History Of Feta Cheese (Greek) vs Bulgarian Cheese (Sirene)

History Of Feta Cheese (Greek) vs Bulgarian Cheese (Sirene)

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In This Article, A History Of Feta Cheese (Greek) vs Bulgarian Cheese (Sirene) and other white brined cheeses of the Balkans and Middle East.

Feta cheese is the most famous variety of white brined cheese in the world. However, very similar cheeses have been made around the Balkan region, eastern Mediterranean, middle east and beyond, probably since at least 8000 BC.

In this article & podcast episode we explore the history of white brined cheese as well as the controversial decision by the EU in 2002 that Feta cheese is a 100% Greek product and that the name “Feta” can only be used on the cheese if it is made in certain parts of Greece.

 

Podcast: History Of Feta Cheese (Greek) vs Bulgarian Cheese (Sirene)

Episode Release Date is 29th May 2019 – Coming Soon!

In this episode:

  • History of Greek Feta Cheese vs. Bulgarian Sirene Cheese vs Romanian Telmea and other white cheeses. Which was the original brined white cheese?
  • We discuss the ancient history of Feta style cheese from the balkan region.
  • Should the EU have made Feta cheese a Greek only designated origin product?
  • We explain the origin of the name “Feta”.
  • Plus, How Canada may have got it right when it comes to Feta cheese…

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The Below Is A Partial, Incomplete Transcript From The Full Podcast Episode

 

The Controversy – Introducing the topic

When we visited Bulgaria locals told us that Bulgarian Cheese (Sirene) was the best Feta cheese – that it was better in flavor and perhaps even that Bulgaria had been producing it for longer.

In popular culture, mainly as an easy way to communicate an idea, we’ve found the word feta used to describe brined white cheese, which is similar to Feta, in many countries. Romanian Feta – called Telmea. Bulgarian Feta – The Sirene cheese.

But, since EU regulations enacted a DOP/PDO status to protect Feta Cheese in 2002, only brined white cheese made to strict guidelines, and made in specific regions of Greece, is allowed to be called Feta Cheese.

WHAT IS FETA / SIRENE (Bulgarian Cheese)?

Feta

Most listeners will have tried feta already. its a brined curd white cheese made from sheep’s milk or from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. It is a crumbly aged cheese, normally at least 3 months aged, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture with a salty hit.

The October 2002 European Union bill limits the term feta to mean a brined cheese mad only from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep and goat’s milk, with a max 30% of goat’s milk. Feta must be made in certain regions of Greece, specifically: Peloponnese, Epirus, Thessaly, Central Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, plus the islands of Lesvos and Cephalonia.

The biodiversity of the land coupled with the special breeds of sheep and goats used for milk is what gives feta cheese a specific aroma and flavor. Which is one of many reasons we’ll discuss why The name feta has become a protected origin product.

It should be noted that, at time of recording, the USA has not accepted this protected status and feta cheese purchased in the USA may not have been produced in Greece. Though talks are underway on a massive trade deal between the EU and USA that would potentially change this.

Sirene (Bulgarian Cheese)

Bulgarian Cheese on The Shopska Salad

Bulgarian Cheese on The Shopska Salad

Sirene Bulgarian Cheese can be made from a combination of goat, cow and sheep milk. There is no regulation on which, or the proportions. It’s is a little softer and wetter than feta cheese, but still crumbly and has a fat content of around 44-48%. It has a grain texture and slightly lemony flavor. I find it just a little creamier than feta, normally.

Bulgarian cheese is used for so many culinary applications, from salads to baked goods (like the Banitsa pastry), also in dips or added to other dishes. It may also be served as a table cheese.

Other White Cheese

White Cheese In Montenegro

White Cheese In Montenegro

In Romania, the equivalent cheese is called “Telmea”

Each brined white cheese from the Balkans and middle east are distinctly different but are made in a very similar way. The proportion and type of milk, the breed of animal the milk comes from, as well as the climate affect the final product.

In Lebanon, as well as having imported Greek Feta cheese, they also have Bulghari – which is a separate product that mimics the free use of milk that Sirene does – mixing in cow’s milk as well. So it’s also important to remember that our narrow English culture view of cheese history is not the only way of looking at this. Other cultures are very aware of the difference between white cheeses across the region.

It’s fair to say these cheeses all taste different, though similar. It’s like comparing Grana Padano to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – similar style, but different taste. I can say with certainty that the “Salad Cheese” we get at our current local supermarket in portugal is absolutely inferior to the certified Feta from the same store. Of course, differences can also be down to production style and quality, so our personal test is just that – not of any scientific rigour.

