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Top 5 Scrumptious Bulgarian Dishes You Must Try

Have you ever tried Bulgarian food? My mouth waters when I think of it! If you visit, don’t miss out on these delectable dishes in our traditional Bulgarian food guide.


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I really didn’t know what to expect as far as Bulgarian food goes. Maybe it would be a cross between borscht, gyros, and kofte. To be honest, even though I was looking forward to trying it, I really didn’t have high expectations. Wow! Was I surprised when I discovered that everything I ate, everything, was absolutely scrumptious?!

After living in Turkey, where the food is never, ever bad, I just didn’t think Bulgarian food would rate nearly as high. Boy, was I wrong. Even if I wasn’t a foodie, I’d have to admit that it was amazingly delicious, and just one of the many reasons to visit Bulgaria. What we didn’t expect was the proclivity towards yogurt and cheese! After having visited Bulgaria twice now, I rate their food pretty high up on the list of reasons to go. How could I not, I love all the things they do–cheese, meat, and yogurt.

We’ve listed all the foods we loved during our visits in this traditional Bulgarian food guide, and we also tell you which of the five you won’t want to leave the country without trying in this incredible world food guide.

In this article you’ll learn what to eat in Bulgaria:

One must-try in Bulagaria is the famous Shopska Salad, sporting the three colors of the Bulgarian flag.
The famous Shopska Salad, sporting the three colors of the Bulgarian flag.

A Love Affair with Yogurt in Traditional Bulgarian Food

I think that Bulgarians are taught at a very young age the health benefits to yogurt (kiselo mlyako or soured milk), and they try to include it in as many meals as possible. We were constantly being offered yogurt. The very first night we were in the country, we felt pressured to have it for dessert, but it was sheep’s yogurt. Then we had yogurt with “zeleni smokini” (figs) which was pretty good, and we were also offered yogurt for breakfast by our hostess, Eveline, in Melnik.

I like yogurt, but I’m not as big a fan as Jim is. He can eat it everyday with just a little bit of honey. How healthy! On that first night trying sheep’s yogurt, I was a little taken back with the gamey taste. It was nothing like the Turkish yogurt I was used to. I have to admit I thought about swearing it off for the rest of the week. Thankfully, I didn’t.

It's easy to try homemade food goods while in Bulgaria, as they sell them along the road as well as in markets.
This lady and her friend were on a rather deserted road selling their honey and homemade preserves. Yes, we bought our zellini spokini here.

One of our most memorable dinners was in Melnik where we had the restaurant to ourselves, and the chef, bartender, entertainer, owner of the place had us laughing most of the evening. When it was time for dessert he kept yelling “zeleni smokini, zeleni smokini.”

It became our mantra during our entire road trip. It just means figs, but it sounds so good, doesn’t it? We loved the home preserved figs, and ended up buying some to bring home from a couple of women selling them along the road later on. That yogurt was okay, but for me, still a bit gamey.

The next morning, Eveline said that every breakfast must include yogurt. When she served it, I just couldn’t. Jim ate mine, but Eveline was watching with a sharp eye.

I wasn’t the only one that was leery of the sheep’s yogurt, so was Lisa who was traveling with us. She didn’t eat hers either. So, the next thing we know Eveline is bringing out two pieces of very pink cake for just Lisa and me. She even said it was only for us because we did not eat our yogurt.

The cake was very moist and tasty. I’m sure there was some yogurt hidden in the ingredients. It is probably the way all good Bulgarian mothers trick their kids into eating the healthy yogurt that they need. It’s true, I’m an overgrown five-year-old!

One of the best snacks in Bulgaria is French fries covered with cheese, and you could get it all over the country.
One of my favorite Bulgarian snacks (or side dishes) were these French Fries covered with delicious cheese.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese in Bulgarian Dishes

After my pre-trip research on amazing places like Sofia and Plovdiv, I was ready to try the famous Shopska salad. Simple fare made from chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and topped with tons of shredded white cheese, called Sirene, which is similar to feta. Scrumptious!

No kidding! Not one day went by without us having at least one Shopska. It’s that good, and Shopska is just the beginning of the cheese parade in this traditional Bulgarian food guide. Apparently, the Bulgarians love their cheese just as much, if not more, than their yogurt.

Dinners cooked in clay pots could be found in many Bulgarian restaurants.
Dinners cooked in clay pots could be found in many Bulgarian restaurants. Most had some type of meat, usually pork, with vegetables and cheese. Delicious!

I know this to be true, since many, many dishes sport the delicious white or yellow stuff. The yellow cheese is called Kashkaval and is especially good melted…on anything!

They have fried cheese, French fries covered with cheese, grilled cheese, meat with cheese…well, you get the picture. If you want it with cheese, they will provide, and you WILL like it!

Bakery line for fried bread at Rila Monastery.
One of our favorite treats was the fried bread we got after waiting in this long line at Rila Monastery. It was a delectable fried bread.

