Bulgarian traditional food
The traditional Bulgarian cuisine is influenced partly by the culinary customs of the other Balkans nations and shares common features with the Greek, Turkish and the Serbian cuisines. The Bulgarian food is tasty and diverse. The geographical location of the country and its mild climate are perfect conditions for growing different vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs which are basic ingredients in the Bulgarian dishes. Bulgaria is also famous for the diversity and the quality of its diary products which are widely used in the preparation of the typical Bulgarian food. The most favorite meat of the Bulgarians is the pork, followed by the chicken and the fish. The beef and the lamb meat are less common in the country’s cooking traditions, because most cattle here are actually bred for their milk and not for their meat. Another interesting feature in the Bulgarian cuisine is the fresh bread – the standard wheat bread (made mainly from white or wholegrain flour) is present on the Bulgarian table every day and is a constant companion to any main meal.
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The traditional Bulgarian dishes are prepared from fresh, naturally grown products (the deep-frozen ingredients are less favorite) and are mainly pot-cooked, oven-backed or steamed. Frying is not very common and is mostly used for the preparation of French fries, French toast and for some other meat and fish recipes. On the other hand, grilling of different kinds of meats is very popular in Bulgaria and grilled specialties are widely offered in every big and small restaurant, fast food canteens and street kiosks. Quite specific for the traditional Bulgarian culinary is the usage of many diverse spices, herbs and aromatic vegetables like garlic and onions during the preparation of the meals which makes the food very tasty and appetizing and adds a slight oriental note to it.
Which are the most typical dishes in Bulgaria?
STARTERS: Salads and relishes
The fresh vegetable salads are an integral part of the Bulgarian menu. The salads are eaten as a starter together with a cup (or two…) of “Rakia” (typically Bulgarian schnapps-like spirit, made of grapes or other fruits). The salads are prepared mainly from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, lettuce and onions, forming different combinations and varieties. The most typical salads for Bulgaria are:
MESHANA SALAD (Mixed salad) consists of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, red paprika and onions
GREEN SALAD is made of lettuce, cucumbers, green onions and green garlic, red radish, eventually with boiled eggs slices and olives, dressed with sunflower oil (or olive oil) and vinegar
OVCHARSKA SALAD (Shepherd’s salad) is made of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, red paprika (fresh or roasted), onions, boiled eggs, ham, yellow cheese, olives and grated white cheese and parsley on top, dressed with sunflower oil (or olive oil) and vinegar
CABBAGE SALAD is made of white cabbage and carrots, dressed with sunflower oil (or olive oil) and vinegar and eventually parsley
Apart from the fresh vegetables, salads can also be made from boiled vegetables, pickled vegetables and yogurt:
MILK SALAD (called “Snezhanka” in Bulgaria) is Tzatziki-like yogurt salad with cut fresh (or pickled) cucumbers, garlic and dill
POTATO SALAD is made of cut boiled potatoes, onions and dressed with black pepper, sunflower oil (or mayonnaise) and vinegar
BEANS SALAD – made of boiled beans (special salad beans variety) and onions, dressed with sunflower oil and vinegar
The soups are also a favorite and widely consumed starter in Bulgaria. The soups are made from vegetables, meat or fish. The most popular types of soups are:
TARATOR – a cold soup made of diluted natural yogurt, finely chopped cucumber, garlic and dill. This soup is very popular during the summer because of its refreshing effect.
SHKEMBE CHORBA (Tripe Soup) – made of boiled pork, beef or lamb tripe, chopped in small pieces in milk sauce, spiced with fried red pepper, mashed garlic in vinegar and red hot pepper
SOUP TOPCHETA (Soup with small meatballs) – traditional soup in Bulgaria.
It is very difficult to list here all typically Bulgarian main dishes, as the diversity of the ingredients and the cooking methods is too great. The Bulgarians love the fresh home-made food and the recipe for one and the same dish can vary from family to family, and from region to region. The food in the Bulgarian families is mostly cooked in a pot or baked in an oven. Grilled meat is more likely to be found in the menus of the restaurants, snack-bars and all other food-serving places.
GYUVETCH is a vegetables-meat stew, prepared according to the cook’s fantasy from pork, chicken or lamb meats, combined with different vegetables like: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onion, eggplant, peas, carrots, etc. and spiced with parsley, garden savoury, black and red pepper.