I have to say I loved almost all the good quality Bulgarian Sirene cheese. And Good feta is great too. It’s hard to say one is better than the other when it depends on individual batches and production.

History of Feta Cheese & White Cheese In General

Though food historians don’t know the exact origin of white cheese, it’s believed that cheese making existed since at least 8000 BC and could have started very close to original domestication of livestock – so possibly even as far back as 10,000 BC.

The oldest reference to White brined cheese is said to be from famous greek writer Homer’s Oddyssey, from 800BC. And I quote:

“We entered the cave, but he wasn’t there, only his plump sheep grazed in the meadow. The woven baskets were full of cheese, the folds were full of sheep and goats and all his pots, tubs and churns where he drew the milk, were full of whey. When half of the snow-white milk curdled he collected it, put it in the woven baskets, and kept the other half in a tub to drink,” Homer wrote.

Homer’s fiction suggests The Cyclops Polyphemus knew how to make Feta cheese – though it wasn’t called that at the time. The fictional description shows that Homer, and hence the people of Greece in general, were very familiar with the cheese making process and specifically white cheeses.

The ancient Greeks called the product which came from the coagulation of milk “τυρí,” (Tyri).

The name Feta translates as “slice” and began being used to describe the white cheese from the 17th century onwards, probably because of the way the cheese was sliced in barrels.

However, the word fetta – with two t’s – is the Italian word for slice, and etymologists confirm the word derives from the Italian and Latin before that, not from Greek.

The name Feta prevailed in the 19th century as the main term for the cheese in Greece.

Mass immigration from Greece in the 20th century to countries like Australia, USA, Canada and Germany helped spread Feta cheese and its production around the world and boosted its international profile.

At the same time, other cultures from around the region continued to make their own white cheese to their only local preferences, as they had done for thousands of years. Most have their own local names, but Feta became the generic term, especially in English, that was used to understand this general type of cheese as well as versions of it that were by the mid 20th century being made all over the world.

From Denmark, to the UK and USA, types of feta were being produced and marketed under that name. In Denmark specifically, their Feta was focused on Cows milk, quite different from the Sheep and goat milk feta of Greece.

In the 1990’s, Greece petitioned the EU to protect the origin of Feta by giving them a geographic designation and banning other cheesemakers from marketing under the name Feta. This bill was passed in 2002.

The History Of Feta Debate

So, the debate is, with so many white cheeses from the region and eventually worldwide, had Feta become a generic name by 2002? Or is it a Greek specific name that should be protected? Did they have a strong enough claim to justify this change – and is Feta really “Greek” when the origins of white brined cheese are so lost to history?

The first question to ask – If we are pinning the origin of the Cheese on greek mythology, rather than historic record, should we be also considering what was Greece in 800 BC when Homer’s book was written?

Looking at an historical map, you’ll find Greek settlements all the way up the Black sea coast through modern day Bulgaria and into Romania and beyond. It’s possible to consider this cheese was being made by locals in this region and the knowledge was passed on to Greek traders, prior to 800 BC.

Though given the belief in the food science history community that cheese was made since at least 8000 BC, that was long before there was any such country as Greece. It just so happens that Greece has existed in some sort of perpetuity of identity for longer than most of it’s neighbours. Giving it a longer historical claim than others simply for political identity, rather than any modern day geographical origin.

Something else to note, Cyclops Polyphemus from Homer’s story is said to have lived on the Island of Sicily – Yes, Sicily of Italian Mafia fame. In 800BC this was mainly a phoenician island, Greeks started to occupy it around 750BC. So a Greek presence may have been there in 800BC, but it wasn’t really a Greek island at the time. So the earliest reference to the cheese is not particularly anything to do with Greek culture, geographically.

If you turn up and find someone doing something, then claim it as your own, did you invent it? No. But the suggestion is that the Greek visitors to the Cyclops were well aware of cheese and cheese making when they arrived, hence why they could instantly recognise the process. The Greek sailors were completely familiar with cheese making. Even though it is also suggested elsewhere that the Cyclops had accidentally discovered the cheese making process.

So, none of this really settles a geographical origin, if anything it gives weight to the idea that this style of cheese is so pervasive in the region, perhaps even that a lone cyclops could discover it independently, that Greece’s claim on the name should not be geographical or a matter of ancient indeterminable history.

