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Bulgarian food, relatively undiscovered, is making its way onto the culinary world map.
Bulgaria, nestled in the Balkan Peninsula of Eastern Europe, has a rich history, and culinary influences come alive through Bulgarian dishes.
The food in Bulgaria has an Ottoman heritage and shares similarities with its neighbors.
With the Black Sea to the east, Bulgaria borders Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey.
While not exhaustive, this authentic Bulgarian food guide will introduce you to the country’s rich culinary tradition.
Based on our culinary travels through the country, here are the top 15 and more traditional Bulgarian foods to savor.
What is Traditional Bulgarian Food
Bulgarian food culture is Mediterranean-influenced and rooted in fresh, local ingredients.
It’s not unusual to find gardens everywhere and locals and restaurants growing their own produce.
Traditional Bulgarian food is varied, yet specific to certain regions of the country.
In the Thracian Valley, clay pot dishes like Gyuvech are popular. Beans as well as Cherverme, slow-cooked roast lamb, reign supreme in the Rhodopes region.
From the Pirin mountains, you will find specialties like Kapama, where traditional restaurants called Mehana’s welcome you with authentic folkloric decor.
From the Black Sea Coast, fish and seafood make their way into typical Bulgarian foods.
Herbs play a huge role in the general flavor of Bulgarian cuisine. Summer Savory or tsubritsa (also spelled chubritsa) is described as the “Queen of Bulgarian spices.”
Nuts, honey, bread, and the famous Bulgarian yogurt also feature prominently in traditional Bulgarian foods.
Rakia, the national alcohol, made with grapes or fruits such as plums, apricots, or quince, usually kicks off the meals.
Traditional Bulgarian Appetizers & Starters
Meals in Bulgaria often begin with a fresh salad, Bulgarian soups, or some sort of starter. The options will vary based on seasonality and region.
Tomatoes and cheese are a beloved combination, as is the popular Shopska salad. Dips and spreads are common appetizers, and Bulgarian yogurt is also omnipresent.
1. Tarator – Cold Cucumber Soup
In the hot summer months, there is nothing more refreshing than Tarator, a traditional Bulgarian cold soup.
This light, refreshing soup contains very few ingredients. It’s made with cucumber, Bulgarian yogurt, water, garlic, salt, and a handful of fresh herbs like dill, mint and parsley.
There is also a version of Tarator, where no liquid is added to the yogurt. This dry tarator goes by the name Snezhanka, or “snow white,” and is more of a salad than a soup.
2. Traditional Bulgarian Salad – The Shopska Salad
Known as the Bulgarian national dish, the Shopska Salad is one of our favorite Bulgarian salads.
The main ingredients are tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion, Bulgarian white sirene cheese, parsley, vinegar, and sunflower oil or olive oil.
Interestingly, the Shopska salad was created in the 1950s by Balkan tourism as a way of promoting tourism to the country. Over time, its appeal has gone international.
In a 2014 Taste of Europe contest, the Shopska Bulgarian Salad took first place, ahead of Italian spaghetti, Spanish gazpacho, French boeuf bourguignon, and British fish and chips.
On restaurant menus, you’ll find several variations of the Shopksa salad, such as the Shepard’s Salad or Ovcharska, which adds in eggs, mushrooms, and ham.
3. Lutenitsa – Bulgarian Red Pepper Dip
Lutenitsa (also spelled lyutenitsa) is a very popular and traditional spread found all over the country.
It is sometimes referred to as Bulgarian ketchup and is eaten on toast or with different kinds of meat or meatballs.
The ingredients used vary by region and family recipes. The sauce-like spread typically contains roasted peppers, eggplant, tomato sauce, onion, and garlic pureed together.
Even though lyut means spicy in Bulgarian, it really isn’t.
You’ll also enjoy several other types of dips made with yogurt, cheese, cucumbers, and more.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Lutenitsa is a delicious Bulgarian spread you can easily make at home. See our simple Easy Lutenisa Recipe and get to know this flavorful and exciting traditional sauce.
Traditional Bulgaria Meats
Meat is one of the main staples in Bulgarian cuisine.
The most common meats found in Bulgarian food are pork, lamb, veal, and chicken. Beef is used less frequently as cattle are raised for their milk, though beef consumption is increasing.
Meats are typically either grilled or slow-cooked in stews, and, you won’t find deep-fried meats.
Meat dishes are celebrated across Bulgaria with different characteristics to each region.
In the Rhodopes, you will find traditional roasted lamb dishes like Cheverme. While in the Pirin mountain, pork dishes are numerous with sausages and traditional pork stews dominating.
4. Bulgarian Cold Cuts – Sudjuk, Lukanka and Elena Fillet
There are numerous cold cuts offered in Bulgarian food. Bansko, the main ski resort in the Pirin mountain, is well known for flavorful cold cuts.
While in Bansko, we had the chance to try several different cured meats.
Sudjuk is one of the most popular cold cuts. Resembling a salami, it is cured Bulgarian sausage, round in shape, made with ground pork spiced with black pepper, salt, and cumin.
