Bulgarian traditional Food & Cuisine
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:43
Bulgarian cuisine is exceptionally diverse and delicious, consisting of various salads, breadstuffs, stews, and other local dishes. Many of the dishes are prepared according to traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
More than often the tour and travel pages on the Internet would read: "The most delicious food you have ever tasted." We won't tell you this because you expect to hear it and the food here is only but one thing, which will impress you about this land.
However, Bulgaria is a country of traditions and there are three very special food items, which are unique to Bulgaria and have always been a part of it, back through the earliest of Thracian times:
White Cheese - a particular variety of the increasingly popular Feta cheese found in many places. It is a brined cheese, produced from goat, sheep or cow milk, and is used either plain or as an essential part of other dishes - from the “shopska salad” to the “banitza”.
Yoghurt - again, a particular variety of food, produced by the Lactobacterium Bulgaricum bacteria. It grows no place else in the world. Yoghurt (or as it is called here "kiselo mlyako" - literally meaning “sour milk”) has found an important part in many Bulgarian dishes. Bulgarians are also fond of the so-called "Ayran" - a beverage of yoghurt and water. Yoghurt can be purchased in many different grades and qualities, each characteristic of the quality of the very milk to which the bacteria-culture has been added. Be sure you try the wonderfully rich, buttery-tasting buffalo yoghurt ("Bivolsko mylako") produced from the milk of the water buffalo. It is most commonly found in the mountain areas – e.g. around Shipka village and the town of Gabrovo. Bulgarians eat yoghurt in one form or another practically every day throughout their life.
Chubritsa (Savory) - This plant, which botanists claim to be a species of the herb “Satureia hortensis”, appears to grow particularly well upon Bulgarian soil. It also shares certain characteristics with the so-popular Oregano (Origanum vulgare). The savory dried leaves are crushed and sprinkled on top of many kinds of dishes, or ground into a fine powder and used on bread-and-butter.
The abundance of various kinds of mineral water may be seen as one other important factor to the healthy nature of the Bulgarian people. Most notable are the spring water sources from the region quite close to Plovdiv - in the towns of Hissar and Bratsigovo. In Hissar, the total outflow of the springs exceeds 4500 litre per minute. The water is very low in dissolved solids, about 230 mg per litre, with a temperature ranging from 37° to 51°C. People travel to Hissar to take a supply of water from a specially erected fountain. This water is used primarily for treatment of predominantly gastro-intestinal disorders. There are many other similar springs throughout Bulgaria and a large portion of their water is bottled commercially and consumed in homes and restaurants as a quite popular type of table water.
And then there is the popular "boza" - this is a thick fermented sweet beverage (having a sweet-sour taste) prepared from roasted flour, which gives it a brownish colour (it almost has the appearance of the chocolate drink “YooHoo”). As the beverage is fermented, it has a slight (4% or less) alcohol content. Millet-flour boza is preferred, but it may be made from wheat, barley, oat or corn flour.
A Bulgarian breakfast might start with some of the so-typical yoghurt, with a delicious strudel-like pastry made with spinach or feta cheese filling (called “banitza”). For lunch or dinner, a mixed tomato-cucumber-pepper-and-onion salad with grated sheep-milk cheese on top (the "shopska salata") followed by a tasty stew of pork meat with paprikas (the "slav gyuvech") or just a vegetable stew (the "gyuvech zarzavat"), stuffed peppers or aubergines, stuffed vine leaves' called “sarmi”. Beware of the heavenly sweet syrupy pastries filled with walnuts called "baklava"!“
“Kebapche” (the minced-meat-and-spices long roll) is just the local favourite! When in round form, it's called “Kyufte”, but it's very much the same (although the latter could include some yellow cheese inside it as well). The meat is pork, chicken or veal, sometimes a mixture of chicken and the other, mixed with very finely minced onion, water, cumin, salt and pepper. When already barbequed, the kebapche or the kyufte is usually served with fried potatoes ("French fries") and a beer (called "bira" here) or a soft drink.
Bread may be lightly brushed with sunflower oil and toasted in a hot pan to a delicious golden colour. Bread is the most important item of the Bulgarian diet. The crisp, thin outer crust is cracked in places on top and nearly glistens; inside is of a coarse yet soft, white texture. Of course, many other styles and types of bread are to be found - including whole-wheat and pre-sliced.
Such delicacies are usually accompanied with a Bulgarian wine, since Bulgaria is justly famous for its wines. Thanks to the country’s unique climate and soils, a variety of grapes thrive here – Gamza (North Bulgaria), the Wide Melnik Vine (in the region of Melnik and Sandanski), Dimyat (in the regions of Varna, Shumen and Stara Zagora), Mavrud (Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Asenovgrad), Red Misket (Straldzha and Sungurlare), Ruby (Plovdiv and Septemvri) and Pamid (Pazardzhik, Pamidovo and Plovdiv).
Another very popular Bulgarian spirit is Rakia. It is made of grapes or other fruits – plums (in the region of the town of Troyan, Teteven), apricots (in the region of Tutrakan, Silistra, Dobrich), figs, pears, and others. A rose rakia is distilled in the Valley of Roses (in the region of Karlovo and Kazanlak), since this is the home of Bulgaria’s oil-yielding roses.
This brief introduction only touches on the diverse Bulgarian dishes and drinks. To fully know the culinary magic of the country, it is necessary to visit all of the regions where the traditional recipes are proudly maintained and culinary delights are constantly on offer.