Authentic traditional food is one of the strongest impressions a country and a culture left to the visitor. Bulgarian culinary tradition is one of those who quickly win new fans. Created in the span of centuries, while absorbing foreign influences and building up its own traditions, it steps on the richness of the local land and produces an appetizing, impressive result.
Bulgaria’s emblematic dishes are a result of its nature and the skill to make the best of it. The gorgeous vegetables traditionally are grown in the country form the base of the marvelous, rich salads without which one literally cannot sit on the table, and of a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes like Gyuvech, or stew in earthenware pot; Mishmash, or red pepper stir fry; Kachamak, or polenta; Patatnik, or potato dish; fried courgettes; beans; Sarmi, or meat or rice in sauerkraut or vine leaf; stuffed aubergines; and appetizers like Kyuopoolu, or aubergine paste, and Lyutenitsa, or tomato and pepper paste. Without the Bulgarian tradition in the production of yogurt and cheese would be unthinkable favorite dishes like Banitsa, or pastry with cheese, spinach, leek; as well as Tarator, or cold yogurt soup, and Ayran, or cold yogurt drink. Sheep breeding, which in the 19th century was one of the main means of living in the country, has left a strong heritage: roast lamb is an integral part of feasts like St George’s Day and Easter. Pork is probably the most popular type of meat on the Bulgarian table, mainly in the shape of steaks, meatballs, skewers, and as a part of rich stews.
Some regional dishes have become true classics, like Kapama from Bansko, an earthenware pot stew of several types of meat and sauerkraut. The Northwest is famed for its dried red peppers stuffed with beans, and the Rhodope is the territory of Patatnik, Rhodope Klin, or a rice pie, and beans from Smilyan village. In Elena is prepared the one of a kind Elenski but, or ham, and Gorna Oryahovitsa is the birthplace of the classical Gornooryahovski sudzhuk sausage. Bulgarian national cuisine is seasonal. Today, the main products are available year-round, but Shopska salad always tastes best in the summer, when there is plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers grown under the sun. Kapama and sauerkraut Sarmi are for the cold months, while warm weather is the time for Tarator, fried courgettes, Musaka, or an oven-baked dish of mince and potatoes.
Some Bulgarian dishes are cult classics. Like tripe soup. Plenty of people claim that it is the best way to begin the day after a night with too much drinking. The spit-roasted lamb, or Cheverme, is the most attractive way to enjoy this type of meat, particularly if you are in the Rhodope, surrounded by the sound of the region’s folklore music. Stuffed carp is a dish with which thousands of families celebrate St Nicholas’s Day, and the odd number of lean dishes, required by tradition for the Christmas Eve dinner, is among the most discussed festive topics every year.
Let’s not forget the beverages. Bulgaria is the homeland of wonderful wines and aromatic Rakiyas from grape, plums, apricots, quinces, and other fruits. Their degustation, of course in reasonable amounts and with a suitable accompanying food, is one of the most memorable experiences in this country.
The best way to discover the culinary diversity of Bulgaria is to visit Bulgarian homes and to travel as much as possible. When this is not an option, you have a delicious alternative: the good restaurants for Bulgarian national cuisine in Sofia.
Designed in the style of 19th-century architectural tradition, they look like pieces of the past that have somehow survived into modernity. With overhanging tiled eaves, whitewashed or painted walls, an abundance of traditional pottery, and decorations of folklore costumes and artifacts, they create a distinctive atmosphere that remains unharmed by all the culinary changes and fads.
The menus of good traditional restaurants obligatorily cover the classical recipes and the regional specialties, who define the face of Bulgaria’s national cuisine. What makes the food worthy of trying is the careful selection of the best products and the desire for achieving the most authentic taste. This, however, doesn’t mean that your risk being bored. The chefs at these restaurants have mastered the art of traditional cuisine to the level of being able to create new dishes that use the established principles and achieve a taste that is both authentic and innovative.
Bulgarian folklore music always accompanies the dining in traditional Bulgarian restaurant, and the most ambitious establishments organize live music nights. Thanks to this, the pleasure of traditional Bulgarian cuisine gets bigger, becoming a part of a more wholesome experience.