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If you’re curious to learn about Bulgarian food, eager to try some of the country’s best dishes, or want to cook Bulgarian food at home, you’ve come to the right place.
Guided by Venelin, a food expert and writer from Bulgaria, we’ve compiled our list of 15 traditional Bulgarian dishes you simply must try when you visit Bulgaria.
Traditional Bulgarian Food Recipes and Bulgarian Dishes to Try
This is the most common and traditional salad in Bulgaria. The basic version combines cucumbers, tomatoes, and white cheese, but you can find versions with peppers and onion.
This salad is so easy to make but so delicious. You take some fresh-cut vegetables, mix them, and add the famous Bulgarian white cheese on top: the secret ingredient.
You can find versions of this salad that use grated or crushed cheese, but the texture of the cheese does not matter for the overall taste.
The best version of the Shopska salad is made from homegrown vegetables grown in the gardens of Bulgarian villages, and homemade white cheese.
These ingredients can be a little hard to find, but in almost every city you can find some local that sells them.
Shopska salad is best served in combination with the traditional Bulgarian drink – rakia. Without a doubt, this is one of the country’s most beloved combinations.
Read more: Shopska salad recipe
Tarator is simple to make, yet has a fresh, flavorsome taste and is very refreshing for the summer.
Simply, tarator is a cold cucumber soup. All you need to make it is cucumbers, yogurt, and water.
The recipe is as simple as the ingredients. First, you cut the cucumbers into small pieces and put them in a bowl, with a little salt if desired.
Leave the mixture for a little while, and then mix the ingredients with the yogurt. Finally, you add the water, and your tarator is ready!
There are different versions of this as well in different parts of Bulgaria – some people make it thick (with less water) and add crushed walnuts and finely chopped parsley.
Read more: Tarator Soup Recipe
3. Bulgarian Yogurt – (Кисело мляко)
What makes Bulgarian yogurt unique is the bacteria Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus (often simply called Lactobacillus bulgaricus).
The yogurt itself can be used as a mixture with some main dishes (like tarator) and can be eaten as a dessert or as it is.
The process of making it dates back over 4000 years, and as a food, Bulgarians are proud to honor it and continue using the same process to this day. You can also mix the yogurt with jam for a rich and creamy dessert.
Homemade Bulgarian yogurt is by far the tastiest. If you are visiting Bulgaria, you should ask locals to help you find a farmers’ market or a producer that is selling from their farm. It is truly one of the best Bulgarian dishes with a worldwide appeal.
4. Musaka (Мусака)
Musaka can be found across the Balkans and the Middle East, but every region puts a unique touch on the recipe that makes it special.
The basic version, and the most famous in Bulgaria, consists of potatoes that are cut into small cubes, mixed with pork meat, and then covered with a mixture of eggs and milk or yogurt, then baked.
It can be served with yogurt, which is mixed with the Musaka before you start eating.
Many variations can be found in the different parts of the country – some people make it without meat and put in eggplants or zucchini.
Another variation sees Bulgarians add sliced fresh tomato rings at the bottom, then a layer of potatoes, and then the pork meat layer. Next, there’s another layer of tomatoes and, after that, the mixture of eggs and milk/yogurt is added on top.
Related: Greek Cypriot-Inspired Moussaka
5. Green Cheese from the Village of Cherni Vit
We’ve all heard about French blue cheese and what a delicacy it is. Do you know, however, that among the three moldy kinds of cheese in Europe, one comes from Bulgaria (the only one in the Balkans)?
This Bulgarian green cheese is considered a delicacy and a unique product by one of the biggest names in the industry – the Italian Carlo Petrini. He is the founder of the Slow Food movement and is considered one of the largest connoisseurs of traditional food in the world.
Green cheese is called this because of the color of the natural mold that forms around the cheese. It is a goat or sheep’s cheese left to rest, traditionally in a cave.
The tradition of making green cheese in the Stara Planina Mountain dates back centuries and was about to disappear before the Italians discovered it and started promoting it at culinary exhibitions in their country.
Lyutenitsa is a relish that is made from peppers and tomatoes. You can use it as a side to the main course, as a spread on toast, or just eat it on its own.
Lyutenitsa is one of the most popular foods not only in Bulgaria, but also across the Balkans. While it is sold in every supermarket and store, almost every family in Bulgaria makes their own homemade lyutenitsa.
A childhood favorite recipe of many Bulgarians is to put some lyutenitsa on a slice of bread with crushed white cheese on top.
Read more: Lyutenitsa Recipe
Banitsa is a hugely popular Bulgarian pastry. It can be found anywhere – in cafes, bakeries, small shops in bus stations, and restaurants.
The most common version of the banitsa is made with white feta cheese. However, like many dishes in Bulgaria, different versions of the banitsa can be found, with different fillings such as onions, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, or pumpkin. There are even some versions of sweet banitsa found in bakeries.
Banitsa is part of the traditional breakfast in Bulgaria. The dish is also prepared as part of an age-old tradition for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, where the pastry is baked with folded pieces of paper inside, each with a message of good fortune written on it.
8. Sarmi (Сарми)
Sarmi is a common dish in Bulgarian cuisine. They can be made in different ways, but traditionally are made with cabbage leaves or vine leaves.
The stuffing typically is made with rice and pork meat chopped into small pieces. People can take creative license with the stuffing and can add any combination of rice, meat, and vegetables they prefer.