Lukanka is very similar to sudjuk. It has a flattened, almost rectangular shape, and is made with pork, veal, black pepper, cumin, and salt. It is a little spicier than sudjuk.
Elena fillet was our favorite Bulgarian cured meat. Made with lean pork meat, it is less fatty than other cold cuts. The meat is covered with spices such as salt, paprika, and savory. It has a mild taste and a unique, aromatic flavor.
Cold cuts are offered as an appetizer in restaurants and are perfect to pair with Bulgarian red wines.
5. Grilled Meats – Kyufte, Kebapche, Shische, Shashlik
Grilled meat is an essential part of traditional Bulgarian cuisine. The two most popular everyday grilled meats are kebapche and kyufte.
Both are made of ground meat, typically a mix of pork and veal, with salt, pepper, and cumin.
Kyufte has one additional ingredient – onion. Kebapche has a similar shape to a small sausage while kyufte is shaped like a fat round patty.
Meat skewers of chicken, pork, or veal are also popular in Bulgarian cooking. The meat is seasoned with salt, paprika, and summer savory and grilled with onions, peppers, and tomatoes on a skewer.
You will find two different types of skewers: Shische and Shashlik.
For a dramatic effect, go with the shashlik with their impressive meat-stuffed skewers that look like swords. The shische are smaller, with wooden skewers.
Grilled meats are offered at traditional Bulgarian restaurants. You’ll also find grilled sausages, grilled chicken, lamb, and more, everything to satisfy any meat lover.
6. Meat Combos – Sache Bulgarian
If you want to share and try several meats, order a Sache.
Sache is a traditional Bulgarian dish served hot with different meats including veal, chicken, and pork.
Roasted red peppers, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes also accompany the meat. Its typically large size makes it ideal for sharing.
For vegetarians, rest assured that you can also find vegetarian sache, which is an excellent alternative to a meaty meal.
Grilled, fresh vegetables are widely offered in Bulgarian restaurants.
Traditional Bulgarian Dishes
In addition to grilled meats, many Bulgarian dishes are slow-cooked stews and soups, prepared with meat or as a vegetarian version.
While there are numerous Bulgarian dishes, these three local specialties are not to be missed.
7. Gyuvech – Vegetable and Meat Clay Pot Dish
Gyuvech is both the name of a classic Bulgarian dish and the earthen cookware or clay pot it is cooked in.
The clay pot is used to cook meat, vegetables, and spices slowly in an oven. This slow-cooking technique gives the dish its full flavors and aromas.
Gyuvech is typically prepared with meat, usually pork, mixed with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and Summer Savory.
There are many variations. We tried one with Kashkaval (Bulgarian yellow cheese) added to pork and vegetables.
You can also find a version with eggs and vegetarian options too. Other Gyuvech dishes are prepared with rice, potatoes, or vegetables like mushrooms and carrots.
Gyuvech has Turkish roots, and it is very popular in the Thracian Valley. However, you’ll find Gyuvech dishes in Sofia and other parts of the country too.
8. Kapama – Traditional Bulgarian Clay Pot Meat Dish
Kapama is a traditional Bulgarian food that originated from the Pirin Mountains. It features prominently on menus in Razlog and Bansko villages.
This dish is made with three different cuts of meat slow-cooked together with pickled cabbage.
Meat cuts are typically pork, sausages, chicken legs, or veal. Sometimes blood sausage or rabbit are also included.
The dish is made in layers of meat and cabbage with a mix of spices such as black pepper, savory, salt, and cumin added at each layer. Rice is often added as a thickener.
Pickled cabbage is a traditional preparation used in Bulgaria to preserve the vegetables in the winter.
Kapama is slowly cooked for four hours before being served. It is a hearty dish, very aromatic, and worth savoring this traditional Bulgarian meal.
9. Bob Chorba – Traditional Bean Stew
Bob Chorba is a very popular bean soup in Bulgaria. It’s typically made with white beans from Smilyan, a small village in the Rhodopes region.
The soup is prepared with white beans, onions, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and spearmint.
It is traditionally cooked and served in clay pots and topped with finely chopped parsley.
We had Bob Chorba for the first time while visiting Melnik in Bulgaria. We found it hearty and comforting while surprisingly flavorful for a bean soup.
Bob Chorba will delight vegetarians in Bulgaria as it is traditionally made without meat.
However, there are some soup versions that add pork meat or sausage to the broth, so be sure to ask.
This is not to be confused with Shkembe Chorba, which is a traditional Bulgarian tripe soup.
Traditional Bulgarian Yogurt and Cheese
10. Bulgarian Yogurt, Kiselo Mlyako – The Bulgarian Recipe to Longevity
Bulgarian yogurt is also known as Kiselo Mlyako, or sour milk, and has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years.
Known worldwide for its health benefits, the secret lies in a bacteria known as Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, native to Bulgaria.
This bacteria causes the milk to ferment and gives the yogurt incomparable flavors.
Research has shown that the bacteria in the yogurt is a factor of longevity in the Bulgarian population. And, it also has additional health benefits for the intestinal tract and respiratory system.
Yogurt is a staple of Bulgarian cuisine. And, you’ll find many Bulgarian yoghurt based dishes including salads, dips, soups, and desserts.
