Guest post: Bulgarian food and drink
Bulgarian food and drink is as diverse as in all Balkans cuisine, with considerable Turkish and Greek influence. Locally grown vegetables and fruit and the fact that Bulgaria is a wild herbs paradise, make the food much more complex than one would think at first glance.
What to eat
Meat is an important part of the current Bulgarian diet, and people may proudly boast about the wonders of ‘kebabche’ (minced meat sausages), ‘kiufteta’ (minced meat hamburgers), ‘shishche’ (chicken, pork or beef skewers), ‘lukanka’ (smoked sausage) and the traditional tripe soup ‘shkembe’. However, there is much more than meat on Bulgarian menus, and when we asked Bulgarians what they considered traditional meals and what they usually eat, the vegetarian and vegan options greatly surpassed the meat ones.
In autumn, Bulgaria smells of roasted peppers. It is traditional to roast vegetables and prepare conserves for the winter. Lutenitza (лютеница: peppers and tomato sauce), kyopolu (кьополу: roasted aubergines and peppers), turzhia (туршиа: pickled vegetables) and pickled cabbage are some of the delicacies that Bulgarians enjoy over winter.
Shopska salad (шопска салата: tomatoes, cucumber, white cheese) is served as a starter in every Bulgarian home. Another favourite is Snezhanka or snow white (снежанка: cucumber, garlic, yoghurt). French fries with white cheese (картофи със сирене: without for vegans) is a must with a beer.
An advantage for vegetarians are many soups like bob chorba (боб чорба: bean soup) and leshta (леща: lentil soup) are vegan and tarator (таратор : yoghurt, cucumber, garlic) is vegetarian. Of course others like, pileshka (пилешка: chicken), topcheta (топчета: meatballs) and shkembe chorba (шкембе чорба: tripe), are obviously are meat based.
For main dishes try, sarmi (сарми: vine or cabbage leaves filled with rice and often meat), musaka (мусака: oven-baked dish of potatoes, minced meat and white sauce), patatnik (пататник: oven baked potatoes), mishmash (мишмаш: scrambled eggs with veg) or one of our favourite meals gyuveche (гювече: either vegetables, or eggs and cheese, or meat cooked in a ceramic pot in the oven).
The nation holds in high regard its dairy traditions. Although we recommend getting dairy products from local producers, it’s up to you to decide. Kiselo mlyako (кисело мляко) is yoghurt and is the base or the accompaniment for many meals. It is sold in ½ litre pots and costs around 1 lv (0.5€). A variation of it is ayran (айран), a liquefied and salted yoghurt to drink. And there are two main types of cheese: sirene (сирене), similar to what greeks call feta, and kashkaval (кашкавал), a yellow cheese similar to cheddar.
Cheap Eats – Snacks and street food
Banitza (баница) is the star of fast food in Bulgaria. A pastry filled usually with cheese, but sometimes with leek or spinach too costs 1 lv – 2 lv, 0.50€ – 1€. It is followed closely by prinzessa (принцеса), a large slice of bread covered with melted cheese or ham or pate and cheese (2 lv, 1 Euro). It is common to find sandwiches, donner, falafel or pizza in shops with windows to the street.
What to drink
You can get beer (бира) in bars, bistros, restaurants (½ litre, 2-3 lv.) or shops (½ ltr, 1 lv, 2 ltr, 2 lv). It’s common for young people to buy beers in shops and sit around drinking in parks. Bulgaria is not France, but has some nice wine (вино) at quite affordable prices – Targovishte and Melnik are good examples. In villages, people often make home-made wine and liquors. Rakya (ракия) is a strong alcohol made from plums or grapes, and a meal starter. When visiting a Bulgarian family, you will be expected to toast before the meal even starts. For non-drinkers, your only excuse is antibiotics, or making sure to keep your glass full, or they will fill it up! Tea is not usually black, but herbal. Coffee is just alright. There are always juices on offer. Boza (боза) is a cereal drink speciality, and аyran, which we already mentioned is a traditional dairy drink.
Where to buy food
Markets can be found in all towns and in the different neighbourhoods of big cities, like Sofia. Fruit and vegetables in the markets are affordable, although often need to be purchased in too large quantities for a backpack (i.e. 1 Kg).
Supermarkets are all around and sell the industrial versions of traditional conserves plus sarmi and other dishes. The cheapest onе is probably “Fantastico”. Dumpster diving is very common in Bulgarians, especially amongst people with low income, that even your trash may be useful to somebody else, but usually the hygienic conditions of trash bins are not the best.
Small bistros and family restaurants are quite affordable. With a portion of french fries or a salad or a soup costing around 2 – 3lv.(1 to 1.5 Euros) and a half-litre beer costing 2 lv (1 Euro).
In villages one can purchase local products from small producers. We spent one year buying milk, cheese and eggs only from the grandmas in the village. And you will find out that Bulgarian cheese is much more varied than what is sold in supermarkets.
Roving snails are Boris (Bulgaria) and Marta (Spain). They have been hitchhiking together since the day they met. After covering Bulgaria west to east and Europe north to south they left home in October 2013 on a long travel east searching for an overland way to India. they are still searching…
Follow their blog at rovingsnails.com