Secondly, It was also argued that the word Feta was Italian in origin. So, it could hardly be claimed that it was a Greek word and hence was a generic term. A bit of a flimsy argument in my opinion. As English is made up from many words that come from Latin, this line of argument leads us down a path that pretty much anything named in English using words derived from other languages, hundreds of years ago, would then have no right to be claimed as English.

Finally, the other most important consideration, in my opinion, is that of cultural identity and association.

Almost all Western European and international producers were using Greek iconography and colors to market their Feta cheese. Greek migration was also a major reason for the spread of Feta cheese to new world countries. Culturally, the use of the word Feta was tied to the use of Greece as it’s home. When it comes to other white cheeses like Bulgarian Sirene, the name is not even a fraction as successful.

Though some may use the phrase Bulgaria Feta for convenience, there is no specific cultural connection with the word Feta and with Bulgarian cheese. It’s been called sirene for a long time and Bulgarians, proud of their heritage, don’t seem to claim at all that it is anything but Sirene – only that it is better and perhaps been around longer in Bulgaria – though Bulgaria didn’t exist as a country until the 7th century AD, so it would have been non-Bulgarians living their who were making the cheese.

For the name, the biggest controversy was actually stirred up by western European companies, like Arla, A massive Danish Dairy corporation, who feared losing a lot of money if their Danish Feta lost the word feta from their marketing.

THE CONCLUSION

A war over marketing, origin and DOP status. The argument ended up being largely about commerce, rather than about heritage. Greece’s feta exports rose 85 percent between 2007 and 2014 – is this because consumers wanted the real thing? Or that consumers are just more aware of the product today? It’s great news for Greece either way.

Greece has the oldest written evidence of the knowledge of this cheese being made though it is widely agreed the exact origin of the cheese is lost to history long before any written record was made.

Greece also named and popularised Feta, to a point where culturally, even if the origin of the word is Italian, whenever we talk about Feta cheese, the association is first and foremost to Greece – to the point where even some locals in Bulgaria / Romania etc. Use terms like “Bulgarian Feta” to help identify their cheese to foreigners – even though they can’t print that on the label. In the United States, where name regulations do not apply, it’s often sold under the name “Bulgarian Feta.”

The job for Sirene cheese, may now be to create a name for themselves, as they have a fantastic product. Rather than leapfrogging off the success of Feta – easier said than done of course.

Although the word Feta cannot be used for non Greek cheese in the EU. Other countries did not fall under that jurisdiction. but In 2013, an agreement was reached with Canada in which feta made in Canada would be called “Feta style/type cheese” cheese, and would not depict on the label anything evoking Greece. I see this as a more sensible way of approaching the issue.

With some other protected products, like Balsamic Vinegar, the name can still be used for similar products, but to know it is of authentic origin from Emilia Romagna in Italy, it has the additional DOP or IGP on the label. The generic name lets the consumer instantly recognize the type of product by a familiar name, and the additional labelling terms inform if the product is a generic, or authentic product.

I think Canada has it right on this one. The name has become a useful generic term, just like “Cheddar cheese” and the historical origin is a little vague – more so than that of cheddar which we’ll do an episode on one day, but if you use images of Greece to promote a feta cheese made in the USA or Denmark, that seems misleading.

The cultural claim to Feta seems firmly Greek, but the word itself and the history of White Brined cheese make it harder to put all the eggs in Greece’s basket.



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50+ Typical Bulgarian Dishes & Drinks

Bulgarian Spices: Sharena Sol

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Traditional Bulgarian Food: Want to know what to eat in Bulgaria? Or what are the best Bulgarian dishes? This article takes a comprehensive look at typical Bulgarian cuisine, from famous Bulgarian salad (like Shopska Salad) to the Bulgarian national dish, Bulgarian breakfast, Bulgarian cheese and even some of the best Bulgarian alcohol to try.

We’ve visited Bulgaria multiple times in search of Bulgarian traditional food – photographing it, chatting with locals and learning all about the history of the cuisine. Why does Bulgarian Food have such a unique taste? Find out below.

Brief History & Introduction To Traditional Bulgarian Food

Food is always tied directly to history. The city of Plovdiv is not only Bulgaria’s oldest continuously inhabited city, but currently is considered Europe’s oldest city, having been lived in for over 6,000 years. So Bulgaria has seen a lot of human history!

