Bulgarian traditional food is a mix of many influences, and while it is sometimes difficult to say if a specific dish is really genuinely Bulgarian – Turks, Greeks, Serbs and Macedonians have a very similar cuisine – it is safe to say that it is delicious and that you will almost for sure put on some weight when you stay a bit longer in Bulgaria. And with the possible exception of shkembe chorba, a kind of hot tripe soup that some people find rather repelling, you need not to think twice to try anything you might find on the menu. Bulgarians pride themselves to have brought the yoghurt – yoghurt being a proto-Bulgarian word – to Europe (the Bulgarian yoghurt cultures are based on the Bacillus bulgaricus), but this claim is – like everything else on the Balkans – disputed by its neighbours. Like in every society with predominantly rural roots, cooking and eating, and inviting guests play an important role in the social life of the Bulgarians. Eating together with family and friends is more than just fulfilling the basic need for food; it is a social event. It goes without saying that the best Bulgarian traditional food you will not find in restaurants, but in the homes of your Bulgarian friends.
If you like to cook and experiment with something new, or if you were in Bulgaria and miss the food, I will briefly recommend you three books that in my opinion are good choices for anyone who wants to prepare something traditional Bulgarian at home.
Silvia Zheleva’s Traditional Bulgarian Cooking (CreateSpace 2015) starts with the typical Bulgarian salads such as Shopska salad or Shepherd’s salad, but also classics like snezhanka, or kyopoolu are not missing. The soup section contains among others the already mentioned shkembe chorba, but also typical Bulgarian treats such as tarator (a cold soup based on yoghurt), or bob, a traditional bean soup. The main courses conatin the usual kebapche, kyufte, shishche (meat skewers), but also moussaka (maybe Bulgarian, maybe not). Different variations of sarmi (stuffed cabbage or wine leaves), gyuvetch, chomleks, kavarmas follow. While the Balkan cuisine is in general a bit on the meaty side, there are also quite a number of vegetarian dishes, such as lentil stew, mish-mash, imambaialda (stuffed aubergines), meatless gyuvetch, etc. The book closes with an overview regarding the different kind of traditional pastries (banitsa, baklava, mekitsi). A rather unpretentious book that is very suitable for practical use.
Cathryn N. Donev’s book Cooking Traditions of Bulgaria (CreateSpace 2012) has a comparable content regarding the recipes as the first book. The main difference to Zhelev’s book is that there is more about the historical background and context of the different dishes. The author, an American with Bulgarian roots, has spent several years in Bulgaria and pays also attention to cooking with ingredients you can find outside Bulgaria.
Bulgarian Recipes: A holiday for body and soul by Tsvetana Kirkova and Kojishi Dae (CreateSpace 2016) is written by a Peace Corps Volunteer and her Bulgarian language instructor. The book contains 70 traditional and modern Bulgarian dishes, but also tips and cultural notes to give the reader an idea about the beauty of the Bulgarian kitchen. The numerous photos add considerable value to the book.
Thomas Hübner is a German-born economist and development consultant with a life-long passion for books. He lives in Chisinau/Moldova and Sofia/Bulgaria. He is also the co-founder of Rhizome Publishing in Sofia, and translates poetry, mainly from Bulgarian to German (most recently Vladislav Hristov, Germanii, Rhizome 2017). He is blogging at Mytwostotinki on books and anything else that interests him.
Photo credit: Cornelia Awear
This blog post is part of #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.