Traditional Bulgarian Food

I was surprised at how many foods I recognized by name even before creating this traditional Bulgarian food guide. Thanks to the Ottoman Empire many foods I was used to in Turkey were similar. I wouldn’t say they were exactly the same, but the name gave me an idea what it was, and it definitely made picking something off the menu easier.

This cheese banitsa reminded us of the Turkish borek we were used to.
This cheese banitsa reminded us of the Turkish borek we were used to.

Traditional Bulgarian Dishes (Breakfast)

I think we hit the jackpot with banitsa. Similar to my favorite Turkish borek, banitsa is a Bulgarian staple, of a very thin dough stuffed with a myriad of things such as cheese (of course), meat, or vegetables.

As travelers, we were staying in hotels and pensions where most times the breakfast was included. However, we prefer to take our chances sometimes and see if we can find the locals and what they are eating for breakfast instead the tired Continental breakfast that is normally served.

This meat banitsa was a great Bulgarian lunch. Banitsa is one of the best foods to try in Bulgaria.
Meat stew filled banitsa.

Banitsa

We were on the hunt for breakfast, and we saw this tiny shop with baked goods with a humongous line in front of it. That’s always our cue to queue! Now standing in line with everyone else, we could clearly see in the windows and plenty of baked goods were on offer. We tried to listen and pick up what the locals were ordering, but it was just beyond us.

For breakfast, Bulgarians stop over at a bakery such as this one to pick up some banitsa.
For breakfast, Bulgarians stop over at a bakery such as this one to pick up some banitsa.

As soon as we tried to order, we ran into that ever-present communication problem and tried to point. However, that only told the vendor what we wanted, not how much. Thankfully, a good samaritan without any English ordered for us. We had no idea how much we were getting, but he got things done, even grabbing our money to pay the shop.

We were grateful, and we had a great breakfast of banitsa. And oh, there was plenty for all of us!

Mekitsas

Mekitsas is a fried dough often served with jam. If you’ve tried Hungarian langos or any fried dough at fairs in the USA, you’ll have an idea of its taste. We only saw and had it one time and that was after following the crowd outside of Rila.

Bulgarian appetizers can last you for the whole day.
The Bulgarian appetizers were a great lunch: cheese, pepper sauce, shopska salad, and fried eggplants.

Traditional Bulgarian Dishes (Salads)

Salads were my favorites, and I was happy to see how many varieties of salad were on offer. Jim tried a bunch of different ones, but as you know I was so happy with that Shopska that I had one every day, and some days I had two.

Shopska Salad

Have I mentioned this is my favorite? After having them daily I was going through serious withdrawals. It’s made of cucumber, tomato, and cheese with a sunflower oil and red vinegar dressing. That’s it, but it’s so addicting. It must be the cheese.

Shopska has a rather recent history, and similar to that of Chicken Paprikash in Hungary, it came into existence thanks to the Soviet regime wanting to make a memorable national dish. Shopska was born, with the three main ingredients the color of the Bulgarian flag.

Ovcharska Salad

I did try this salad, mainly because it’s basically a Shopska with some hard boiled eggs and ham on it as well as the normal three ingredients. To be honest, I didn’t need the extra ingredients, but they did taste good.

Snezhanka Salad

Jim tried this salad, and was happy to see that it basically was a thick tzatziki with the addition of walnuts on top. As I said, he loves yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic. Well, really, who doesn’t?

Cucumber, tomato, and pepper pickles are a Bulgarian staple food, found on most tables.
Cucumber, tomato, and pepper pickles are a Bulgarian staple food, found on most tables.

Traditional Bulgarian Pickles

Bulgarian pickles, called Turshiya, are ubiquitous throughout the Balkan countries. We had basically the same exact ones in both Moldova and Romania. No matter, though, they are tart and refreshing. Tushiya can be just about any vegetable that you want to preserve, but the most common and the ones we tried were just tomatoes and cucumbers.

Bean soup - one of Bulgaria's best foods.
Yummy bean soup.

Traditional Bulgarian Dishes (Soups)

The two times we traveled to Bulgaria was in spring and summer, and that means that we wanted to have lots of salads and soups, especially for our lunches. The rainy days in spring brought on a good chill, and the soups took that chill right away.

Another dish cooked in the ceramic jar, this bean soup was perfect.
Another dish cooked in the ceramic jar, this bean soup was perfect.

Bob Chorma

This was the soup I was talking about warming us up on that rainy spring day. A hearty mix of white beans, some pork, tomatoes, and who knows what else. Let me tell you, it hit the spot!

Tarator

We didn’t get to try this cold soup the first time we visited Bulgaria, but we did when we went back on our Eastern European Rail Trip in a very hot and humid summer. We sat down to this cool soup of yogurt and cucumbers and we were in heaven.

Small shop in Bulgaria selling food stuffs.
This small shop in Bulgaria specialized in sausages, but as you can see, you could buy a little bit of everything.

Traditional Bulgarian Dishes (Mains)

As I mentioned before, the Bulgarians captured my heart and stomach with their meat and cheese, and especially when they combine them into one hearty dish.