Bulgarian Food is a mix of what grows well locally, especially dairy products and certain herbs and spices we’ll discuss below. Also, dishes influenced by Turkey, as Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottoman empire for some 500 years. You’ll even find elements in Bulgarian food culture going back to 1,500BC when parts of modern day Bulgaria were ruled by the Thracians, a society well known for making wine.

In the 20th century, Bulgaria was enveloped by communism, behind the Iron Curtain. Though industrialization damaged rural tradition, Bulgarian Food continues to hold onto its past into the 21st century, celebrating their delicious culinary history.

Some Essential Ingredients That Make Things Taste “Bulgarian”

The flavor profile of Bulgarian cuisine is produced by frequent use of some very specific local produce.

Common Spices

Bulgarian Spices: Sharena Sol

The unique spice blends of a country often form the basis of many dishes, representing the country as a whole. Some important spices and blends that characterize Bulgarian cuisine include:

Chubritsa (Summer Savoury) – Probably the most defining herb of Bulgaria, simply because it is rarely used in other countries. Chubritsa’s unique herbal character blends well with meats and other dishes.

Sharena Sol – Translates as “colorful salt”. The blend mixes chubritsa, paprika and salt as it’s key ingredients. Some recipes include fenugreek and/or cumin. Sharena salt brightens up meat dishes and more but it’s so good just mixed with a little olive oil and used as a dip for warm bread – a perfect Bulgarian snack.

Dzhodzhen (Spearmint) – Used in stews and soups which contain beans or lentils, also popular to accompany lamb and rice dishes.

Samardala (Bulgarian honey garlic) – A local garlic variety which is dried and salted before being crushed into a powder.

Devesil (Lovage) – A herb that makes fish and soups instantly taste Bulgarian. The flavor sits somewhere between celery and parsley.

Also essential in the Bulgarian spice cabinet are Cumin, Paprika and Fenugreek.

Kiselo Mlyako (Bulgarian Yoghurt)

The history of Yogurt deserves its own article (Which we’ll be releasing later in 2019). In brief, although the exact origin of yogurt is contested, Bulgaria and Turkey (specifically, the nomadic Turkic tribes from central Asia who preceded Turkey) both have strong claims to consider.

But it was a Bulgarian scientist, in 1905, that first identified the essential lactose eating bacteria (L. Bulgaricus) that leads milk to become yogurt.

Kiselo mlyako means “sour milk”. The thick and slightly sour Bulgarian yogurt is used in much traditional Bulgarian food and brings a unique flavor to Bulgarian cuisine.

Sirene – Bulgarian Cheese (Salty White Cheese)

Another essential dairy product is Sirene. This Bulgarian cheese is similar to Greek feta cheese, in that it is a salty white brined cheese. However, some Bulgarians contend that sirene is the original, or at least better version, of Greek feta cheese.. This is another topic that needs a longer investigation – coming soon.

Suffice to say, sirene brings a salty yet creamy taste to so much Traditional Bulgarian Food. It’s used in many of their most famous dishes. It’s almost more like a condiment or seasoning as it is used to pervasively throughout the cuisine. 

 

Bulgarian Traditional Food: Top 5 Must Eats

If you are on a short trip and only have time to briefly enjoy the food highlights of Bulgarian food, this top 5 features some of the most popular iconic dishes as well as my personal favorites.

Bulgarian National Dish 1: Shopska Salad

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Shopska Salad

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Shopska Salad (A Bulgarian National Dish)

Shopska salad makes use of the salad combo seen in so many salads in Europe and the Middle East: Tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, and onions. It focuses on the use of local ingredients that grow in Bulgaria. But what makes it uniquely Bulgarian is the addition of Sirene cheese. As Bulgaria is not a big olive oil producer, sunflower oil is more typical. Also in the dressing, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. A simple and refreshing summer classic.

You’d think a salad this simple had been around for hundreds of years… You’d be very wrong. Even though salad is plentiful and popular in Bulgarian cuisine today, historians believe that it was barely eaten at all until the 20th century. Furthermore, the Shopska salad appears to have been invented or adopted in the 1950s and ’60s by chefs at “BalkanTourist”, the state run tourism agency at the time, as a way to promote tourism to Bulgaria.

Apparently, other national salads were also created, each named after a region of Bulgaria, but Shopska salad (named after the Shopluk region) eventually won out over the years as the most popular Bulgarian salad. Today you’ll find Shopska on almost every restaurant menu.

The colors of the salad are said to represent the colors of the Bulgarian flag – Red, white and green. Giving it an even more nationalistic tone.

