10 Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Eating at Bulgarian Restaurants

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Bulgarian restaurants offer the opportunity to taste traditional foods and regional specialties and to learn more about Bulgarian culture. 

During our several months-long stay, we observed a few surprising things while eating at restaurants in Bulgaria. 

From the menu to eating in groups, as well as the payment mode, there are a few things you want to be aware of ahead of time.

To make the most of your restaurant experiences in Bulgaria, here are ten surprising facts about eating at Bulgarian restaurants.

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1. Food in Bulgaria Is a Shared Affair

Vegetable Sache served at a Bulgarian Restaurant Authenticfoodquest
Generous serving of sache sizzling vegetables

In Bulgaria, people love to eat and share meals together. Dinner is traditionally the largest meal of the day and can extend way into the night. 

At restaurants, you’ll often find families and friends dining together. As such, many dishes on restaurant menus lend themselves to sharing.

One of the most popular traditional dishes is sache. Sache is a large serving of sizzling meat served on a large iron plate at your table. 

The meat is generally a combination of pork, sausages, and chicken. This is often accompanied by onions, mushrooms, and peppers.

For the non-meat eaters, there is a vegetable sache. In a similar fashion, this is a mix of vegetables like roasted peppers, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, and onions served in a hot sizzling pan.

Expect to find several menu items which include platters of salads, meat, vegetables, and dessert at traditional Bulgarian restaurants.

RELATED: Bulgarian Food Guide: 15+ Traditional Foods You’ll Fall in Love With

2. Restaurant Menus List Food in Grams 

Menu in Bulgarian Restaurants by AuthenticFoodQuest
Typical menu in Bulgarian restaurants

In Bulgaria, most restaurants offer the menu in both Bulgarian and English. As you scan through it, the first thing you’ll notice is the weight of each dish in grams, often depicted as “gr.” or “гр.”

It’s strange at first but something you’ll quickly get used to as you’ll see this practice at almost all Bulgarian restaurants.

The weight of each of the dishes is not limited only to the meat, it also applies to salads, soups, stews, and more. 

This practice is actually quite helpful allowing you to match your level of hunger to the portion size.

When it comes to the meat portions, it is quite practical. For instance, grilled meat on a skewer is a very popular dish. While some skewers might weigh 100 to 150 grams, others can be 300+ grams, enough for two people.

With the weight indications, you get a better sense of how much to order, and whether the dish is for a single portion or for sharing.

RELATED: 7 Best Bulgarian Restaurants in Sofia You’ll Want To Visit

3. What To Eat and What Not To Eat in Bulgarian Restaurants

Shopska Salad at Restaurants in Bulgaria Authenticfoodquest.com
A shopska salad is a great way to start your Bulgarian meal

Embarking on a gastronomic journey through Bulgaria promises a tapestry of flavors that reflect its rich history and diverse culture. 

When it comes to dining out, knowing what to eat and what to avoid can elevate your experience.

Salads are a traditional start to any Bulgarian meal. The Shopska salad, a national dish is a medley of tomatoes, cucumbers, and grated sirene cheese, that you must try.

Another popular starter is Tarator, a chilled yogurt and cucumber soup with fresh herbs—a refreshing delight on warm days. 

While Bulgaria has a wide array of traditional and local options, it’s best to steer clear of foreign dishes that may not align with the local culinary scene. 

Sushi and other exotic fares may lack authenticity due to the limited availability of fresh ingredients. 

Instead, embrace the regional flavors that Bulgaria offers. Opt for dishes prepared with locally sourced produce and meats to ensure an authentic experience.

4. No Tap Water on the Table

Sparkling Mineral Water at a Bulgarian Restaurant AuthenticFoodQuest
Fresh and bubbly Bulgarian mineral water

Getting tap water at restaurants is not always given and varies greatly depending on the country you are visiting. 

In the U.S., tap water is expected. As soon as you sit down, a server brings a large glass of water, typically filled with ice.

While in Thailand, you’ll serve yourself filtered water from a cooler or large water vessel and get ice as needed. 

In Bulgarian restaurants, you are rarely served tap water. We found it very surprising for a country that is known for having numerous mineral waters. 

We learned that in Sofia, the tap water is filtered, due to contamination from the aging pipes.  

But the tap water in the mountains is not only potable, it also tastes amazing. Even so, barely any Bulgarian restaurants offer tap water.

You will need to order mineral water, which fortunately is widely available and relatively cheap.