Usually, in the summer, sarmi is prepared with vine leaves, while in the wintertime (when the sauerkraut is ready), they are made with cabbage leaves.
Whatever option you choose, there can be no denying sarmi is up there as one of the country’s most filling dishes. Similar-style dishes, consisting of filling wrapped in cabbage or vine leaves, can also be found across the Balkans.
It’s worth noting that you can’t use fresh cabbage leaves for wrapping sarmi, only leaves from sauerkraut.
9. Elena Pork Leg (Еленски бут)
Elena Pork Leg is a meat delicacy prepared from pork meat. It is named after its place of origin, the town of Elena, and the Elena Balkan Mountain, where the conditions are ideal for preparing the meat.
It is prepared from salted, dried, and sometimes smoked pork leg. Both the thighs and shoulders are removed from the pig body and used to prepare ham that can be consumed during the summer.
The meat is salted and left in salt for 40-45 days. Then, it’s left to dry in a ventilated area.
In the past, the citizens of Elena left it to “mature” in a room by the fireplace – this added a specific smoked flavor to the delicacy.
Once ready, the leg can be cut into smaller pieces and spiced with savory spices and pepper. This helps the meat keep longer in addition to enhancing the flavor.
Such delicacies are prepared in other countries as well, but the Bulgarian Elena pork leg has attracted many admirers globally due to its unique taste. It is often served as an appetizer with red wine and other drinks.
10. Kapama (Капама)
This dish can be found in almost every restaurant that serves traditional Bulgarian cuisine, but people usually prepare it around Christmas or New Year’s Eve at home.
Kapama consists of various meat, including sausage, chicken, veal, rabbit, and others, that are cooked slowly over an open fire (4-5 hours) and spiced with various spices such as red and black pepper and bay leaves.
The dish is mainly prepared in the regions of Bansko and Razlog, and it is one of the tourist attractions that make both resorts quite famous. When you go to Bansko or Razlog, you must try this dish.
This typical meal can be found in the region of the Rodophe mountains. Since this is a mountain region, the products that are used in the preparation of the patatnik have always been there in large quantities, and you can be sure that they are locally produced.
Like most dishes in Bulgaria, it is simple, filling, and flavorsome, and can be made in various ways, such as with potatoes or white cheese.
The origin of the name of the dish comes from the word “potato”, and patatnik can be either baked, fried, or boiled.
Depending on which region you try it, the spices too will differ. In some cases, meat can be added to the recipe.
The classic way of making it is only with potatoes, white cheese, an egg, onions, salt, pepper, fresh mint, and fat. It has to be baked at a low temperature to make sure that it has a perfect crust.
Read more: Patatnik Recipe
12. Kebapcheta (Кебапчета)
Kebapche is made from minced meat, spices, and herbs rolled into a long sausage-like roll, and share similarities to Romanian mici.
These meat sausages are typically served in threes, with a side of French fries, salad, or lyutenitsa.
It is best enjoyed with a glass of beer on a hot summer day, and a classic order in Bulgaria is “three kebapcheta with sides.”
13. Shkembe Chorba (Шкембе чорба)
Shkembe chorba is a traditional Bulgarian soup made from tripe. Tripe is the thick stomach lining found in various farm animals such as cattle or sheep.
This recipe is prepared by boiling cut or minced tripe for several hours with milk, oil, and paprika.
The soup is served hot, and it is very common to spice and flavor it with hot peppers, garlic, and vinegar. It is often served with garlic bread.
Shkembe chorba is also the perfect cure for a hangover, according to many Bulgarians.
This bean soup is a traditional dish of Bulgarian cuisine, made from boiled beans, vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, onions), and various spices.
This recipe differs from region to region as some exclude some of the ingredients (such as carrots) or add other ingredients (such as paprika, potatoes, and meat).
Bob chorba is a very popular recipe in Bulgaria due to both the availability of inexpensive beans (as Bulgaria is a large bean producer) and the nutritious nature of the dish.
The classic vegetarian bob chorba is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, but it is also often prepared throughout the rest of the year, especially during winter. This typically consists of beans simmered in tomato and onion flavored with oregano and other seasonings.
A meat version of bob chorba can also be made by adding ham on the bone or pork meat to soup.
15. Kavarma (Кавърма)
Kavarma is one of the heartiest Bulgarian dishes. The traditional recipe calls for pork, although some Bulgarian regions make beef and chicken versions of kapama. The dish is perfect for a cold winter evening.
For a truly authentic kavarma, it should be baked in the oven in traditional earthenware bowls. These bowls can be bought in most ethnic shops in Bulgaria.
Although the ingredients may vary, the dish (besides meat) typically includes carrots, onions, leeks, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and wine.
Bulgarian Food Summary
There’s no denying that Bulgarian food is not only some of the most unique and hearty in the Balkans but also across Europe.
If you’re visiting Bulgaria, be sure to visit locally run restaurants, or visit farms, to try this delicious cuisine for yourself.
With some of these recipes dating back centuries, it’s wonderful that Bulgarians are keeping the heart and soul of their delightful cuisine alive for a whole new generation of foodies and travelers to enjoy.
You Might Also Want to Read
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- Bosnian Food – 11 Best Traditional Bosnian Dishes Recommended by a Local
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