Bulgaria smells of paprika, aubergine, fenugreek, and mint. Its location – at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – means that its cuisine combines influences from these different cultures and stimulates the taste buds with its diversity. The recipes are based on sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, and an abundance of fish, seafood, and spices. Bulgarian cuisine is tasty and simple, yet homely and straight from the heart.
Back in the 1980s, holidays in Bulgaria were the height of luxury. Those who could, packed their bags, left behind the grey reality of communist Poland, and set off for the sunny Bulgarian coast with their families or friends, often in a good old Fiat 126p car. Those who used to spend their holidays in this way fondly recall their former journeys. Now, when almost the whole world is open, Bulgaria once again attracts holidaymakers hungry for sun and adventure. A lot has changed over the years, but the Black Sea beaches, warm climate and centuries-old monuments still await holidaymakers. And delicious cuisine!
Travelling is not only about discovering new places. It is also getting to know local cuisine and traditional dishes. In search of Bulgarian flavours and aromas, it is worth going to sunny Burgas. Today, it’s just over a two-hour plane ride from Poland, and the cuisine on site draws on Turkish, Greek, and even Middle Eastern influences. Here you can taste dishes that we know from holiday trips to Greece or Turkey, but with a Bulgarian flair.
Feast in Bulgarian style
Bulgarians are enthusiasts of feasting. They are so good at it that they broke a Guinness record! More than 3,000 people sat down at a table almost 400 metres long. They drank over 500 litres of rakija, their national drink. They sit down to a meal in a more modest group in everyday life, but it is always family-like, loud, and tasty. It is an opportunity to spend time together and have lively conversations until late in the night.
Bulgarian cuisine is one of the healthiest and tastiest in the world. It is due, among other things, to the fresh ingredients – especially vegetables and spices, which make everything that lands on your plate taste delicious. The local yoghurt is also said to have healing and even rejuvenating properties. Some say that Bulgaria is the motherland of this dairy product. At the beginning of the 20th century, a Bulgarian strain of bacteria was discovered there, which is still used today in the production of yoghurt, which reaches up to 2 billion people a year!
Good morning in Burgas
For a culinary journey full of Bulgarian flavours, head to Burgas, a holiday resort located on the Black Sea and three lagoon lakes. It’s best to start the day as the locals do: by grabbing a banica, a traditional pancake made from filo pastry, usually filled with sirene cheese. Together with slightly salty ajran (yoghurt mixed with water), this is the classic breakfast that Bulgarians enjoy every day. You can buy banica literally everywhere: in bakeries, cafés or small shops. It is also worth trying the versions with spinach, mutton, or pumpkin in its sweet version. Banica tastes delicious at any time of the day and is perfect as a snack to take on the road while visiting the city.
Tarator is best enjoyed on hot days. A Bulgarian soup made of thick yoghurt and fresh cucumbers with garlic and dill is a light and refreshing lunch option. This simple composition is filled to the brim with flavour. After all, the secret of dishes that remain in our memory for a long time often lies in simplicity and fresh products.
An indispensable element of Bulgarian cuisine is the shepherd’s salad, in which we find all the best ingredients. Vegetables ripened in the sun, consisting of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and peppers, combined with sirene cheese make a perfect whole. It is most often served with rakija, a moonshine made from fruit – usually grapes, plums, apricots, or peaches. This traditional drink, especially from one’s home pantry, can make your head spin.
Here you can feel the sea climate
The breeze from the Black Sea pleasantly refreshes strollers along the Morska Gradina. The seaside park in Burgas is not only worth visiting to enjoy the beautiful views; there are also plenty of pubs and bars in the area serving local delicacies. One of the favourite quick snacks is fries; the Bulgarian ones are rather crescent-shaped or thinly sliced and topped with sirene cheese. We can also take a parlenka. It is a round pancake, generously sprinkled with the well-known white cheese and baked in an oven, preferably wood-fired. Due to its shape and appearance, parlenka quickly earned the nickname Bulgarian pizza.
As befits a city by the sea, fish and seafood reign here, of course. Most often, they are grilled or deep-fried, and you can taste perch, trout, belon or flounder, among others. Shrimp, squids, and mussels also delight with their taste. The summer classic is certainly caca. Small, fried fish is served whole and makes the perfect snack with a cold Bulgarian beer.
On the other hand, culinary connoisseurs may like a dish prepared from rapana meat – a large and predatory snail inhabiting the waters of the Black Sea. It tastes best when accompanied by red onion, olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice. The rapana shell, in turn, can be bought in local shops and stalls as a holiday souvenir.
Get a taste of Burgas
In search of a culinary experience, head to Aleko Bogoridi Boulevard. The city promenade is bustling with life. After all, it is one of the most popular places among holidaymakers in Burgas. Numerous restaurants are situated along the boulevard where you can taste regional and international cuisine. However, it is worth focusing on the Bulgarian classics because there are still so many flavours to discover! Among the many dishes worth mentioning is the traditional kebapche. These are baked, elongated cutlets of chopped beef or pork, generously seasoned with paprika, garlic, and pepper. Sound familiar? This dish, which originated in Turkey, is one of the most popular on the Balkan Peninsula. Kebapcze is usually eaten with fries, coleslaw salad and lutenica – a spicy paste made of roasted peppers. Equally famous and worth tasting is moussaka. This famous casserole of minced meat, potatoes, and aubergine is always the subject of lively debate with the Greeks.
Meat and vegetables often go together in Bulgarian cuisine, forming a tasty whole. One of the classics here is kawarma – pork stewed in vegetables and spices. The dish is served in a special clay pot with a lid, which in Bulgaria is called gjuvecz.
They look like small stuffed cabbage rolls, but in traditional sarmi, the minced meat with rice and spices is wrapped in grape leaves. Due to their small size, they are served as a starter and taste great with yoghurt.
You can see strong Turkish accents in Bulgarian and even Balkan cuisine. One such dish, which came to Bulgaria from Turkey and conquered the palates of the locals, is undoubtedly imám bajaldá, which literally means fainting imam. According to the legend, the Muslim leader collapsed after his wife served him a well-seasoned aubergine stuffed with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. It is unknown whether the unusual taste or the price of the spices used in this dish brought him to his knees, but today this delicacy is served as a cold appetizer with alcohol.
Coffee on every corner
As it befits the inhabitants of the sunny south of Europe, a cup of coffee is an indispensable attribute of every Bulgarian. You can get a small black coffee on every corner. Literally, because you can find a coffee machine on almost every street. If, by any chance, there is no machine in sight, there is sure to be a coffee machine in the nearest shop or even a kiosk. The classic small black coffee goes best with baklava, a sweet piece of cake with a nut filling poured over with honey. Perfect for an afternoon of relaxation in sunny Burgas!