Along the countless gorgeous places you can visit in Bulgaria, there’s a solid number of traditional dishes you need to put on your list to try. Bulgarian food feels like home – the dishes are unpretentious, yet so hearty and delicious.
It was only after I moved to Vienna that I realized how high-quality and delicious many of the products in Bulgaria are. You need to try a Bulgarian “pink” tomato to know what a real tomato tastes like. The same goes for other fruits and vegetables, but also yogurt, bread and others.
While most of the dishes you’ll find in Bulgaria are also typical for the rest of the Balkan region, they still have their own local distinguishable taste to set the apart from the versions in other countries. And although meat is a staple in many Bulgarian dishes, we also have quite a few traditional foods that don’t require it. So whether you’re a meat lover, vegetarian or vegan – there’s something for everyone!
Here is a list of 18 traditional Bulgarian foods you need to try when visiting Bulgaria.
Traditional Bulgarian breakfast
Banitsa is one of the most traditional foods in Bulgaria that every visitor has to try at least once. This is a pastry, made by layering a mixture of whisked eggs, Bulgarian yogurt and crumbles of white Bulgarian cheese, all covered by layers of filo pastry, and then baked in the oven.
It’s a savory dish which is perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack. You can enjoy it with a glass of ayran or boza – two traditional drinks that we will talk about a bit later. Some people even enjoy having it with some honey or jam, which makes it a perfect combination of sweet and savory.
When I was little I used to spend my summers living with my grandparents in the countryside. I remember that every so often I’d wake up from the distinguishable smell of mekitsi coming from the kitchen downstairs. There’s nothing better than your grandma’s mekitsi, and every Bulgarian can confirm that.
Mekitsa (mekitsi in plural) is a traditional Bulgarian dish made of kneaded dough that is deep fried. It can be eaten with powdered sugar, honey, or my favorite combination – jam and Bulgarian cheese! They’re amazingly good on their own as well, to be honest.
If you’re able to get your hands on some mekitsi, make sure you try them.
3. Fried toast (French toast)
As the name suggests, this is a typical dish not only in Bulgaria, but it’s definitely a favorite among locals. Though it may be a bit of a heavy breakfast, it’s very satisfying and filling. Try it with some jam and Bulgarian cheese, or add some honey on top.
Traditional Bulgarian Salads
4. Shopska Salad
Shopska salad is the most traditional Bulgarian salad you can have. It’s popular and can be found in other Southeast European countries as well, but we like to think that it comes from our country.
It consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and Bulgarian cheese. If you think about it, the colors of the ingredients resemble the Bulgarian flag (white, green and red), thus evoking a sense of sentiment in locals.
You can find shopska salad in almost every restaurant in the country.
Traditional Bulgarian soups
You may have noticed a trend until now – many dishes have either Bulgarian yogurt or cheese. This soup is no exception.Tarator is a traditional cold soup, made from diced cucumber, yogurt and water. It’s perfect for those hot summer days when you’re feeling peckish and want to have something quick to cool you off. If you’re visiting Bulgaria in the warmer months, make sure to try tarator at least once.
6. Chicken soup
Chicken soup is a hearty and healthy dish, which makes for the perfect lunch. This Bulgarian traditional soup is something locals like to have when feeling under the weather. It’s known for its “healing) properties, such as “curing” cold and other inflammatory processes in the body.
7. Shkembe chorba (tripe soup)
Shkembe chorba is another dish, traditional for the whole Balkan peninsula and the Middle East. People usually either love it or hate it – there’s no in between. This is due to its distinguishable and strong taste, and peculiar ingredients (at least in my opinion).
It’s usually best to try it without knowing what it’s made of, but I’ll tell you regardless. Shkembe chorba is prepared with the thick lining of the stomach of a cow. If you can get past this, you may discover that you might actually fall in love with it – like many people do.
Shkembe chorba is served warm and you can season it with vinegar, garlic, and spicy red pepper powder, which are always brought separately, so you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.
Traditional Bulgarian dishes
Oh, moussaka… One of the best things you can have in Bulgaria! This is the Bulgarian (or should I say Balkan) version of Lasagna – it’s similar, but only slightly. It’s made with diced potatoes and ground meat, tomato sauce and a lot of herbs. To top it off, it has a yogurt and egg crust on top. Sometimes, apart from potatoes, you’ll find eggplant or zucchini inside as well.
Many Bulgarians enjoy it plain, but I really like mixing it with some Bulgarian yogurt while it’s still hot – to make it cool off more quickly and also add another dimension of flavors. It’s to die for!
9. Stuffed peppers
Stuffed peppers are one of the most loved Bulgarian dishes among locals and foreigners. The good news is that it has a vegetarian option as well. It’s all in the filling with the main ingredients being rice, onions, carrots and spices, and sometimes ground meat. The mixture is then stuffed in bell peppers and baked in the oven.