There are a whole slew of meals that are slow cooked in various vessels. Whether you see them called gyuvech, kavarma, sach, or kiremit, these names all mean clay pots, some deeper than others. There are many foods served after being cooked in them, and in my experience they are all delicious.

Lukanka

Think of Lukanka as the salami of Bulgaria. You can find it just about anywhere. It’s great for an appetizer or especially a snack when you are stuck in the car for any length of time.

Lozori Sarmi

Stuffed grapeleaves, one of my favorite dishes of all time. Some do have meat in them, but you can also sometimes find them without meat. If you are vegetarian, check first.

Stuffed cabbage and peppers are a staple in Bulgaria.
Stuffed cabbage and peppers are a staple in Bulgaria.

Zevlevi Sarmi

Stuffed cabbage, on the other hand, usually has meat and is a heartier dish. Found all over the Balkans, the Bulgarian spice of Sherena Sol (a Bulgarian spice mix made with ground savory, paprika, and sea salt) really ramps it up.

Kebapche

Long fingers of minced meat, somewhat retangular shaped and cooked on a grill. This is a tried and true lunch time option just about anywhere you go.

Kyufte- typical Bulgarian food.
Kyufte, a leftover from the Ottomans, can be found all over the country. It’s cheap and tasty.

Kyufte

The mince meatballs are also ubiquitous across the country. It’s no surprise, but my favorite ones are stuffed with cheese. Yum!

Meshana Skara

A typical mixed grill, the chef will put on the plate whatever meats he has an abundance of, and you don’t have to worry about going home hungry.

Katino Meze

This may have been my favorite meal, pork and onions, stewed for hours making a delectable gravy and topped with cheese. So, so good.

The fresh trout in Bulgaria is a must-try food.
The fresh trout in Bulgaria is a must-try food.

Mencheva Kashta

Grilled trout can be found almost all over the country, but our most memorable one was at the Rila Monastery in a small restaurant that didn’t seem to have many customers. It was cozy and delicious.

Bread, warmed up, buttered and dipped in Serena Sol is a typical breakfast item in Bulgaria.
Bread warmed up, buttered, and dipped in Serena Sol is a typical breakfast item in Bulgaria.

Traditional Bulgarian Dishes (Desserts)

Why do we always save the best for last? Luckily, you can go into any restaurant in the afternoon and ask for any of these for a snack. So yummy!

Baklava is found in many countries, and the Bulgarian kind has walnuts and cinnamon. It's super yummy!
Baklava is found in many countries, and the Bulgarian kind has walnuts and cinnamon. It’s super yummy!

Baklava

Like many countries in the region, layered dough and sugar water go so well together. Bulgaria’s baklava is simply made with walnuts and cinnamon.

Bulgarian desserts are dripping with sugar water...very sweet.
Bulgarian desserts are dripping with sugar water…very sweet.

Tulumba

Another dessert handed down from the Ottomans, tulumba will curb your sweet cravings immediately. It’s a fried dough, doused with sugar water, and you can usually find it in small bakeries, although in very few restaurants.

This meat banitsa was a great Bulgarian lunch. Banitsa is one of the best foods to try in Bulgaria.
Meat stew filled banitsa.

Traditional Bulgarian Food Guide (Drinks)

Another big surprise was the abundance of delicious wines. We tried a new one each night and they were all good. We were a little skeptical when we pulled into Melnik and saw the wine for sale being displayed in what looked like used water bottles, but they do have glass bottles, too. It was all very good.

Just as in many places, the name of beer is pivo. Especially on our summer trip, we really enjoyed a cold beer at the end of the day. We liked them all. There are a few beers to try, like:

  • Shumensko
  • Kamenitza
  • Zagorka
  • Stolichno
Lots of meat in Bulgaria.
Even though Bulgarians love their meat, you can also find plenty of vegetarian options as well.
This stew, with mushrooms and beef, cooked in a ceramic pot was one of our favorite dishes in Sofia.
This stew, with mushrooms and beef, cooked in a ceramic pot was one of our favorite dishes in Sofia.

The Top 5 Traditional Bulgarian Dishes You Won’t Want to Miss in Bulgaria

  1. Shopska Salad – chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, covered with sirene cheese.
  2. Banitsa – Layered, or rolled dough, stuffed with cheese, meat, potatoes, and more.
  3. Mencheva Kashta – grilled trout.
  4. Katino Meze – or any stew cooked for hours in some sort of ceramic pot.
  5. Kiselo Mlyako – Yogurt!
Fresh vegetables can be found cheap and easy at most of the local markets in Bulgaria.
Fresh vegetables can be found cheap and easy at most of the local markets in Bulgaria.

Conclusion

If you haven’t made it to Bulgaria yet, put it on your list. It’s full of great world heritage sites, beautiful beaches, and amazing food. We hope this traditional Bulgarian food guide will help you pick the best dishes to try when you visit.

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

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Traveling to Bulgaria? You will love the food! Check out what to eat while you are there!

Corinne

Wednesday 23rd of June 2010

I know! MMMmmmm good!

Lisa

Wednesday 23rd of June 2010

What I wouldn't do for a shopska right now!! I would recommend Bulgaria just for the food.