Almost every foreigner visiting Sofia for the first time wants to try traditional Bulgarian food that’s unique to our country. Keep in mind that Balkan cuisine has common features thanks to our centuries long and quite messy life together on the peninsula. But hush, quiet, you didn’t hear it from us!
Back to the very Bulgarian dishes. Here are some pillars of the Bulgarian cuisine to look out for during your stay in Sofia. Whether stuff you can get from the store or a Bulgarian national dish to order while exploring the traditional restaurants – here’s a list of our favorite traditional foods.
Yes, you’ve probably already heard it. Bulgaria is the mother of yogurts. Only here you can try real yogurt which is full of super healthy nutrients and bacteria that is crucial for your gut and overall health. You can find yogurt in every grocery store and a lot of restaurants offer yogurt based desserts. You can also have it in its liquid form “airan”.
We’re not done with yogurt! This cold summer soup is light, refreshing and perfect for the hot seasons yet you can find it at any time of the year. It’s made from yogurt mixed with water with added cucumbers, as well as dill and garlic in some recipes. Chances are you’ll find tarator in every restaurant, unless it’s a non-Bulgarian cuisine place.
Speaking of tarator, we should add that Bulgarians loooooove soups… Whether chicken or veal, or veggie ones, soups are a great way to satisfy your appetite or heal your hangover. One of the most popular culinary remedies for the party night aftermath is the tripe soup with milk-based broth, called “shkembe”. We wish we could claim ownership, but it’s popular all over the Balkans. Another two types of soup that are very popular around here are lentils and beans soup. Again, soups are a must for nearly all restaurants in Sofia. If you want to delve deeper into the soup variety, you can try one of the specialized soup places such as Supa Star or the Supa Bar.
Whether for breakfast, as a snack or even dessert – Bulgarians love their banitsa and their banitsa loves them back. It’s most often a savory pastry with different filling. On Christmas and New Year’s Eve we put fortunes inside each piece that are supposed to mark your future in the next year. As far as banitsa places are concerned – they are just everywhere. You can have a proper banitsa in every neighborhood in Sofia, however, our favorite central spots are Furna and HleBar.
Even though they’re not a dish, we’ve heard it many times from our foreign friends – Bulgarian tomatoes are delish! They’re succulent and juicy like no other tomatoes. We don’t know if it’s the climate or the soil or a combination of the two. You can still run into the fake tomatoes in the stores but if you hit up the farmer’s markets, you’ll be able to grab a couple real ones and feel the difference, especially in the summertime.
Spreads are popular all over the Balkan peninsula and it’s often hard to trace their specific origins. Among the ones that we consider ours is lyutenitsa – a spread made of pureed peppers, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, vegetable oil, sugar and salt. If you find a local with a stable family tradition they might even invite you to their family ritual of lyutenitsa making, which takes place in the late summer – early fall. Lyutenitsa is something you would get from the store and eat tons of it on a toast with some white Bulgarian cheese crumbled on top of it. Our favorite lyutenitsa brand is Gurmenitsa, but in any case whichever brand you try, you won’t be sorry!
“Skara” – Bulgarian Barbecue for Hungry Souls
“Skara” is all those barbecued meats that you can get anywhere from a park festival to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. The king and queen of Bulgarian skara are “kebapche” and “kyufte”. Our recommendation when it comes to skara is the Skara Bar, where you can enjoy well-prepared skara options in a nice and modern atmosphere. When it comes to kyufte, our top choice is Q-ftetaria – a hip, fresh place where they cook all kinds of kyufte, even vegetarian ones.
Last but no least – salads. Salads are a crucial part of the Bulgarian traditional cuisine. Whether in the summer or in the winter time, Bulgarians love to order or make a salad, sit down with a small glass of booze and discuss whatever extremely important issue is on their minds. “Shopska” is the most remarkable Bulgarian salad you can order in restaurants at any time, any place. It’s typically made of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, white cheese, parsley and a dressing. In the winter time we love having “turshia” – pickles made of seasonal veggies such as cauliflower and peppers.
If you want to have a meal by meal traditional Bulgarian menu, you can try some of the traditional Bulgarian restaurants around town, such as MoMA, Hadzi Draganovite Izbi or Pod Lipite. And don’t forget to keep it moving after the food. One great way to do so – our self-guided tours! Check them out or contact our consultants if you need more specific help!