When it comes to the appreciation of foreign cuisines, Bulgaria sadly tends to get overlooked. But that just makes discovering its’ offerings even more exciting! We all know you can eat paella in Spain, pizza in Italy and frogs legs in France (excuse the rather brazen stereotyping) but did you know that Bulgarian food shares many similarities with Middle-eastern, Turkish and Greek flavors? Bulgaria is a country with an illustrious history and incredibly rich culture, which is never more obvious than when you are sampling the variety of food it has to offer. Bulgarian food can be best described as consisting of flavor-packed slow cooked stews, fresh vegetable dishes and mezze-style spreads. Why you are in for a real treat…
Sirene is the national food of all countries in the Balkans, so this list would be incomplete without mentioning it. Sirene is a brine-y white cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk and is similar to feta in flavor and texture. It features in a huge variety of Bulgarian dishes, including the deliciously fresh shopska salad, in pasta dishes and as an alternative to rice in a stuffed pepper. And all foodies must try banista, a traditional food consisting of whisked eggs and sirene layered between filo pastry and baked in the oven. Salty, tangy cheese combined with buttery, flakey pastry…take us there now!
You needn’t have mastered the Bulgarian language to guess what this dish is. Here is a small hint: the British version is the preferred dish of drunken people at around 3am in town centers everywhere. However, a Bulgarian kebab is nothing like the aforementioned and often disappointing British one. Kebapche is a mixture of minced meat and spices, shaped into a cylinder and cooked on a grill. It is most often accompanied by a big helping of chips and delicious spicy vegetable chutney called ljutenica. Bulgarians usually wash all this down with beer; proving that some eating habits are pretty much universal.
Bulgaria has beautiful, warm summers so you will likely get a bit hot and thirsty while cycling through the gorgeous mountainous landscape. So make sure you sample some tarator while you are there, a traditional Bulgarian chilled soup, which is as refreshing as it is tasty. It usually consists of sunflower oil, yoghurt, dill, garlic, cucumber and ground walnuts and is often served as a side dish for the main meal. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a slow cooked, rich meat stew balanced with the fresh, herby and slightly creamy flavour of tarator.
No, we’re not getting confused, and we haven’t made a spelling error! As should be clear by now, Bulgaria’s proximity to Greece is reflected in many of its national dishes. However, this version differs in that potatoes rather than eggplants are used to layer the meat mixture. Still packed with a rich tomato sauce and a selection of fragrant spices, this is exactly the sort of hearty meal you will want to indulge in after a long day of fresh air, cycling and taking in the constant breathtaking natural beauty.
Now, we know what you’re all thinking: all this food looks great, but what about desserts? You’re on holiday, dessert is basically as important as dinner! Luckily Bulgaria has a lot to offer. Alongside baklava, baked apples, sweet pancakes and traditional rice pudding, we think an absolute essential that you must try is tikvenik. Tikvenik is a sweet pastry usually filled with a simple mixture of pumpkin, crushed walnuts, sugar, oil, and cinnamon. Sample at your own risk: indulging in one of these after an afternoon spent relaxing in one of Bulgaria’s thermal water pools may make it very difficult to come home.