Bulgarian Cuisine - What Are the Best National Foods?

What sets apart Bulgarian cuisine from the other parts of the Balkans? The region has a never-ending debate about which country invented this food or that drink but the answers are unclear, and probably lost in the messy kitchen of history. However, we can certainly say what’s the best food in the traditional Bulgarian menu.


There’s really no other starting point when talking about food in Bulgaria. Banitsa occupies the same place in Bulgarian culture that apple pie does in the United States. In fact, some foreign sources wrongly say that banitsa is a “Bulgarian cheese pie.” The difference is that pie is usually made out of filling wrapped around a layer of pastry, while banitsa has many layers of thin flour pastry.

The usual varieties of banitsa are filled with cheese, spinach, or pumpkin. However, there are many different types and most of the recipes tend to intertwine and mix up different pastry and fillings. Banitsa is best consumed with ayran, a drink that’s a mixture of soured milk, water, and salt. Speaking of which…

Soured Milk

Don’t let the name fool you, soured milk is incredibly delicious. It’s from the same family as yogurt, though soured milk is a bit more watery and salty. The aforementioned ayran is a very popular drink that can be consumed with many Bulgarian foods. It goes best with banitsa.

Soured milk can also be used as dressing for various dishes like moussaka, sarmi (sometimes spelled sharma in English), or for stuffed peppers (called chushka in Bulgaria.) The milk can also be used to make a cold soup called tarator when it’s mixed with chopped cucumbers, garlic, sunflower oil, and water. Bulgarians take pride in soured milk, so be careful to not call it yogurt, especially not Greek yogurt.

Shopska salata (salad)

Shopska salata is the most widely consumed salad in the country and often referred to as the most popular dish from Bulgaria. It’s a mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, raw peppers, and it’s most important ingredient, sirene (white Bulgarian cheese.) Sunflower oil, salt, parsley, and red peppers can also be added. The salad is served mixed.

There is some controversy surrounding the salata, as some claim that it was entirely invented by the communist tourist boards of Bulgaria during the Cold War. However, the recipe is fairly traditional and made out of ingredients you can find everywhere in Bulgaria. As said above, the most important ingredient is probably…

Sirene (Bulgarian white cheese)

All European countries seem to have their own cheese and Bulgaria is no exception. Sirene is a bit more watery and fresh than cheeses found in Western Europe. It still retains the white color of milk. It’s the most common ingredient used for banitsa, as a salad dressing, sandwich ingredient, and sometimes just eaten as an appetizer.

Just like all cheese, sirene has a wide variety of different types, and it’s made out of different kinds of milk, with cow and goat mils being most popular, but there’s also buffalo cheese. The best kind of sirene is fresh and not too crumby.


Bulgaria’s national beverage, rakia is made out of fermented fruits, usually grapes or different kinds of plums. People often mistake Rakiya for “brandy” but the two drinks are distinct in their distillation, fermentation, and ingredients. Every region has its own version of rakia depending on the local fruit crops.

Rakiya is a stiff drink, usually having 40% alcohol content. Home-brewed rakia can be quite stronger, depending on who’s making it. Bulgarians enjoy drinking it during dinner, ideally combined with a shopska salata and maybe a plate of cheese.

The perfect Bulgarian dinner

While sitting down at a restaurant in Bulgaria, make sure to order a big jug of ayran, a shopska salata, and a nice, big banitsa. After that, you may want to try the best local rakiathe establishment has to offer.





Alex Dimchev

Alex Dimchev is a writer, editor, and weapons master for EUscoop.com

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