RELATED: Top Authentic Bulgarian Restaurants Not To Miss in Plovdiv 

5. Be Surprised By Bulgarian Homemade Wine 

Homemade wine at Bulgarian Restaurants Authenticfoodquest.com
Two generous glasses of homemade red wine

Bulgaria has a long and ancient history in winemaking. Vines grow in many parts of the country, and people make their own wines at home. 

Even though the winemaking process at home is often a very rudimentary process, there is pride taken in this millennia-old craft. 

At the very first Bulgarian restaurant, we tried in Bansko located in the Pirin mountains, we were offered homemade red wine.

Not sure what to think, but reassured by our server telling us “It is really good,”, we said “yes” to two glasses.

Our waitress was right, the homemade wine was an easy-to-drink table wine. As you eat at Bulgarian restaurants, we recommend ordering some.

One thing to note is that homemade wine does not age well. For that reason, it is best to drink homemade wine after harvest season in September.

In any case, whatever time of the year you are in Bulgaria, don’t leave the country without trying some at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant.

RELATED: Best Melnik Wineries to Visit For Bulgarian Wines

6. Know that Smoking is Allowed in Bulgarian Restaurants  

Ashtrays in Bulgarian Restaurants Authenticfoodquest.com
Ashtrays are a popular feature on Bulgarian restaurant tables

Smoking is a favorite Bulgarian pastime. And unfortunately, this habit has made it into restaurants. 

If you’re from a country or culture where restaurants are non-smoking, you’re in for a shock in Bulgaria.

Our focus is on local and authentic dishes, and the best places to try them are in traditional Bulgarian restaurants. 

This is also, regrettably, where you will encounter the most smoking in restaurants.

For example, one evening while dining at an outdoor restaurant in Bansko, a group of Bulgarians with six adults and two toddlers sat down at a table next to us.

While we were not surprised the adults lit up, the smoking was ongoing throughout their meal. 

It was particularly fascinating to watch the skill involved in chewing food between puffs of smoke.

Although there were young children at the table and food on the plates, the smoking continued.

Be prepared to deal with the smoke at traditional Bulgarian restaurants, and sometimes even indoors. 

RELATED: 10 Best Restaurants in Bansko for Bulgarian Cuisine

7. Eating Time in Bulgaria

Open Sign Bulgarian Restaurant by Authentic Food Quest
Open sign in front of a restaurant

There is a rhythm to the eating time in Bulgaria. Lunch, known as “обяд” (obqyad), is often enjoyed between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm

This midday meal is cherished as a time to gather with friends and family and family and relish a hearty and balanced meal.

Dinner, known as “вечеря” (vecherq), is a more relaxed affair. This is the most important meal of the day and starts anywhere between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm. 

Similar to lunch, dinner is a social occasion where loved ones come together to unwind and enjoy each other’s company. 

The evening meal is a time to savor the diverse flavors of Bulgarian cuisine, reinforcing the cultural significance of sharing meals as a communal experience.

8. Restaurant Service Can Be Spotty

Outdoor Patio Bulgarian Restaurants by Authentic Food Quest
The service quality can vary greatly

When it comes to eating at Bulgarian restaurants, dial down your expectations about the service. 

We found the quality of service to vary greatly from one restaurant to another. And sometimes, between one waiter to another in the same place.

Generally, when a server is not confident with their English, they are reluctant to serve the table. It’s really a hit or miss. 

We experienced inconsistent restaurant service in Bulgaria, and several Bulgarian friends shared similar stories. Even local chefs confirmed that the service needs to be improved.

One important thing to know is that Bulgarians say “yes” by shaking their heads from left to right. This can often be misleading and interpreted as a negative response.

All in all, service at Bulgarian restaurants is definitely not their strongest asset.

9. Don’t Expect Food to Be Served in an Orderly Manner

Group at Restaurants in Bulgaria Authenticfoodquest.com
Groups make service challenging in Bulgaria

Kitchens in Bulgarian restaurants are not the most organized. 

We noticed after dining at several eateries that the food is not served in any particular order. 

When ordering grilled meat with fries and a side of vegetables, sometimes the fries would be served the fries first, then you have to wait for the meat and vegetables. 

Other times, the meat would come first, and we’d be waiting on the side dishes.

One tip to improve the sequence in which the food comes out is to order a salad first. 

This gives the kitchen time to prepare the other warm dishes while you are eating.

