"If in doubt add sirene" is perhaps the sentence that best describes Bulgarian food and Bulgarian cooking.
Sirene, the white brine cheese known as feta in the English-speaking world is the undisputed culinary staple of Bulgarian cuisine with Bulgarian yogurt being its only possible rival.
Other obsessions include salads and pork.
Heritage of Ottoman cuisine shows through in the common names of various nuts, fruits and dishes in Turkish and Bulgarian.
Visitors from the Balkans, in general will feel at home in Bulgaria when it comes to food.
Below is a short meal by meal guide of what to expect from Bulgarian cuisine.
BREAKFAST - A SIMPLE AFFAIR
Kifla and banitsa are typical breakfast items
Breakfast is not the biggest and heartiest meal of the day in Bulgaria so don’t go looking for that omelete on the breakfast table.
Many Bulgarians skip breakfast altogether, or have something little on the go. And a healthy supply of local corner bakeries comes in handy.
Ayran (salty yogurt drink) and boza (sweet thick brown liquid with a slight acidic flavor made from fermented wheat) are the breakfast drinks of choice.
Boza has proven a real challenge to foreigners
On weekends, mothers and grandmothers head to the kitchen to prepare piles of French toast, doughnuts or pancakes, accompanied by homemade jams, honey and, of course, sirene, the Bulgarian white cheese.
If you are staying at a B&B chances are theese items will be on the breakfast menu.
Mekitsi, the local version of fried doughnuts
A slice of bread with liutenitsa, a spread made from fried tomatoes and peppers and canned for the winter, is probably the number one snack in the country, including for breakfast.
Liutenitsa is a canned vegetable spread made from tomatoes and red peppers
White bread and white cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers or a simple grilled cheese sandwich are also typical.
COFFEE, JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR ESPRESSO
Regular espresso /normalno kafe/
Long long time ago coffee houses were reserved of old men playing backgammon, discussing politics and sucking on their pipes. The coffee was Turkish and sugary, and women were…. well… not very welcome.
Those times are long gone. Coffee remains the drink of choice in Bulgaria, but espresso now rules the scene.
Herbal infusions, wrongly called “chai”, are also very common at the breakfast table.
BREAD, PILES OF BREAD
According to some statistics Bulgaria is the 3rd largest per capita consumer of bread in the world (after Turkey and Serbia) and we are not surprised. White bread is a must with every dish, despite recent trends for whole wheat, or no bread at all.
Consumption of bread seems to be highest with vegetarian dishes and the bread is often dipped in the sauce. Yum!
Purlenka, a local type of flat bread has cheese and garlic variations.
HOME-COOKING IN BULGARIA
Jahnia, the stew of potatoes (and meat) is the home cooking staple in the country
The traditional casserole type dishes called ‘mandza”, a collective term for anything cooked at home in a pot or a pan, remain the most popular home cooked food. After long trips abroad Bulgarians can be heard longing for some “wet” i.e. saucy food.
SALADS: SHOPSKA AND BEYOND
In the winter sauerkraut and pickled vegetables /turshia/ replace the fresh vegetables.
Bulgarians are voracious salad eaters both inside and outside the home. Dinner and lunch always start with a seasonal salad. It is a green salad in spring, Shopska in the summer and sauerkraut or pickled vegetables in the winter.
Salads are washed down with rakia, the strong homemade brandy of the region.
BULGARIA FOR MEAT-LOVERS
Kofte and its elongated sibling kebabche are omnipresent;
at home, in a restaurant or on the go.
Love for meat in Bulgaria is great, thought it cannot rival the love for meat west of the border.
Most commonly the meat is pork, but in spring several religious traditions call for lamb on the table.
Bulgarians do not shy away from all kinds of organ meats and tongue, liver, brain and chicken hearts are on the menu in most traditional restaurants.