KAVARMA is similar to Gyuvetch but spicier, and is prepared and served usually in an earthenware bowl or pot, called “Gyuvetche”.
SIRENE PO SHOPSKI (Shopski style White Cheese) – typical Bulgarian meal baked in a “Gyvectche” consisting of big white cheese slice, fresh tomato slices, one small chilly, egg on top and spices
BEANS STEW WITH SAUSAGES– traditional meal in Bulgaria
MEATBALLS WITH TOMATO SAUCE – traditional meal in Bulgaria
MISH-MASH is typical Bulgarian dish, prepared from roasted and peeled red paprika and tomatoes cut on pieces, mixed with eggs and white cheese and cooked in a frying pan with oil and garlic, parsley and black pepper on top
MOUSSACA – (a specialty with a Greek origin) which in Bulgaria is prepared from potatoes, mince, tomatoes and mixed eggs with milk on top, baked in an oven
ZELEVI SARMI – pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with mincemeat and rice
LOZOVI SARMI – Vine leaves stuffed with mincemeat and rice (similar to the Zelevi Sarmi)
STUFFED RED PAPRIKA WITH RICE AND MINCEMEAT – prepared with the same ingredients and art like Sarmi, but the mince and the rice are stuffed in red paprika instead of in cabbage and vine leaves
VINEN KEBAP (Red wine beef stew) – the Kebap meals in Bulgaria are dishes made from meat pieces, sauce and spices. It can be prepared from different kinds of meat: pork, beef, chicken.
IMAM BAYILDI – meal of Turkish origin, prepared from eggplants, stuffed with mincemeat, vegetables and fresh herbs and baked in an oven.
Grilled meats and meat products are very common in Bulgaria and are offered practically in every food-serving place.
KUFTE NA SKARA (Grilled flattened meat balls) – mincemeat balls with traditional spices
KEBAPCHE NA SKARA (Grilled mincemeat bars) – similar to Kufte, but little bit different spices inside
SHISHCHE NA SKARA (Grilled shashlik) – grilled on a skewer marinated meat pieces (different kinds of meat) arranged with different vegetables (onions, tomatoes, red paprika, mushrooms, courgettes, etc.)
NADENITZA NA SKARA (Grilled Bulgarian sausage)
KARNACHE NA SKARA (Grilled thin sausage, rolled in a special art)
PARJOLA NA SKARA (Steak on grill) – pork, chicken or beef steaks, spiced with traditional Bulgarian herbs and spices.
BREADS AND PASTRIES
Bread is sacred in Bulgaria. One Old Bulgarian proverb is saying “Nobody is bigger than bread”. This short sentence shows what great respect the Bulgarians have toward their bread. They say if you have bread you will not stay hungry. It is the most important food on the table and is served with every breakfast, lunch or dinner meal. A symbol of the Bulgarian hospitality is to meet the guests with decorated round ritual bread called “Pogacha” and salt. They are usually presented to the guest by a woman, dressed in a traditional folklore costume. Of course, nowadays this ritual is practiced only during diplomatic and other official events and not in the everyday life.
The Bulgarians are famous for their bread production and consumption – they consume around 10 kg bread per month / per person. The usual bread sold in the shops is a white or wholegrain wheat bread (can be sliced and not sliced). Ritual decorated round breads are baked in every family during special events and celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Weddings, etc.
BANITSA – the most favorite pastry in Bulgaria. It is consumed as a breakfast, as a snack during the day, or as a main dish. Banitsa is made with homemade or commercially-made pastry sheets, which are spread continuously one above the other and between the sheets a mixture of eggs and white cheese is put. Normally baked in a pan in the oven.
MEKITZA – a traditional Bulgarian breakfast, which is made from wheat, eggs, yogurt, salt, and oil. From the kneaded dough prepared from the above ingredients small balls are formed. The balls must be flattened into circles and then fried in a pan. Mekitza can be consumed with jam, honey or white cheese.
BAKLAVA – very sweet pastry with Turkish origin, served as a dessert. It is prepared of filo pastry layers, chopped nuts and sugar / honey syrup. Baklava is baked in an oven in large pans and cut in smaller pieces with different shapes.
TULUMBA – very sweet dessert which can be found also in Turkey, Greece, Albania and Macedonia. It is prepared from fried batter, soaked in sugar syrup. It has a very distinguished form.