Large groups of only four or more also seemed to throw the kitchen off. Even when everyone places their order at the same time, there is a significant time difference between the first person getting their meal and the last person served. 

We once had to wait over three hours for everyone in our group to eat. From small towns to the main cities, we observed a similar pattern.

If you are planning to have a party of four or more people, make a point to let the restaurant in advance, and be prepared to have patience.

10. State Your Payment Choice in Advance (Cash or Credit)  

The Bill at typical Restaurants in Bulgaria Authenticfoodquest.com
Typical bill in Bulgarian restaurants

At the end of the meal, servers in Bulgarian restaurants will typically ask how you prefer to pay the bill.

Although many restaurants only accept cash, others allow you to pay by credit card.

This simple question has big implications. Bulgarian restaurants process the bill differently depending on the mode of payment. 

If you change your payment mode, you create a lot of work for your server.

At a local restaurant, we once told our waiter that we would pay our bill in cash. However, when we looked at the amount, we changed our minds and pulled out a credit card instead.

The reaction we received by changing the payment method was very surprising. 

Our waiter complained that it was difficult to make the change, even though the restaurant accepts credit cards. Eventually, the waiter accepted our credit payment. 

In Bulgarian restaurants, be very clear from the start on how you will pay for your meal and avoid changing your mind.

One tip is to always have cash with you in case you run into the potential issue of the credit card terminal machine not working.

Regarding tipping, although not mandatory and depending on your experience, a 5% to 10% tip is appreciated.

Frequently Asked Questions: Bulgarian Restaurant 

Claire and Rosemary at a Bulgarian Restaurant by Authenticfoodquest.com
Enjoying delicious food at a Bulgarian restaurant

What Time Do Bulgarians Eat Dinner?

Dinner in Bulgaria is typically eaten between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm. 

What Not to Eat in Bulgaria? 

Avoid foreign dishes such as sushi, and choose meals prepared with locally sourced produce and meats.

What is Bulgaria’s Most Famous Food? 

Banitsa, a savory or sweet pie is a signature Bulgarian food. Made from phyllo dough, the traditional stuffing is most commonly prepared with sirene white Bulgarian cheese. Though you’ll find varieties with onions, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, pumpkin, apples, walnuts, and more.  

What Kind of Food Is Bulgaria Known For? 

Bulgarian cuisine is a fascinating mix of Mediterranean, Turkish, and Eastern European influences. Some of the foods Bulgaria is known for are known its grilled meats, Shopksa salads, exceptional local vegetables, and Bulgarian yogurt.

What is Bulgaria’s National Dish? 

The Shopska salad is widely considered Bulgaria’s national dish. The three color ingredients of tomatoes, cucumbers, and white Sirene cheese pay homage to the country’s flag.

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In Summary

While visiting Bulgaria, make a point to experience traditional food at local Bulgarian restaurants. 

Traditional Bulgarian cuisine is seasonal, fresh, and prepared with simplicity, that lets the flavors shine.

Now armed with these surprising facts about eating at Bulgarian restaurants, we hope to help you make the most of your experience.

Have you eaten at Bulgarian restaurants before? What has surprised you the most from this article? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Skewer served at Bulgarian Restaurants by Authentic Food Quest

59 Comments on “10 Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Eating at Bulgarian Restaurants”

  1. I am a Bulgarian, but I live in LA. This article must be older – I think the smoking is not allowed in the Bulgarian restaurants since 2012.
    The traditional Bulgarian dinner starts with a salad and usually – a small glass (50g) of local grappa. As a rule – don’t order salad if it is out of season – otherwise you will get the same “plastic” tomatoes and cucumbers you will get in Los Angeles. If you happen to be there in the winter – try the pickled salads or roasted vegies or the yogurt salad.
    I am surprised you didn’t say anything about the Bulgarian yogurt – it is hard to miss it. If you happen to go there – definitely try it.
    Another thing to be aware of is that usually in Bulgaria they don’t serve ice with the drinks. If you want ice – you will have to ask.

    Hope this is helpful.

    • Thanks, George for stopping by. Out of curiosity, when was the last time you were in Bulgaria? Unfortunately, smoking is still an issue, especially in the mountain areas. It was prevalent in Bansko, where we spent several months in 2019. However, we didn’t see smoking in restaurants in Sofia or Plovdiv. It must differ 🙂 Did you see our other article – Bulgarian Food Guide? That’s where we talk about the must-eat dishes including the yogurt, which is phenomenal. Out of curiosity, are there any Bulgarian restaurants in LA. We found one that we went to in Chicago and were impressed with the typical Bulgarian food served. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Love your advice to eat like a local and start with a salad! That’s how I usually eat anyway. I’ve known nothing about Bulgarian cuisine, but you’ve definitely opened my eyes.