Bulgarian National Dish 2: Banitsa

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Banitsa

Bulgarian Traditional Food: Banitsa (cheese stuffed pastry – a Bulgarian National Dish)

In its most traditional form, Banitsa is a phyllo dough pastry filled with layers of egg and sirene cheese mixed together. But banitsa is made with many different fillings, including typical savory fillings like spinach or cabbage and at Christmas, pumpkin. It can also be made sweetened.

It’s most popular as a Bulgarian breakfast food, served with a glass of ayran (salty yogurt drink) but is also eaten as a snack or for some special holidays. Banitsa’s prolific existence within Bulgarian food culture may be one reason it is also a Bulgarian national dish. Similar layered phyllo dough dishes exist all around the Balkan region.

It’s said that in times gone by, mothers would choose a wife for their sons based on the woman’s banitsa making skills. Today, you don’t have to get married to enjoy some Banitsa – you’ll find it in bakeries, restaurants and bus station kiosks country-wide!

Bulgarian Cuisine: Gyuveche

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Gyuveche (Thracian Style)

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Gyuveche (Thracian Style)

Gyuveche is one of the most popular Bulgarian dishes but also one with the most variety. Recipes vary wildly and, in home kitchens, the dish is quite often prepared with whatever the cook has left that day. It’s normally prepared in a small pot (of the same name) as individual servings.

The base ingredient should be eggs whisked with sirene cheese – though I’ve actually seen recipes that don’t even have this. The cheesy mix may go on top, or be mixed with, various veg and meat – depending on who’s making it and the region you are in. Then it is topped with some additional ingredients of choice.

My favorite was at Restaurant Old Plovdiv where it includes lukanka (a cured Bulgarian sausage) and chili. This was described as “Thracian style”, referring to the region, though its best to ask your server exactly what ingredients you are going to get to avoid disappointment.

Elena Fillet

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Elena Filet

Bulgarian traditional food: Elena Fillet

Elena Fillet is cured/dried pork loin coated in pepper and the very Bulgarian chubritsa herb. While cured pork may be on the menu in countries all over the world, it’s the herb coating that makes this a unique Bulgarian food to try. We were told by a tour guide that Elena Fillet is a DOP (Origin protected) product of Bulgaria – though I have not been able to confirm this.

Bulgarian Traditional Food: Katak

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Katak

Bulgarian Cuisine: Katak

Katak dip is fermented katak curd (though Bulgarian yoghurt often substitutes) that is mixed with sirene cheese, roasted peppers and garlic to make a king of Bulgarian snacks.

Bulgaria has so many dips to choose from. We’ll go into more of them in the Bulgarian Salad section below. Katak was our top pick.

We saw katak on many Bulgarian menus but the version at Pavaj in Plovdiv was killer. Reservations essential.

 

Bulgarian Food Podcasts – Coming Mid 2019

Listen to episodes that are already released using the links below

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Cold Starters: Dips & Bulgarian Salad

Already mentioned in our Top 5 above:

  • Shopska Salad
  • Elena Filet
  • Katak

Popular Bulgarian Salad Dips

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Dips: Lyutenitsa, Kiopoulu, Snezhanka, Katak

Some Bulgarian Dips

There are lots of great dips to choose from. Sometimes both the salads and the dips are called salads on the menu.

Lyutenitsa: Sort of like a relish made with grilled tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. Other ingredients may include carrots, eggplant, onions.

Kiopoulu: An eggplant puree with tomatoes and garlic

Snezhanka (Snow-white): A yoghurt based dip with cucumbers, walnuts, garlic, and dill, sometimes decorated with black olives.

Katak: Yogurt & sirene cheese mixed with roasted peppers.

Typical Bulgarian Sausage & Cold Cuts

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cold Cuts: Lukanka, kashkaval, elena filet

Bulgarian Sausage / Cold Cuts: Lukanka, kashkaval, elena filet

Bulgarians have a lot of sausages, and a few other cold cuts too. Here are some of the most popular. 

Lukanka: A semi-dry Bulgarian salami from pork, veal, and spices with a distinguishable flattened shape.

Kashkaval: A yellow mild cheese, popular all over the Balkans. Similar to mild cheddar cheese.

Pastirma: An air-dried, cured beef with some similarity to Italian bresaola. More popular in Turkey and Armenia.

Sudzhuk: Dry and spicy flat pork & beef sausage. Spiced with cumin, sumac, garlic, salt, and red pepper.

Nadenitsa: A dry-cured beef & pork sausage.

