I loved Bulgaria when I was there even though it was cold, I didn’t speak the language, and I was just a little freaked out by all the old school communist nostalgia. One thing that didn’t freak me out was the food. While I didn’t eat everything, what I did have was a great experience of culinary East meets West.
My three favorite meals were 1) cooked by my friend Peppy 2) cooked by my friend Boris’ grandmother and 3) in a great restaurant called Pop Lipite or “Under the Linden Trees” where I had dinner with my friend Katya one evening.
Bulgarian cuisine is essentially Slavic, but it has a lot in common with both Turkish and mediterrainean cuisine. there are many sausages and roasted meats including the Karnache sausage pictured which is always coiled and very typical. Village food was a bit heavy on meat for my tastes, but also utilizes a lot of vegetables, herbs and fruits.
At Pop Lipite I had my first taste of the famous Bulgarian Shopska Salada. It is made from thick juicy tomatoes, perfect cucumbers, onion, roasted peppers, and sirene- the delicious brine cheese you find throughout the Balkans. Oh…and don’t forget the parsley. Of course, with every meal in the Balkans, Rakia is an essential. The delicious and amazingly stiff plum liquor is a mainstay and compliments the shopska salad very well.
Pop Lipite was a great experience. Since 1926 this traditional place has been a gathering spot. Folk music, big timber beams, and a traditional decor made this a warm and wonderful spot. The great food and company helped too.
In addition to salads, Bulgarians food also uses a lot of yogurt, soups, meats, and pastries. Grilled meats and sausages are very common in Bulgaria but you are more likely to find pork or lamb than beef. The beef is used primarily to produce butter, sirene, and of course yogurt which some claim originated in Bulgaria.
Peppy made a potato dish that exploded my tastebuds. It was roasted potatos, chicken, and big white beans which I’m told are common in many Bulgarian dishes. The chicken was especially delicious, I should ask her for the recipe. Staying with Tim and Peppy was great as the food was always delicious. Tim’s mom owns a restaurant and he’s no slouch in the kitchen either and it was a treat to eat some truly American food while there.
Boris’s grandmother served perhaps the most traditional of meals with lots of sausages, meats, dried fruits, shopska salad, piroshka which are fried dough filled with cheese (yummy but probably not so good for the heart). Speaking of which I also tried the amazingly scrumtuous Banitsa which are a pastry filled with spinach, leeks, and cheese – oh my!
Onions and garlic are very common in Bulgarian foods and you find them heavily used in the many soups and savory stews which make up a large portion of the cuisine. My favorite soup? Taractor which is made with cucumber and cold yogurt. Yes, it’s like eating tadzikhe sauce with a spoon. The Bob Chorba (sounds like an insurance salesman) was a close second and is made with beans, onions, and lots of garlic and chili.
Boris’ grandmother served us a kind of shredded bread/pasta with milk, sugar, sirene cheese or salt, it was not really my cup of tea at all. On the upside, I think it was probably cheap and healthy.
Of course, if all of this doesn’t sound great to you, you ccan find plenty of kebabs, pizza, and burgers too.
As always, if you are heading to Bulgaria and want to ask me anything about it, my travel advice is free for the asking or you might find the resources in the box below to be helpful.