I’d expected Bulgarian food to be very heavy with lots of meat and greasy sauces. Instead, I discovered that Bulgarian cuisine is pretty diverse. I got lovely meal soups, huge salads, and delicious oven dishes. Yes, organs are a big thing there, but I’m telling you: you need to know about Bulgarian food.
I love trying local foods when I travel and with food being so cheap in Bulgaria, I tried out a lot of Bulgarian dishes! Below is a list of the Bulgarian foods I ate while I was in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian food you need to try – 11 typical Bulgarian dishes
1. Shopska salad
Shopska salad will remind a lot of people of the typical Greek salad with feta, cucumber, and tomato, but it’s not the same. Shopska salad is made with delicious Bulgarian white cheese, which is much softer than feta cheese. It has cucumbers, onions, and tomato, like the Greek salad, but also roasted red peppers and sometimes a bit of parsley. It’s delicious, cheap, and I had it about four times when I was in the country.
Tarator is a cold cucumber soup with yogurt, garlic, dill, walnuts, oil and water. It’s eaten often in summer as it’s light and refreshing.
Funny story: when Anita was telling me what tarator is made of, she couldn’t think of the English word for walnuts and so she described them as “the nuts that look like brains”. Of course, we talked about brain nuts for the rest of our trip.
3. Nameless zucchini oven dish
One night we stayed in a tiny town just outside of the historical village of Bozhentsi. When I say “tiny”, that’s exactly what I mean. There were 22 people living in this town and two of them were the owners of the guesthouse we stayed in that night.
Remarkable people, who had their own farm and were self-sufficient. They grew their own vegetables, had cows and goats for milk, got meat from a nearby farmer and had an old lady drop by from time to time to turn their milk into cheese. They also baked their own bread.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you that the meal they prepared for us that night was the best meal of the entire trip. We had shopska salad (of course), several vegetable dishes and then this one zucchini oven dish. There’s no real name for it, but it was absolutely delicious.
I’m sure everyone knows baklava as being Turkish, but Bulgaria has its own baklava – By the way, check this for more interesting facts about Bulgaria.
I’m sorry to say the one in the photo is the Turkish kind as I was simply too impatient to wait until I found the Bulgarian kind and too much in the mood for sweets. However, the Bulgarian kind is supposed to be a bit less sugary.
Purlenka is “burned”(but not really) bread, prepared on the barbecue. It’s flat, hearty, and often contains herbs or garlic. It goes great with salad and stays good for quite a while, so we simply took the leftovers with us to eat later on our trip.
Gevrek tastes a bit like Belgian sandwiches. I say Belgian sandwiches because in Belgium we have bread, “sandwiches”, “pistolees”, and “stokbrood” (like a baguette). I’m pretty sure in English all of these are just called sandwiches, but I’m drifting off here. So, it’s like a soft kind of sandwich, white on the inside and shaped like a big donut with a way too large hole in the middle. Bulgarians often sprinkle some herbs over it to give it a stronger taste. I had gevrek as a snack and liked it.
7. Pizza without tomato sauce
Alright, this is definitely not Bulgarian, but it was delicious so it deserves a spot on here. This was basically like a pizza but with a slightly different bottom. It had white sauce instead of tomato sauce as well as spinach and salmon.
8. Chicken hearts
When Bulgarians kill an animal for food, they use as much of it as they can. That means they’ll also eat the organs and so it’s not uncommon at all to find these on the menu. I tried some liver and these chicken hearts and have to say they didn’t taste as bad as I expected. The chick hearts were a bit rubbery, like thin sausages.
9. Bulgarian moussaka
I love moussaka and this Bulgarian moussaka was great. It contained beef, onions, potatoes, eggs and – of course – yogurt. I had this dish at a well-known restaurant in Sofia where they also play traditional Bulgarian music and perform the fire dance. During the fire dance, a man and woman ran over a smoldering fire. This custom goes back to pagan traditions but the Bulgarians have added Christian Orthodox elements to make it “okay”.
At one point, the male dancer lifted me up and walked over the fire with me! All I could think was it was a good thing I hadn’t had my dinner yet. The poor guy.
10. Bulgarian Chicken soup
Also not typically Bulgarian, but I love how you could find soup in almost every restaurant there. Soup is comfort food for me and you have to really mess up before soup tastes bad. I had this chicken soup together with the purlenka I wrote about at the same place where Anita ordered the liver soup I tried some of.
10. Halloumi salad
So the first time I heard about halloumi was… in Berlin. Yup! My friends Marcela and Felipe from Fotostrasse had taken me to this cozy and super cheap Turkish place near where they lived and there I learned about halloumi.
A halloumi salad was the first proper meal I had in Sofia and although it was okay, I have to say that there are many kinds of cheese I like better. Halloumi is a bit too rubbery for me.
So far my introduction to the Bulgarian kitchen. Have you tried any of these Bulgarian dishes before? Or do you know of another Bulgarian dish I should try next time I go? I know there are probably a dozen other great ones.
Try your hand at Bulgarian cooking
If you want to learn how to cook some of these Bulgarian dishes yourself or are interested in the recipes behind the Bulgarian kitchen, check out this cookbook.
For vegetarians, this Bulgarian recipe book is a good choice.
Go on a Bulgarian food tour
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