Banski Starets Sausage: Dry-cured pork sausage flavored with cumin, paprika, black pepper, and other spices. From the Bansko region in the Rila Mountains.

Fillet Elena & Bulgarian white sirene cheese (mentioned earlier) are also popular cold cuts.

Bulgur Wheat & Tomato Salad

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Bulgar Salad

Bulgarian Salad: Bulgur Salad

This salad is like Bulgarian Tabbouleh mixed with sirene cheese. Don’t be confused by the name, bulgur wheat originates from the middle east, not from Bulgaria, but this spin on tabbouleh really impressed us (tried at Pod Lipite, Sofia).

More Bulgarian Salad Options

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Salad: Ovcharska salata (Shepherd's salad)

Bulgarian Salad: Ovcharska salata (Shepherd’s salad)

Bulgaria is one of the few countries in the world we get truly excited to visit because of salad. So many to choose from. It’s like we can eat out every day without overeating – though overeating still happens quite a lot anyway…  We already mentioned the Shopska salad and Bulgarian tabbouleh. Here are some other salads to look out for:

Ovcharska salata – Shepherd’s salad (Pictured): tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, mushrooms, ham, boiled egg, and white cheese. Second to the Shopska salad on most menus.

Kalugerska salata: boiled haricot beans, gherkin, onion, chutney from roasted red pepper and tomatoes, olives

Starosofiska salata: roasted marinated red pepper, white cheese, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and dill

Turshiya – Pickled Salad: Pickled vegetables, such as celery, beets, cauliflower, and cabbage, popular in winter. Variations are selska turshiya (country pickle) and tsarska turshiya (king’s pickles).

Tarator

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Tarator

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Tarator (cold cucumber yogurt soup)

A cold soup made with watered down Bulgarian yoghurt as the base. Flavored with cucumbers, walnuts, garlic, dill, salt, pepper, vinegar, and oil. It’s everywhere in the summer, harder to find the rest of the year. Locals go crazy for this Bulgarian traditional food.

 

Bulgarian Traditional Food: Hot Starters, Soups & Snacks

Already mentioned in Top 5 above:

Supa Topcheta (balls soup)

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Supa Topcheta (balls soup)

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Supa Topcheta (balls soup)

A buttery wonderland of a soup containing small pork meatballs and some vegetables. Definitely our top pick for Bulgarian soups. This version tried at Dayana-3 in Plovdiv. Most bad reviews on TripAdvisor were for the service, which I admit was hit and miss. Food was all good.

Shkembe (Tripe Soup) & Other Soups

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Shkembe (Tripe Soup)

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Shkembe (Tripe Soup)

Shkembe (Tripe Soup) is popular throughout the Balkans and is considered to be a hangover cure. It’s tripe cooked in milk and beef stock and normally involves a lot of butter, which could be doing more for the hangover than the tripe… Vinegar balances out the fat and salt. Another element for the hangover cure is you are supposed to pair it with rakia (Bulgarian alcohol – brandy)

Bob chorba (Beans Soup) – Bulgaria has plenty of beans to choose from and they actually make quite a few different beans soups. The most popular is bob chobra, which has beans in a tomato based broth, normally flavored with spearmint. Other varieties may be boiled with a ham hock or other meat and veg.

Chicken Soup Or Beef Soup – Bulgarian Style rich meat soups.

Teleshko vareno (veal soup) – Chunky pieces of potato, carrot, and onions boiled with veal.

Pacha (sour lamb’s-trotter soup) – Lamb’s trotters are boiled with pickles or vinegar or both.

Zelenchukova supa – A vegetable soup with lots of herbs like parsley, celery leaves, Chubritsa etc.

Gubena supa – A forest mushroom/boletus soup

Ribena chorba – fish soup made with thyme & fresh lovage

Kashkaval Pane

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Kashkaval Pane

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Kashkaval Pane (Deep fried, breaded kashkaval)

Yellow kashkaval cheese is breaded and deep fried. This may be served just as is – because what else do you need with deep fried cheese? A slightly less Bulgarian version that we enjoyed was at Hadji Nikoli in Veliko Tarnovo – which came with cranberry compote and orange pieces.

Chushki Burek (Чушки Бурек)

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Chushki Burek (Peppers stuffed with white cheese)

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Chushki Burek (Peppers stuffed with white cheese)

Not to be confused with Bourek (A Balkan pastry similar to Banitsa). Chushki Burek is bell pepper stuffed with sirene cheese and deep fried with an egg coating.

