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BULGARIAN FOOD & CUISINE
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More than often the tour and travel pages on the Internet would read:
"The most delicious food you have ever tasted." We won't tell you this because you expect to hear it and the food here is only but one thing, which will impress you about this land. However, Bulgaria is a country of traditions and there are three very special food items, which are unique to Bulgaria and have always been a part of it, back through the earliest of Thracian times:
1. White Cheese - a particular variety of the increasingly popular Feta cheese found in many places. It is a brined cheese, produced from goat, sheep or cow milk, and is used either plain or as an essential part of other dishes - from the "shopska salad" to the "banitza".
2. Yoghurt - again, a particular variety of food, produced by the Lactobacterium Bulgaricum bacteria. It grows no place else in the world. Yoghurt (or as it is called here "kiselo mlyako" - literally meaning "sour milk") has found an important part in many Bulgarian dishes. Bulgarians are also fond of the so-called "Ayran" - a beverage of yoghurt and water. Yoghurt can be purchased in many different grades and qualities, each characteristic of the quality of the very milk to which the bacteria-culture has been added. Be sure you try the wonderfully rich, buttery-tasting buffalo yoghurt ("Bivolsko mylako") produced from the milk of the water buffalo. It is most commonly found in the mountain areas - e.g. around Shipka village and the town of Gabrovo. Bulgarians eat yoghurt in one form or another practically every day throughout their life.
3. Chubritsa (Savory) - This plant, which botanists claim to be a species of the herb "Satureia hortensis", appears to grow particularly well upon Bulgarian soil. It also shares certain characteristics with the so-popular Oregano (Origanum vulgare). The savory dried leaves are crushed and sprinkled on top of many kinds of dishes, or ground into a fine powder and used on bread-and-butter.

The abundance of various kinds of mineral water may be seen as one other important factor to the healthy nature of the Bulgarian people. Most notable are the spring water sources from the region quite close to Plovdiv - in the towns of Hissar and Bratsigovo. In Hissar, the total outflow of the springs exceeds 4500 litre per minute. The water is very low in dissolved solids, about 230 mg per litre, with a temperature ranging from 37 to 51C. People travel to Hissar to take a supply of water from a specially erected fountain. This water is used primarily for treatment of predominantly gastro-intestinal disorders. There are many other similar springs throughout Bulgaria and a large portion of their water is bottled commercially and consumed in homes and restaurants as a quite popular type of table water.

And then there is the popular "boza" - this is a thick fermented sweet beverage (having a sweet-sour taste) prepared from roasted flour, which gives it a brownish colour (it almost has the appearance of the chocolate drink "YooHoo"). As the beverage is fermented, it has a slight (4% or less) alcohol content. Millet-flour boza is preferred, but it may be made from wheat, barley, oat or corn flour.

As to methods of preparation - since earliest of times the Bulgarians have favoured stewing, roasting, boiling and the cooked-in-the-earthen-pot dish. The roasting of food on charcoal embers is also widespread, leaving the meat deliciously tender and succulent. Often many of the stews and casseroles are delivered to the table in a lidded brown crock called a "gyuvech". If many of the dishes you find here seem Turkish to you - that is very much so! Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottomans for five centuries. When the Turks retreated, both parties exchanged borrowed ways and traditions.

You will probably want us to sample the rich variety of local meat, vegetables, fruit and variety of bread found in a well-prepared and colourful, interesting dishes. Here is just an attempt to sample some most characteristic Bulgarian menu: a Bulgarian breakfast might start with some of the so-typical yoghurt, with a delicious strudel-like pastry made with spinach or feta cheese filling (called "banitza"). For lunch or dinner, a mixed tomato-cucumber-pepper-and-onion salad with grated sheep-milk cheese on top (the "shopska salata") followed by a tasty stew of pork meat with paprikas (the "slav gyuvech") or just a vegetable stew (the "gyuvech zarzavat"), stuffed peppers or aubergines, stuffed vine leaves' called "sarmi". Beware of the heavenly sweet syrupy pastries filled with walnuts called "baklava"!"

Kebapche" (the minced-meat-and-spices long roll) is just the local favourite! When in round form, it's called "Kyufte", but it's very much the same (although the latter could include some yellow cheese inside it as well). The meat is pork, chicken or veal, sometimes a mixture of chicken and the other, mixed with very finely minced onion, water, cumin, salt and pepper. When already barbequed, the kebapche or the kyufte is usually served with fried potatoes ("French fries") and a beer (called "bira" here) or a soft drink.

There is little difference in the contents of the Bulgarian cook's larder from your own; common meats are pork, veal, lamb, chicken and fish. Staples include rice, corn, beans and lentils. Vegetables include potatoes, cabbage (both green and red), carrots, tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, garlic, zucchini, pumpkin, onions (yellow and green), peas, celery, spinach, cauliflower, green and lima beans, lettuce, radishes, turnips, mushrooms, olives ; fruits - cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, watermelons, melons, grapes and quinces. All of these basic ingredients are grown in Bulgaria.

Cooking oil is almost always sunflower oil. It is light enough that it blends easily with foods while cooking and does not impart a greasy taste.

Bread may be lightly brushed with sunflower oil and toasted in a hot pan to a delicious golden colour. Bread is the most important item of the Bulgarian diet. The crisp, thin outer crust is cracked in places on top and nearly glistens; inside is of a coarse yet soft, white texture. Of course, many other styles and types of bread are to be found - including whole-wheat and pre-sliced.





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