About Bulgarian Food

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Bulgaria will always make me smile. Exactly one week before I was to cook our Bulgarian Global Table, a young man from – you guessed it – Bulgaria came knocking on our door. I still haven’t pick my jaw up off the floor.

I live on a tiny street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for goodness sakes! These things just don’t happen.

Tall, gawky and very kind, Nick had one mission: to sell educational children’s books during his summer break. When my mother discovered the origins of his thick accent, she threw caution to the wind and pulled him inside. Cornered, he had no choice but to cooperate while I gave him the third degree. What did you eat as a child? What’s your favorite dessert? After thirty minutes, when the color had completely drained from his face, I finally let him talk to me about his books. It was the least I could do.

I learned several important points from Nick.

Bulgarians eat many of the things we eat here, in the United States. “We have McDonald’s, but no Arby’s” he said. I practically had to beg him to tell him about another dessert he loved more than ice cream. Think, Nick! Think! There has to be something more unique to Bulgaria than ice cream. He eventually conceded that he loves Izvarnik, what he described as Bulgarian “cheesecake.”

While Bulgarians don’t eat a lot of meat, he said that pork is the most common. You’ll find it in their musaka, layered potatoes and meat baked with eggs and yogurt. Pork also gets stuffed into their famous cabbage sarmi (stuffed cabbage leaves). Nick’s mother makes about 60 at a time, one stacked upon the other and steamed in a giant pot. He can eat twenty in one sitting. He’s a growing boy, you know.

Vegetarians will love Banitsa, a savory pastry made with cheese and/or spinach, served with yogurt (recipe). Nick tells me that our salty feta cheese tastes the closest to the sirene cheese they use.  Another tasty dish is guvets – a stew with a variety of vegetables including potato, onion, pepper, and bean.

As for special treats, Bulgarians enjoy sipping rakia, a brandy-like drink, and kompot, a cold drink made with dried or fresh fruits such as prunes, raisins, apricots, raspberries, and apples. Kompot (recipe) is most popular around Christmas; kids love scooping up the stewed fruit at the bottom of the glass for a sweet snack. In general, stone fruit is very popular in Bulgaria, including plums, cherries, and peaches.

In the heat of summer, residents cool off with chilled tarator, cold cucumber yogurt soup seasoned with fresh dill and a touch of fresh garlic (recipe). The way our summer has been going, I’ll need 5 gallons of tarator just to get through today!

Hope your day is cool!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I did buy two books from Nick. He delivers them and two months – I’m getting a list of food questions ready for his return. Is that wrong?


  1. Vesna says

    Is there a turkish/ex-yugoslavian/romanian/whateverbalkanese shop in Tulsa? There you would find prepared cabbage leaves for sarma (it is actually a turkish word meaning sth like wrap). Prepared in the sense of “put whole cabbage in water with a lot of salt and vinegar and let it rest for months”. Sarma is mostly delicious when cooked for at least 12hrs on low heat (best overnight) and well, my mom`s Sarma is the best. 😀

    P.S. If you put some smoked ham or rips (pork) on top of the Sarma … perfect tender meat, its saltiness adding well to the Sarma.

    • globaltable says

      Vesna, you’re making me hungry! Your mom’s sounds wonderful – the smoked ham sounds like a great touch… yum!

  2. Just look at the map and you can see that now-peripheral Bulgaria was once at the crossroads of civilization. It was ruled by Rome. Much later, around 800, King Krum made it the center of a huge empire. Then 200 years later Emperor Basil the Bulgar-Slayer made it a part of the Byzantine Empire.

  3. elisa says

    WOW he was quite the find….I think that was karma in the works right there…so very cool..One thing I know about bulgaria is that thy make pretty good beer. Ive had one, whole foods sells imported beers..
    Your adventure is so unpredictable, yet so planned..LOL

  4. Someone I knew (25 plus years ago) married a Bulgarian lady who gave me a great meatloaf recipe. It contained chunks of cheese. She said that the cheese traditionally used did melt very much but at the time I did not know what to substitute here in the UK. Definitely not Cheddar – in the end I used Cheshire, a crumbly white cheese that does not melt quite so much. I am still not sure what cheese was used but I expect it is probably a type of Feta but with a Bulgarian name. (Feta was not very well known at the time but is everywhere now.)
    If anyone knows what cheese it is likely to be I would be grateful as there are lots of Eastern European shops in London now which probably stock it.
    I would like to make the meatloaf using the correct cheese and when/if I do so I will post a link to the appropriate page for others…
    ‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’

      • That’s really helpful information, Brian – I will look round our Eastern European shops and see what I come up with. They are mostly Polish but it might help me find it. I wonder if I could substitute Feta – do you know?

        • globaltable says

          Yes, you can! That’s actually what Nick suggested I do for the banitsa pastry 🙂

  5. Vesna says

    Nooo, the cheese they used is not sirenje, because this is feta. They used either kashkaval which is a dried, brittle and salty cheese (here in Continental Europe, I would buy old Gouda or old Austrian Mountain Cheese) or you use something similar to mozarella, also a cooked, firm and white cheese, which we call bieno sirenje e.g. and means beaten cheese. It is not very salty and as firm as low-fat mozarella. Feta or sirenje is produced differently.

    In the banitsa, you could mix some cream cheese with the crumbled feta to make it more creamy and not that dry. Or use minced meat, seasoned and fried with some onions. or potatoe cubes, also fried, in the phyllo sheets. Btw, if you are a talented baker, than look up some you tube postings on how to pull the phyllo dough – it is actually not that easy, but worth and some techniques are easier than others.

  6. Your website appears to be having some compatibilty problems in my
    ie browser. The text seems to be running off the webpage pretty bad.
    If you want you can email me at: [email protected] and
    I’ll shoot you over a screenshot of the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.