Zelevi Sarmi & Lozovi Sarmi

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Sarmi (Cabbage Rolls)

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Sarmi (Cabbage Rolls)

Zelevi Sarmi are cabbage rolls – filled with minced pork and rice. They are popular all over the Balkans. They are considered a national dish in Romanian Cuisine, where they are called sarmale. The Lozovi Sarmi are the same concept but rolled in a vine leaf, not cabbage.

Grilled Kashkaval Cheese With Honey & Walnuts

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Grilled Kashkaval Cheese With Honey & Walnuts

Bulgarian Cuisine: Grilled Kashkaval Cheese With Honey & Walnuts

Take kashkaval cheese, grill it on the hot plate, smother it in honey and ground walnuts. Enough said.

 

Bulgarian Food: Meats, Fish & Baked/Grilled/Stewed Mains

Already mentioned in Top 5 Above:

Sach

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Sach

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Sach

The word “sach” refers to the clay dish the food is served on. The food is cooked on the dish and it comes out searingly hot and keeps the food warm for ages. The ingredients thrown on the sach can really include anything! Pictured, a sach with potatoes, Bulgarian sausage, chicken and plenty of melty cheese.

Bulgarian Moussaka

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Moussaka

Bulgarian Moussaka

Who invented the Moussaka? Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece all claim to have invented the dish. We intend to do some full research into this complicated origin story in the future. For now, what you need to know is, eat it! Bulgarian moussaka, unlike Greek, is focused on the potato and meat and typically does not include a layer of eggplant.

Kyufte – Bulgarian Meatballs

Kyufte - Bulgarian Meatballs

Kyufte – Bulgarian Meatballs

Kyufte is another dish that is contested to be of Turkish origin (kofte). It’s juicy Bulgarian meatballs.

Kyufte Stuffed With Cheese

Kyufte Stuffed With Cheese (Bulgarian Food)

Kyufte Stuffed With Cheese

The only way to make kyufte better… stuff it with oozy yellow cheese. I don’t know how they make them so juicy.

Tongue In Butter

Beef Tongue Fried In Butter (Bulgarian Food)

Beef Tongue Fried In Butter

Simple but perfect. There’s nothing like frying something in butter to make it better. Even better when the tongue goes just a little crispy on the outside, without drying out on the inside.

Duck Hearts

Grilled Duck Hearts (Plovdiv Bulgaria)

Grilled Duck Hearts

A big old plate of duck hearts. This seems to be a favourite meaty course in Plovdiv. Great with a glass of red Bulgarian wine.

Karnache

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Karnache

Bulgarian Food: Karnache

Karnache is a spiral sausage normally made from fresh pork, sometimes lamb, in a sheep casing.

Kebapche

Bulgarian Kebapche: Skinless Kebab Sausages

Bulgarian Kebapche: Skinless Kebab Sausages

Kebapche is the caseless minced meat kebab of the Balkans. It’s actually the national dish of Bosnia Herzegovina, where each kebab is small. In Bosnia, it is made from beef, but in Bulgaria expect a long kebab of pork or a pork/beef mix.

Stuffed Peppers / пълнени чушки (pŭlneni chushki)

pŭlneni chushki - Peppers stuffed with rice

pŭlneni chushki – Peppers stuffed with rice

Peppers stuffed with meat and rice – similar to Turkish dolma. Once peppers arrived in Europe from the Americas, it was only a matter of time before someone in the Balkans stuffed rice and meat in them.

Keremida

Keremida - Chicken cooked in a roofing tile (Plovdiv Bulgaria)

Keremida – Chicken cooked in a roofing tile

Bulgarians love naming dishes after the thing they are cooked in. The word “Keremida” refers to a roofing tile. Similar to sach (above) meat/veg/cheese is cooked in the tile. This is certainly not the most common dish. We tracked it down at Anita restaurant, spa & guest house in a small village south of Plovdiv.

Grilled Trout

Grilled Trout - Bulgarian Food

Grilled Trout

Aside from on the Black Sea coast, the most common fish on the menu in Bulgaria is Trout. Grilling with lovage as the herb seasoning is the classic way.

Potatnik / Patatnik

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Potatnik - baked mashed potato pie

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Potatnik – baked mashed potato pie

Patatnik is a potato pie cooked in the Sach or sometimes another clay dish, in an oven or heated from below. Get ready for buttery indulgence. This baked mash is laced with bubbling fat and mixed with onions and Bulgarian spearmint. The dish originates from the Rhodope Mountains, south of Plovdiv on the way to the Greek border. The original dish, in it’s simplest form, doesn’t have egg or cheese mixed into the mash but that seems to have become a popular choice in restaurants – which is no surprise because it’s awesome.