  3. Very helpful tips. I can’t imagine group serving to be so bad spread over a long time. It can kill the appetite. Better to split into groups. Waiters being not fluent in English I can understand. It happens here in India too, but why would they be reluctant to serve well. That is very disappointing.

  4. This is very interesting – and will certainly make a visit to a Bulgarian restaurant easier for first-timers.
    Being European, some facts are not such a surprise – like e.g. that you don’t get tap water automatically on your table.
    What I love is this sharing – we do that at Greek, Turkish, and Arabic restaurants as well. Somehow, it reflects the basic idea of eating TOGETHER.
    Regarding the service – I notice this in many former socialist countries: They didn’t switch to capitalism yet. You’re a guest? You wanna eat? How is that my problem? Oh, I’m the waiter – riiiight!

    • Great points, Renata. And there really are cultural differences. We hope this guide helps manage expectations (especially with restaurant staff) so that visitors can enjoy the delicious cuisine. Thanks for stopping by.

    • That’s absolutely correct – you can finally enjoy the experience of not being served by a slave and by a normal person 🙂 Bulgarians are still pretty much away from the Atlantic imperial ways of exploitation . After visiting the country several times I find that relieving and far from disturbing, considering on how we westerners destroy people’s life’s by so many unnecessary expectations . Go there and enjoy the food ,the people , the spontaneity, the relaxed lifestyle , the culture and the beautiful nature with less prejudices and you’d have the time of your life 🙂

  5. I love sharing meals and sache sounds perfect. I’m all for homemade wine and will make a point to visit in the fall. Good to know the service is spotty and food doesn’t come out at the same time

  6. Thanks for the guide, the food looks amazing! Good to know that the food comes out in a, shall we say, staggered fashion. The starter salad looks amazing and a great way to get ready for a hefty meal. I’d love to try the homemade wine. My wife loves sharing food at the table so this sounds like the perfect spot for her! Thanks for sharing!

  7. One of the things that I love about traveling to a different country/place is the food! It’s so nice to be able to try out the local food that they have there and to just enjoy the dining experience in general. Looks like the food is amazing!

  8. I am still thinking about why restaurants in Eastern Europe (ex-communist countries) do their menus in grams. Is it to rip of tourists? I only got scammed once doing this by ordering a steak and I got a huge steak and it was very expensive. I think that was in Bulgaria! 😛 Since then I have learnt my lesson (and had to educate myself on grams, despite being British and having this in our education system). Really do hate this when restaurants do this in grams.

  9. It’s so funny — they are trying to adopt many of the shared/communal eating practices at restaurants here in LA. But it’s not a comfortable thing, as often we are combining work or romance while eating, and sharing that experience would be awkward. I’m sure I’d get used to the whole “grams” thing on the menu– particularly after the first time I got it wrong and ordered way too much! And while I’d love to try the homemade wine, I’d hate to sit anywhere near smokers. I have a horrible allergic reaction to it, and it would ruin the meal for me.

  10. Weight indications might be surprising, but they are quite useful, especially given the fact that Bulgaria restaurants tend to give large portions. One of the reasons probably being that they like to share meals, as you said.
    Good to know that one should carry cash and stick to the stated payment method. Thanks for the tip on tipping as well. It always comes useful to know these things. 🙂

  11. The food looks delicious, especially the Bulgarian salad. I’m sorry to learn that smoking is common in the restaurants, I’m sure that put a damper on the meal.

  12. One of my old coworkers is actually of Bulgarian decent and she would always speak highly of her culture’s food! I love it when cultures have meals that are a shared affair – such an amazing experience.

  13. This was really interesting to read. I never thought about other countries not giving out tap water on tables, it seems like something so normal.
    The food sounds like it can be incredible.

  14. The tomato and cucumber salad looks delicious. I’ve never been to a Bulgarian restaurant before and had no idea that it was customary to order a salad first. Most US restaurants love for you to order appetizers first.

    • Yes, the Shopksa salad was one of our favorites as well and it is a great starter. It also guarantees that you’ll have something in your stomach as the kitchen catches up to your order. Appreciate your feedback. Cheers.


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