If you are invited to someone's home or choose a good traditional restaurant you'll be able to sample what's best about Bulgarian cuisine; plenty of fresh vegetables, eaten raw, roasted or stewed with meat in terracotta. Lots of garlic, onions, oil and spices. Influence of its neighbours, Turkey and Greece are also present in dishes such as 'sarmi' - stuffed wine leaves, 'moussaka' and 'baklava'.
Bulgarians like their salads - a salad and rakia (Bulgarian spirit/schnapps, usually made from grapes) are the obligatory start to the meal. Be warned, this stage of the meal can be a very drawn-out process lasting up to an hour.
These are some of the more popular Bulgarian salads, well worth a try:
- Shopska salata - chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers sprinkled with 'sirene' (Bulgarian white cheese);
- Snezhanka - thick creamy yoghourt with chopped cucumber or gherkins, walnuts and garlic;
- Kyopulo - roasted aubergines, peppers, loads of garlic, parsley.
Soups are also a very important element in the Bulgarian menu:
- Bob chorba - traditional bean soup with vinegar and chilli, quite tasty if you can bring yourself to try it
- Tarator - cold yoghourt and cucumber soup
Bulgarians like their meat - mainly pork, veal and chicken - grilled, fried or as a stew. The following are examples of meat dishes:
- Kavarma - meat and vegetable stew
- Gyuvetch - stewed chunks of vegetables and lamb
- Kyufteta - spicy meat balls/hamburgers
- Kebaptcheta - spicy mince meat, sausage shaped, grilled
Vegetarians may find the choice on the menu a bit limiting which is a shame as there are plenty of delicious vegetarians dishes. Usually you can find the following, but if else fails, try a selection of starters or a combination salad (a plate of various salads):
- Kashkaval (or sirene) pane - fried cheese
- Chushki burek - fried peppers stuffed with egg and cheese
- Sirene po shopski - white cheese, egg, tomatoes baked in a pot
The fame of Bulgarian wine speaks for itself - it is inexpensive and good. The normal rule applies that you need to pay slightly more than the cheapest to get a good one.
Bulgarian beers such as Astika, Zagorka and Kamenitsa are all very continental in their appeal and much cheaper than imported beers.
Bulgarian cuisine isn't strong on desserts, most restaurants offer only pancakes or creme caramel. Cafes usually have a good selection of pastries and cakes. The garash torta is the Bulgarian equivalent of the Sacher Torte, made from eggs, walnuts and cocoa.
Snacks are available all over the country in tiny shops or from stands on the streets. If you are feeling a little peckish - why not try:
- Banitsa - fillo dough pastry filled with white cheese;
- Gevrek - like a very dry bagel;
- Kifla - croissant usually filled with jam
- Piroshka - dough stick filled with white cheese and fried.
Finally if you are feeling really adventurous, try some boza - a thick malt drink with a distinct smell. It is said to be an acquired taste!
| RECIPES OF THE MOST POPULAR BULGARIAN DISHES|
Fresh Summer Soup "Tarator"
Mix 1 litre of natural yoghurt with 0.5 l of cold water. Wash and peel 3-4 cucumbers. Cut them on tiny pieces. Stir them with the yoghurt. Press 1-2 cloves of garlic and add to the soup. Add some cooking oil, salt and fresh tiny cut dills.
Haricot Beans Soup (Bob Chorba)
Soak 0.5 kg of haricot beans in 2l water overnight. Next morning drain off the water, re-fill, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for about 1-2 hours till the beans become soft. Separately fry 2-3 onions cut into small pieces with some cooking oil. When the pieces become soft, add 2-3 spoonfuls of flour, stir and fry for less then a minute. Add a teaspoonful of red pepper, stir the mixture and empty all into the soup. Grate 4-5 tomatoes and add to the soup or put in 3-4 spoonfuls of tomato paste. Add a handful of ground "dzhodzhen" (kind of mint) and some salt. Leave the soup to simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
In a pot with some 2l water put 0.5kg of lentils (well washed), 15-20 peeled cloves of garlic and a handful of ground chubrica (savory). Boil over a low fire for about 1-2 hours until the lentils grow soft. Fry in a pan with some cooking oil 1-2 onions sliced into small pieces. Add to the soup with some salt. Dissolve 2-3 spoonful of flour in a teacup of cold water, add to the soup and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Cut 3-4 onions into small pieces. Fry them in a big pot with some cooking oil for 1-2 minutes. Add 0.8 kg of minced meat, little salt, black and red pepper, stir and continue frying for 3-5 minutes. Wash, peel and cut into small pieces 1.5 kg of potatoes. Mix them with the meat. Add 5-6 grated tomatoes, some more salt and a handful of ground chubrica (savory). Empty all the mixture into a large baking dish, add some water (a glass or two) and bake in a medium oven. When the potatoes become soft, pour and cover the entire dish with this mixture: 0.5 l of natural yoghurt, 2 eggs, 5-6 spoonfuls of flour, some salt - all well mixed together. Continue to bake until the topping has thickened (it becomes like thick pancake).
Fried vegetable marrows
Wash 4-5 vegetable marrows. Slice them into 1/2 cm thick slices. Stir some flour (about half of a cup) with little salt. Dip the slices in the flour and fry in hot cooking oil until become slightly "pink". Serve them warm, covered with mixed natural yoghurt with little pressed garlic and salt and sprinkled with tiny cut dill.
Wash 1 kg (2 pounds) middle size red peppers and take out their seeds. Cut 3-4 onions into small pieces and fry them with some cooking oil in a large pan. After a few minutes add 0.75 kg minced meat. Continue to fry stirring the meat. Wash two cupfuls of rice and add to the meat with 6-7 grated tomatoes, some salt and much fresh parsley. Mix and cook for 10 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Fill the peppers with that mixture, put them in a large baking dish with some cooking oil on the bottom. Add 5-6 grated tomatoes, two cups of water and some salt and bake in a medium oven about an hour and a half.
You need 5-6 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper. Wash and chop all of them into small pieces. According to your taste you can add some fresh parsley and green onions. Add salt and olive oil and stir. Cover with grated white cheese.
Aubergine Paste/puree "Kyoppollu"
Bake 4-5 whole aubergines in the oven until they become soft. Peel and cut into 2-3 pieces each and let them drain off in a strainer for about 2-3 hours. Grill 1 kg of green and red peppers. Peel, take out the seeds and mince the peppers. Fry with little cooking oil, 6-7 graded tomatoes until a thick consistency. Cut the aubergines into tiny pieces. Add the minced peppers and fried tomatoes, some salt, 1-2 pressed cloves of garlic and cut fresh parsley. Stir the mixture.
Pictures courtesy: Bon Apeti