If you’re vegetarian, make sure to ask in the restaurant whether they serve the stuffed peppers with or without meat.
10. Kyufte and kebapche
If you’re looking for a quick delicious meal, kyufte and/or kebapche are your best bet.
Kyufte is a meat patty made out of minced meat (usually pork or a mix of pork and beef), onions and spices. Kebapche is quite similar in taste and ingredients, but its form is more elongated. The other difference is that kyufte has some onion inside (which makes it slightly more delicious), and kebapche doesn’t.
Both are grilled on a barbecue and usually come garnished with some French Fries, Lutenitsa and Cabbage Salad or Shopska Salad.
The best kyufte I’ve ever had in Bulgaria was in the villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa – two villages in Southern Bulgaria, famous for their traditional houses. The local recipes are different from the rest of Bulgaria and they use minced meat instead of ground meat. As both villages are located close to each other, you can visit them in one day.
11. Sarmi (stuffed cabbage rolls)
Similar to stuffed peppers, the filling of sarmi consists of rice, spices and often minced meat. The difference here is that this is wrapped in vine or cabbage leaves, giving it a distinct taste.
According to Bulgarian tradition, sarmi are always present on the table for Christmas Eve. In winter sarmi are made with sauerkraut, while in summer you will find them in vine leaves.
12. Boiled beans – bob chorba
Whenever I think of boiled beans, my memory is being transported to a hut in the mountains. You can find bob chorba on the menu of every traditional restaurant in Bulgaria, and it’s a delicious filling dish, which is usually served without meat. In some cases it can come with a sausage inside, but if you don’t eat meat, kindly ask for a vegetarian version.
Traditional Bulgarian desserts
Baklava is one of the most delicious desserts you can have in the Balkan region. Since Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, where baklava originally comes from, it became part of our traditional cuisine as well.
Baklava is a layered pastry dessert filled with chopped nuts, soaked in syrup or honey. Beware that it can be “deadly” sweet, so get a little bit at first to just try it.
14. Garash cake
Garash cake is a chocolate cake that originally comes from the Northern Bulgarian city of Ruse.
The original recipe for Garash cake was introduced by Hungarian confectioner Kosta Garash. It was first served in Ruse and publicly announced in Sofia in 1960.
When prepared according to the original recipe, it consists of 5 egg white layers, smeared with chocolate mousse made of cream and chocolate. Garash cake also looks and tastes similar to the Austrian Sacher cake.
15. Crepes (Palachinki)
Here in Bulgaria we like to eat crepes, and you can often find crepes on the menu as a dessert. Moreover, in all beach resorts you can find crepe booths to buy some crepes on the go. It’s the perfect snack, isn’t it?You can enjoy a simple chocolate or jam cake, or make a mix of jam and Bulgarian cheese, which is my favorite combo!
P.S. The most famous crepe booth is in Sozopol – a beach resort in Bulgaria, and there you can choose from a wide variety of options, each one of them being so unique that you wouldn’t think of putting these ingredients together. You can find the place by the name “Veselite Palachinki” (The Happy Crepes).
Traditional Bulgarian drinks
Ayran is a popular Balkan drink which is widely consumed in Bulgaria. It’s so popular that you can find it in the supermarkets as a drink to go, as well as in most restaurants.
It’s made of yogurt and water and it’s a cold savory drink that’s the perfect addition to banitsa.
Boza is one of the most Bulgarian drinks you can ever have. Its taste is so unique that almost no foreigner ever likes it. In fact, most even despise it. But I’d still urge you to give it a try at least once.
The ingredients are going to sound weird but it’s actually a sweet drink that’s very filling. You make boza from fermented cereal flour which gives it a slightly acidic flavor, small alcohol percentage and also thick consistency.
This is the other drink that goes perfectly with banitsa, and it’s also something that I often crave when I haven’t had for a while. Just give it a try, because one must try everything in life at least once, right!? If you don’t like it, it makes for a great prank gift for someone at home.
I know I said boza was the most traditional Bulgarian drink, but I made a mistake – rakia is! This strong alcohol drink is served in very small (shot-like) glasses and you must enjoy it in tiny sips, otherwise you may not endure it.
The alcohol content of rakia varies between 40% and maybe 60-70% with home-made produce. It can also be made from various fruits – plum, grapes, apricots and others.
Which of these traditional Bulgarian foods sparked your interest the most? And if you’ve tried any of them, which one was your favorite? I’m curios to find out, so be sure to leave a comment or message me on social media!
For travelling in Bulgaria, I highly recommend renting a car so you are able to visit as many places as possible without being dependent on buses and trains. One of the biggest and most reliable car rental companies is Top Rent a Car. I’ve used their services and was very happy with them, so I can definitely recommend them. Click here to discover car rental options.
You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for a place to stay in Bulgaria.
Organized tours can spare you the hassle of planning the full trip by yourself. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, as they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
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