I may confess that I’m quite a food fan. And I certainly love trying traditional dishes in different countries. I’ve been going to Bulgaria for many years – should count the visas, between eight and ten. Bulgarian cuisine is delicious. I guess if you ask both the locals and the tourists about the food symbol of Bulgaria, they will agree on Shopski salad. What’s so special about it?
Seemingly nothing: regular tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, cottage cheese, maybe some olives… Oh wait. Let’s start with tomatoes.
Dolmati, which is the name in Bulgarian, are really something special. They’re huge – can be twice my fist – and fleshy. Their color is usually dark pink, not the red we’re accustomed to. When you slice such tomato you have to make sure the knife is sharp, because they’re hella juicy and can literally flood your kitchen. And they’re delicious, as are local peppers – they can be quite long. Local cucumbers, on the contrary, are nothing special (at least now) – the skin is pretty firm, which can be annoying. So I usually peel it off. Bulgarian red onions, if you get the right ones, are sweet and very pro-salad. And sirene, local cottage cheese, is something very special. Usually when it comes to dishes that include cheese, I’m very picky. I hate firm cheeses, and the smelly ones too. But I can eat anything with sirene. Salads. Meat. Potatoes. Pancakes. It’s unbelievably delicious (gotta get the right one for sure, so every year I’m driving the lady at the grocery store mad making her give me samples of every sort of sirene she has). Bulgarians don’t do sampling much. But once all the right ingredients meet in a salad, with local olive oil and spices added… well, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll be able to eat!
Another salad I love is called Ovcharskiy. Its difference from Shoskiy is the pieces of ham, olives and pickled red/green peppers that they add. Sometimes mushrooms too. And sometimes kashkaval – cow/goat milk cheese. By the way, look at the dishes – those are traditional Bulgarian clay, with typical color patterns.
Corn (tzarevitsa) is also very popular in Bulgaria. You can see the street vendors selling boiled corn everywhere. But I’m pretending that I’m not a tourist, buy the corn 4 times cheaper on the market, and then cook it at home. Recently I was super lucky – the discounted corn I got turned out to be the tastiest I ever tried. It was sweet and juicy and just perfect. There are traditional Bulgarian dishes that may include corn, but I don’t remember many.
Another favorite of mine is mish-mash. The name actually sounds funny for Russians, because there’s a male name Misha and a female name Masha in my language. If you ask for definition of mish-mash, I doubt you’ll ever get the same answer from different people. Every family has its own mish-mash. The ones that I tried all included eggs, sirene, pepper and onions. Everything else is up to the cook. It’s a lot like scrambled eggs, only it is not. First you mix the eggs with sirene, then fry the vegetables, pour the eggs-sirens mass on the top and let it fry for a while. The result is weird – and yummy.
Kavrma is also a local must-try. Made of chicken (pileshko) or pork (svinsko), is it is baked in the pot with potatoes and/or mushrooms and vegetables, lots of bouillon. It’s been long since I had one – will have to catch up – so I don’t remember what else is included. Sachove or sach is like kavrma, but grilled on a cast iron plate, and the portion is usually huge – for two or three to eat. At least, ladies.
Drobcheta po-selski (liver in peasant style) is another well-known Bulgarian dish. Like kavrma and sachove, the pieces of chicken liver are mixed and stewed with vegetables. And it’s always nice to order hlyab (fresh white bread) with lutenitsa – a delicious local orange-red sauce made of tomatoes and spices. And add a couple of kufte – grilled cutlets. Omnom!
Things I haven’t tried for some reason: banitsa (cottage cheese pie), tarator (cold soup with yogurt and fresh cucumbers), guvech (it’s not exactly Bulgarian and I’ve eaten it before – baked meat with potatoes, tomatoes etc). Some well-known dishes came to Bulgaria from Greece, so I don’t include them here.
For breakfast and lunch you just can’s resist palachinki and gofreti (pancakes and waffles), as I’ve said before. I love palachinki with chocolate, nut powder and sometimes banana slices. And gofreti are fantastic with one side covered in dark chocolate, and the other in white.
There are also some local donuts they fry in front of you, but I don’t feel super attracted to them, so can’t say.
Sladoled, or ice-cream, and melba – same thing with fruits – are sold here and there. For some reason, I never really want ice-cream in Bulgaria. Besides, once you see how they deliver it to the ice-cream carts (in big tin pails)… Well… Whatever.
If you’re thinking what to bring home for different presents, lokum is the right choice. Made of starch, sugar and water, this Bulgarian analogue of Turkish delight is often offered with nuts, chocolate or rose extract. I prefer the nuts. A little box of lokum can be bought for 1 leva, or about 70 cents. But I usually bring vegetables, sirene, lutenitsa and jams back to Moscow (may sound funny, but you can’t find anything like that in the biggest Russian city).
When I arrange money for the day, I always pick 50, 20 and 10-stotinki coins and sort them into 70-stotinki butches (50 cents). The coffee machines all around the city are wonderful. I don’t drink coffee, but my stepdad is very picky about it, and he says it’s unbelievably good in some of these little machines. Once, or twice, or thrice a day I make my way to the one across the road for a cup of “strong” hot chocolate. I think, for the last four years of our coming here, I’ve never missed a day. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to come for over 2 weeks. Which is a real pity.
Our street is truly the food street. All the little cafes and restaurants (loud live music every evening) aligned on both sides long before many of the houses, and that’s why the street is very lively. Aside from pancake, duner (I’ve mentioned it in the first Bulgaria post), donut and pizza (disgusting – never buy pizza from street vendors in Bulgaria, it’s just not good) spots there are a couple of seafood carts, selling fried tsatsa (sprat), some other fish, shrimps, and mussels. Unfortunately, being allergic to seafood, I cannot evaluate these guys’ cooking.
Oh, the drinks. Rakia is the same thing in Bulgaria as vodka in Russia or sake in Japan, only stronger, from what I know. It’s 40-60% alcohol, and is made with distilling fermented fruits. The plum one is traditional. And to my taste, it’s awful. But who am I to judge the most traditional Bulgarian drink? If you book a trip to some Bulgarian village, aside from rakia sampling it might also include a visit to a beekeeper’s place, where they offer various sorts of mead, of which I’m also not a fan. Local red wines are quite popular – like Mavrud and Muscat types. Melnik brand is quite well-known. Bulgaria is famous for its roses, so they have all these rose liquors, too, in which I am no expert as well.
That’s pretty much what comes to my mind. Surely there’s a lot more to taste, and every region of Bulgaria has its own specialties. But honestly, I’m good enough right here. Ramen;)
P.S. You can easily figure out which pictures were taken by me and which ones I borrowed from Google Almighty – mine are starring the dark-wood-and-glass table from our living-room.