Bulgaria has many dairy stores where you can find yogurt with different fat levels ranging from 2% to 10%. The most popular is said to be the 3.6% fat.
While the taste is slightly sour, it has a mild and creamy finish. Our best advice is to try several brands and fat percentages and find your favorite combination.
You can also make Bulgarian yogurt at home using Bulgaria yogurt starter culture.
11. Sirene – Bulgarian White Cheese
Sirene is the most famous and popular cheese in Bulgaria. Also known as white cheese or Bulgarian Feta Cheese, sirene is typically made with cow, goat, or sheep milk.
Sirene cheese is soft and salty, due to the maturation process in a brine solution. The taste can be more or less salty depending on the percentage of salt used in brining.
The crumbly white cheese resembles the Greek Feta, though we found it softer and more flavorful.
Sirene cheese is widely used in Bulgarian cuisine. You will find grated sirene cheese in salads, mainly in Shopska Salad, as well as in Banitsa. It is also used as a topping for french fries or bread.
We recommend trying Sirene Cheese made with sheep’s milk. It has a milder and rounder taste in the mouth, a delight!
12. Kashkaval – Bulgarian Yellow Cheese
After Sirene, Kashkaval is another popular cheese in Bulgaria. It is a yellow, round cheese typically made with cow or sheep milk.
Kashkaval is semi-hard, soft in taste, and slightly chewy in texture. It is often referred to as yellow cheese or cheddar cheese when translated on a restaurant menu.
Honestly, it is much better than any cheddar cheese you can find in the U.S. So don’t let that translation deter you from a dish as it did for me the first time I saw it on a restaurant menu.
Kashkaval is an excellent cheese for cooking with a nice, mild taste when melted over oven-baked potatoes.
Traditional Bulgarian Desserts
13. Banitsa – Bulgarian National Pastry
Banitsa is one of our favorite Bulgarian desserts. It is also a national dish of Bulgaria.
Made with filo pastry, it’s prepared in layers, most commonly with eggs, white cheese, and Bulgarian yogurt.
Banitsa is traditionally served at breakfast. However, there are many other versions of this pastry.
Some include fillings with spinach or other vegetables like leeks or cabbage. We also enjoyed it with rice as a banitsa-rice pudding. Other sweet versions are made with apples or pumpkins.
As a result, this traditional Bulgarian pastry can be eaten at different times of the day, sweet or savory.
As one of the most popular Bulgarian desserts, you will find sweet banitsa on the menu in most restaurants. To have banitsa for breakfast, look for it at the nearest local bakery.
14. Turkish Delight or Lokum
Turkish delight or Lokum is one of the traditional sweets in Bulgarian cuisine. While Türkiye is the most well-known for Lokum, Bulgaria has unique, traditional flavors.
Lokum is a family of confections based on starch, gel, and sugar.
In Bulgaria, Turkish Delight is generally flavored with rose petals, walnuts, or honey.
Lokum is also layered into filo pastry to create a version of banitsa. On top is a serving of honey that makes the combination particularly sweet with a semi-chewy and crispy texture.
We had it with rose petals and found it sweet and delicate, and at the same time, filling.
If you see it on a menu, don’t miss out on trying the rose version.
15. Mekitsa – Bulgarian Donuts
These delicious donuts are Bulgaria’s famous traditional breakfast treat.
Known as Mekitsa, the fried donuts are made with flour, egg, and yogurt and dusted with powdered sugar.
You can also find some variations topped with sirene cheese. These donuts are surprisingly light, soft, and not overly sweet. They go well with coffee.
The best place to try them is at Mekitsa & Coffee in Sofia. This small bakery specializes in reviving this old breakfast tradition.
They serve the original Mekitsa as well as new versions with chocolate, honey, walnuts, and more.
FAQ’s – Bulgarian Food
What is Bulgarian Food?
Bulgarian food is Mediterranean-influenced and rooted in local ingredients. Bulgarian food shares similarities with its neighboring countries, Turkey and Greece. Grilled meats and stews, Bulgarian yogurt, Shopska Salad, and Lutenisa, as well as herbs like Tsubritsa, make up the food of Bulgaria.
What is the Most Popular Food in Bulgaria?
The most popular Bulgarian foods are grilled meats, Bulgarian yogurt, Banitsa, Tarator soup, Shopksa Salad, and the national alcohol, Rakia.
What do They Eat for Breakfast in Bulgaria?
The traditional breakfast Bulgarian food is the banitsa, which is often accompanied by Ayran, a yogurt-based drink. Another Bulgarian breakfast drink is Boza, a fermented beverage. Mekitsa donuts are also popular and go very well with coffee.
What is the Signature Bulgarian Dish?
The signature Bulgarian food, often considered the national dish, is Banitsa. This traditional pastry holds a special place in Bulgarian culture and cuisine. While it’s widely available with many different fillings, it’s often shared during celebrations, weddings, and holidays, making it a symbol of togetherness and community.
Have you ever had Bulgarian food or drinks before? In the comments below, please let us know which of these Bulgarian foods you’d like to try.
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest