot Starter
The salad can be followed by a hot starter which includes popular dishes like Chuski byurek (pepper stuffed with cheese and herbs which is covered with breadcrumb and then fried) or Sirene po shopski (a white cheese baked in claypot with an egg and pepper on top). Roast vegetables with a light tomato sauce are also popular.
If you like soups, then the popular ones to try are Bob chorba (traditional bean soup with vinegar and chilli), pileshka supa (chicken soup) or leshta (lentil). A local favourite is Shkembe chorba (tripe soup seasoned with garlic and vinegar). Apparently Bulgarians have this soup as early as breakfast time!
A soup that’s served more in summertime is Tarator (cold yoghurt and cucumber soup).
And now to the Meaty end of the meal
Bulgarians are serious meat eaters and to many men a meal is not a meal if meat is not included! It’s no wonder they are world champion weight lifters!
Grilled meat (na skara) are very popular and include:
- Kyufteta (spicy meat balls)
- Kebapcheta (spicy sausage shaped mince meat)
- Parzhola (chops served with French fries)
Kavarma (meat and vegetable) and Gyuvech (chunks of lamb and vegetables) are two of the most popular claypot stews. Dried salami such as lukanka and pasturma are also consumed a lot.
Fishertarians and Vegetarians
There is not much choice for fish eaters with trout and some Black Sea fish being the only offerings. Vegetarian meals are usually a compilation of the salads and roasted vegetables.
Where we chose to eat
As a relatively new destination for tourists, it may not be easy to get to local restaurants or to order food in a local eatery if you don’t speak the language.
On the two occasions that we were in Sofia, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel which is out of the city centre, on the fringe of South Park. We dined at the Seasons Restaurant and had excellent dining experiences there. Rossen (maitre’d) and Nikolai (waiter) couldn’t do enough to make our dinner there a memorable experience. These two professionals took time to explain to us Bulgarian food, rakia and their range of wines and although the signature dish at Seasons is Beef Chateaubriand, they made sure that the chef cooked us a delicious non-meat meal.