Food Guide: Are You Ready To Order?

Dec 01, 2009 7 Comments by
Taratot

Tarator

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 you’re next in town.

If you’re a visitor to Bulgaria, you should taste traditional Bulgarian food.  Go ahead, you won’t regret it.  It’s easy – Bansko is full of “mehanas” – 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 bizarre  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.  Let us just enjoy the result.  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

Shopska

Shopska

There’s a great variety of appetisers of all kinds. I advise you start with a fresh salad – an inevitable part of a Bulgarian meal. There are lots of them, but you can never go wrong with a “shopska salad” (cucumbers, tomatoes, sometimes peppers, and cheese). If you’re brave enough – have the salad with a shot of “rakya” (a strong brandy) as the local do.

Bulgarian white cheese is one thing you do have to try.  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 “lukanka” – again very tasty if you happen to buy one that has been made properly.

If you are a soup fan – try the bean soup, tripe soup and the “tarator” (a cold soup made of yoghurt, small cubes of fresh cucumber, garlic and dill).

If you prefer just a dip – try the traditional “lyutenitsa” (a concoction of tomato sauce, peppers and spices) or “kiopolou” (mashed baked aubergines with garlic).

Banitsa

Banitsa

Pastry lovers shouldn’t miss the banitsa – 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 “skara”. Pork or chicken chops and steaks, meat balls (kufte) and mince fingers (kebapche) – they are all nice. Pieces of meat combined with vegetables are often grilled in the form of a skewer (shish or shashlyk).  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 “sarmi” –  again rice and minced meat filling, beautifully folded in vine or cabbage leaves.

Bulgaria grows the best vegetables I have tasted – 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 “gyuvetch”. This is probably the easiest and most reliable self catering recipe. A winner.

Gyuvetch

Gyuvetch

All the cooked meals are generously seasoned with herbs, of which “chubritsa” 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, it’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)

Bars and Restaurants


About the author

I enjoy tech, apps, entrepreneurship, podcasting and collaboration with others. I love travelling as well as skiing, hiking, MTB, paragliding, cooking and good food.

7 Responses to “Food Guide: Are You Ready To Order?”

  1. LanceNelson says:

    Hi Martin,

    Glad you could relate to the Bulgarian food eperience.

    All comments receive some useful google link juice here ;) . I will have a reciprocal blog section very soon.

    cheers, Lance

  2. LanceNelson says:

    Hey Richard…
    voodoo chili, shumensko, bob (bean soup), rakia …mmm a fine formula you've got . Any more piste sustenance formulas out there?
    …. L

  3. Richard says:

    My personal favourite dining experience (particularly after a skinful the night before) whilst on the ski slopes is:
    2 to 3 beers, preferably Shumensko washed down by hot chillies (called Peperoni on the menu) that have been soaked in olive oil and herbs. I tend to scoff this lot at about 11.30 am in the restaurant based at Platoto followed by their hot bean soup with bread. This means that one has to get to the very top of the mountain first thing in the morning to clear the head and ski down piste 10. Warning however……this choice of food does not encourage making friends well in the confined spaces of the gondola if this diet is kept up religously throughout ones stay particularly if it is supplemented by the local rakia fire water. Also beware that biting into these hot beasties tends to make them explode their hot juices in all directions. Avoid the juice going up the nose or in the eyes as this has an immediate sobering effect. as i have experienced. No pain no gain. Enjoy.

  4. Marav says:

    I have an allergy to nuts. I've read that walnuts show up often in Bulgarian food. has this been your experience? I'd like to figure out what foods to avoid if they are traditionally prepared with nuts. Thanks!

  5. LanceNelson says:

    Hi Marav,

    Thank you for your question, as I know you are not alone in being alergic to nuts.

    Almost no main courses are prepared with nuts, but some may be garnished with nuts For example tarrator and some salads.

    Most deserts have walnuts, and expecially baclava will have a load of them in.

    The good news is that menus generally list ingredients.

  6. Raakhi says:

    hi, will a vegetarian survive? (no eggs) and what do you get in a typical breakfast? thanks!!

    • LanceNelson says:

      Hi Raakhi, Yes you will survive these days in Bansko. Vegeterain curry at Mr Singh\’s. Cheese allowed is plenty of that at breakfast… but self catering makes it easier. Victoria has superb vegetarian menu. vine leaves with rice and the bob (bean soup) there is great. I regularly go veggie in Bansko, so this one is from experience. Bit does anyone else have any suggestions?

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