Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Eastern Europe. It shares characteristics with other Balkan cuisines. Bulgarian cooking traditions are diverse because of geographical factors such as climatic conditions suitable for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruit. Aside from the vast variety of local Bulgarian dishes, Bulgarian cuisine shares a number of dishes with Persian, Turkish, and Greek cuisine.
Bulgarian food often incorporates salads as appetizers and is also noted for the prominence of dairy products, wines and other alcoholic drinks such as rakia. The cuisine also features a variety of soups, such as the cold soup tarator, and pastries, such as the filo dough based banitsa, pita and the various types of börek.
Main courses are very typically water-based stews, either vegetarian or with lamb, goat meat, veal, chicken or pork. Deep-frying is not common, but grilling – especially different kinds of sausages – is very prominent. Pork is common, often mixed with veal or lamb, although fish and chicken are also widely used. While most cattle are bred for milk production rather than meat, veal is popular for grilling meat appetizers (meze) and in some main courses. As a substantial exporter of lamb, Bulgaria’s own consumption is notable, especially in the spring.
Similarly to other Balkan cultures the per capita consumption of yogurt (Bulgarian: кисело мляко, kiselo mlyako, lit. “sour milk”) among Bulgarians is traditionally higher than the rest of Europe. The country is notable as the historical namesake for Lactobacillus bulgaricus, a microorganism chiefly responsible for the local variety of the dairy product.
Bulgarian cuisine shares a number of dishes with the Middle Eastern Cuisine as well as a limited number with the Indian, particularly Gujarat cuisine. The culinary exchange with the East started as early as the 7th century, when traders started bringing herbs and spices to the First Bulgarian Empire from India and Persia via the Roman and later Byzantine empires. This is evident from the wide popularity of dishes like moussaka, gyuvetch, kyufte and baklava, which are common in Middle Eastern cuisine today. White brine cheese called “sirene” (сирене), similar to feta, is also a popular ingredient used in salads and a variety of pastries.
Holidays are often observed in conjunction with certain meals. On Christmas Eve, for instance, tradition requires vegetarian stuffed peppers and cabbage leaf sarmi, New Year’s Eve usually involves cabbage dishes, Nikulden (Day of St. Nicholas, December 6) fish (usually carp), while Gergyovden (Day of St. George, May 6) is typically celebrated with roast lamb.
Bulgarian National Dishes
Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian dish in the börek family prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs, natural yogurt and pieces of feta cheese between filo pastry and then baking it in an oven.
Traditionally, lucky charms are put into the pastry on certain occasions, particularly on New Year’s Eve. These charms may be coins or small symbolic objects (e.g., a small piece of a dogwood branch with a bud, symbolizing health or longevity). More recently, people have started writing happy wishes on small pieces of paper and wrapping them in tin foil. Wishes may include happiness, health, or success throughout the new year (similar to fortune cookies).
Banitsa is served for breakfast with plain yogurt, ayran, or boza. It can be eaten hot or cold. Some varieties include banitsa with spinach “спаначник” (spanachnik) or the sweet version, banitsa with milk “млечна баница” (mlechna banitsa) or pumpkin “тиквеник” (tikvenik).
Bob chorba is a chorba, a national Bulgarian dish. The name translates to “bean soup”. It is a soup made from dry beans, onions, tomatoes, chubritza or dzhodzhen (spearmint) and carrots.
Local variations may also exclude the carrots or include paprika, potatoes or even some kind of meat. Historically, it has been a common soup and staple food at Bulgarian monasteries.
Shopska salad, also known as Bulgarian salad is a Bulgarian cold salad popular throughout the Balkans and Central Europe. It is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, sirene (white brine cheese), and parsley.
The vegetables are usually diced and salted, followed by a light dressing of sunflower oil (or olive oil, which is less authentic), which are occasionally complemented by vinegar. The addition of vinegar contributes, however, to the sour flavour that the tomatoes impart. In restaurants, the dressings are provided separately. Lastly, the vegetables are covered in a thick layer of grated or diced sirene cheese. This salad is often consumed as an appetiser with rakia.