When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Bulgaria, hold the Indian, Mexican, Brazilian, Chinese, Thai, Italian and even the Japanese sushi and satisfy your appetite with Bulgarian cuisine. With a little advice in advance, there’ll be no risk of crying into your soup. Here’s my basic guide to Bulgarian food… get ready to order when youâ€™re next in town.
If you’re a visitor to Bulgaria, you should taste traditional Bulgarian food.Â Go ahead, you wonâ€™t regret it.Â Itâ€™s easy â€“ Bansko is full of â€œmehanasâ€ â€“ restaurants offering typical Bulgarian dishes often playing traditional Bulgarian folk music.
Most menus in Bansko are translated in English, but do not always count on that. Nervous meatballs? Yup, that’s one of the most common translation cock ups. Try reading your menu. Amuse yourself before choosing at the most bizarreÂ English descriptions of the meals and ingredients. Seems like many restaurants have saved a few leva on professional translation, so let me save your stomach with an introduction to Bulgarian cuisine.
I will avoid the never ending arguments about which meal was originally Turkish, Greek, Macedonian or whatever.Â Let us just enjoy the result.Â It is a tasty mixture of Balkan and Arab food that will, in most cases, agree with your stomach. Bulgarian cuisine not too heavy or “fatty” and there are no weird or exotic ingredients to worry about.
Whet Your Appetite
Thereâ€™s a great variety of appetisers of all kinds. I advise you start with a fresh salad â€“ an inevitable part of a Bulgarian meal. There are lots of them, but you can never go wrong with a â€œshopska saladâ€ (cucumbers, tomatoes, sometimes peppers, and cheese). If youâ€™re brave enough â€“ have the salad with a shot of â€œrakyaâ€ (a strong brandy) as the local do.
Bulgarian white cheese is one thing you do have to try.Â Not dissimilar from a Greek feta, almost everyone gives this the thumbs up. If you are lucky to buy a good quality one, you will want to take some back home. The same goes for the world-famous Bulgarian yoghurt. Bulgarians also pride themselves on their flat sausage called â€œlukankaâ€ â€“ again very tasty if you happen to buy one that has been made properly.
If you are a soup fan â€“ try the bean soup, tripe soup and the â€œtaratorâ€ (a cold soup made of yoghurt, small cubes of fresh cucumber, garlic and dill).
If you prefer just a dip â€“ try the traditional â€œlyutenitsaâ€ (a concoction of tomato sauce, peppers and spices) or â€œkiopolouâ€ (mashed baked aubergines with garlic).
Pastry lovers shouldnâ€™t miss the banitsa â€“ pastry with cheese (there are varieties with spinach or leaks as well).
Ready for the main course
The menus are full of all kinds of grilled meat called â€œskaraâ€. Pork or chicken chops and steaks, meat balls (kufte) and mince fingers (kebapche) â€“ they are all nice. Pieces of meat combined with vegetables are often grilled in the form of a skewer (shish or shashlyk).Â The same can be prepared on a plate (sache/e).
Although any of the above are delicious, if you have the chance, try Bulgarian oven cooked food. Peppers stuffed with rice and minced meat are some of my favourites and so are the â€œsarmiâ€ â€“Â again rice and minced meat filling, beautifully folded in vine or cabbage leaves.
Bulgaria grows the best vegetables I have tasted â€“ potatoes that totally redefine the word potato, peas, beans, peppers, onions, carrots. All that lot can all go in a pot in the oven (with or without meat) along with a little liquid and emerge as a tasty meal called â€œgyuvetchâ€. This is probably the easiest and most reliable self catering recipe. A winner.
All the cooked meals are generously seasoned with herbs, of which â€œchubritsaâ€ is Bulgarian only, that give that final unique flavor. Packets of these are in all the supermarkets.
Wash this all down with a fine Bulgarian wine with the main course.
A Sweet Tooth
You can always finish with a smooth cream caramel or my favourite in Bansko — yoghurt served with honey or blackcurrent jam. A proper home-made biscuit cake is worth trying and so is the baked pumpkin.
Unfortunately, Bulgarian food is not always as tasty in the restaurants as it is when home made. However, itâ€™s worth trying. Just be careful with the prices on the menu and the rip-off mehanas.
Is Your Mouth Watering?
If so, please share your experiences of Bulgarian food and Bansko’s restaurants.
If the few Bulgarian names of meals I provided in this article were your first lesson in Bulgarian, stay tuned for more. I will be listing the most useful Bulgarian words and be giving you some top tips for coping with the language.
Attribution For Images: Nenko Lazarov (Shopska). Kiril Kapustan (Tarator) Vassalenia Lazarova (Banitsa)