Bulgaria’s cuisine contains a unique blend of flavors reflecting the country’s position in Southeast Europe. Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences combine with the country’s native Slavic traditions.Furthermore, many people say that they can detect influences from further afield too: Hungarian cuisine, a taste of Italy, and just a hint of the Mediterranean.
The first thing that visitors will notice is that Bulgaria has its own distinctive ingredients. These include kiselo mlyako (literally “sour milk”) which is a yoghurt, and sirene (a white brine cheese that can be made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk).
Some popular traditional Bulgarian dishes include:
– Shkembe chorba – Some Bulgarians proudly claim this unique tripe soup as a national historic tradition, whereas see it as uncouth and just a little vulgar. The soup is made from the stomach lining of cows, mixed with milk, and then seasoned using vinegar, garlic and chili peppers. According to legend, if drank in the morning, the soup can act as a hangover cure.
– Tarator – A cold soup, often eaten in the warm Black Sea regions of the country. Tarator is made using yoghurt, cucumbers, nuts, vegetable oil and water, and flavored with garlic and dill. It is often served chilled, sometimes even with ice.
– Shopska salad – A traditional Bulgarian salad made from dice vegetables: raw or roasted peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. The salad is served covered with grated or diced sirene.
– Lyutika – A type of salad relish made from a mixture of roasted peppers, tomatoes and onions, finely crushed using a pestle and mortar. Lyutika is flavored using garlic and parlsey, and is sometimes mixed with yoghurt, sirene, hard-boiled eggs or even pieces of cooked chicken.
– Lukanka – Spicy sausage made from pork or beef (veal). The sausage is prepared in a dried cow’s intestine and hung to dry for up to 3 months. Once dried it is pressed, and a white fungus is often allowed to grow on it (the fungus is removed before eating). When Lukana is eaten, it is cut into fine slices and served cold.
– Soujouk – Another type of dry-cured spicy sausage. Soujouk is made from minced beef, and can not be eaten cold, but must be cooked before eating. Due to its high fat content, it can be cooked in its own juices without oil.
– Elenski but – Dry-cured ham, traditionally from Elena in northern Bulgaria.
– Banitsa – A light baked savory pastry made with eggs and sirene.
– Sarma – A rolled leaf, filled with a spiced mixture of minced meat, rice and finely chopped onions.
– Popara – A meal made from dry, perhaps slightly stale bread. The bread is cooked with milk, tea or water, a small amount of butter and sugar, and either kajmak (a type of clotted cream) or sirene.
– Gyuvetch – A casserole made using diced beef, peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, and okra.
– Tsarska turshiya – Pickled vegetables; cauliflower with carrots, celery and red peppers.
– Selska turshiya – Pickled vegetables; cauliflower with green onions, geen tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and celery.
As well as savory dishes, Bulgaria is also home to many excellent desserts. These include:
– Garash – A walnut cake, frosted with cream and bitter chocolate, then covered with chocolate icing.
– Halva – A sweet made using sesame-seed or sunflower-seed tahini. There is also a variant made using semolina, and another variety (known as “white halva”) made from sugar which is traditionally eaten just before Lent.
– Kozunak – Sweet bread with milk, butter, sugar, eggs, raisins and lemon zest.