This regional dish was until recently only available in the mountains but is now being seen on some restaurant menus in Plovdiv and elsewhere. Eaten at Rahat Tepe, Plovdiv.

Katino Meze

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Katino Meze

Bulgarian Cuisine: Katino Meze

Katino Meze is a meat in gravy dish, normally with chopped pork and onions – traditionally served in a copper pan, though the version we got in Sofia was an obviously lazy presentation – just using the Sach. Sometimes it’s spiced up with hot pepper. Without cheese is more traditional but what can I say, we like cheese…

Shishche / Shashlik

Shishche / Shashlik - Bulgarian Skewered Meats

Shishche / Shashlik – Bulgarian Skewered Meats

Marinated meat, grilled on a skewer.

Kavarma / Kapama

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Kavarma

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Kavarma – Stew in a clay pot

Kavarma is a slow cooked stew with a choice of meat, onions, and spices – normally with chubritsa too. It’s supposed to be baked in the traditional gyuvech clay pot but some restaurants speed things up by pan cooking it and just serving it in the pot – or just on a plate.

Fancy versions may feature multiple types of meat (pork, chicken, lamb, rabbit, veal, and sausage), and have other ingredients added like sauerkraut, dried plums and spices, and red or white wine. Some say this version is called kapama rather than kavarma but we were unable to track down kapama.

Zelen Fasul – Green Beans Stew

Traditional Bulgarian Food | Bulgarian Cuisine: Zelen Fasul - Green Beans Stew

Traditional Bulgarian Food: Zelen Fasul – Green Beans Stew

A traditional Bulgarian Food that is typically Bulgarianized with all the essential herbs: spearmint, chubritsa. 

 


 

Sides, Breads & Other Traditional Bulgarian Food

Some additions to accompany your mains…

Bulgarian Breads: Pita & Palenka

Bulgarian Pita Bread

Bulgarian Pita Filled with Egg and Cheese

Bulgarian pita bread is sometimes called Greek bread on menus, it’s one of the few dishes Bulgaria freely attributes to Greece, it seems. However, they sometimes choose to take pita to the next level by filling it with a cheesey-egg mix (pictured).

Palenka is also called Arabic Bread on some menus and is a thin flatbread.

Kachamak (Polenta With Cheese, Sometimes Bacon)

Kachamak (Polenta With Cheese, Sometimes Bacon)

Kachamak (Polenta With Cheese, Sometimes Bacon)

Polenta mixed with white cheese and butter is a favorite through Bulgaria and Romania / Moldova – where it is called Mamaliga. We discussed it in our Romania food podcast and we believe it came to Bulgaria from Romania, not the other way around. That said, the Bulgarian version with sirene cheese is always a winner too. 

Drob sarma

A rice dish which is typically mixed with chopped offal and Bulgarian spice, sometimes with mushrooms. Good as a side but sometimes served as a main.

 

Bulgarian Breakfast

Already Mentioned in Top 5 above:

  • Banitsa – Bulgaria’s national cheese pastry. A perfect Bulgarian breakfast as well as an anytime snack!

Other Bulgarian Breakfast Choices:

Popara – A cheeky little Bulgarian breakfast that resembles a quick bread pudding. Chopped bread, milk, butter, sugar (optional) and the most important ingredient, Sirene (white cheese).

Princesses – A variety of things on toast, though the most common with this name features ground meat mixed with some herbs/spices and spread on toast then grilled. Add a slice of kashkaval yellow cheese too if you like. You might also find egg whisked with white cheese as a topping.

Mekitsas – Deep fried dough pieces made from flour, baking powder, eggs, yogurt, water, oil, and salt.

Boza – A popular Bulgarian breakfast drink. Boza is a malt drink made from millet flour. Boza is mildly alcoholic (1%) and has a thick consistency, with a slightly sweet and sour flavor.

 

Bulgarian Desserts

Bulgarian Desserts: Baklava

Bulgarian Baklava

Bulgarian Desserts To Try:

Baklava – This famous phyllo pastry dessert is found all over the Balkan region and beyond. Everyone does it just a little different. The Bulgarian dessert version uses walnuts, layered with phyllo and soaked in sugar syrup, with cinnamon.

Tikvenik – A sweet variation of the Bulgarian national dish, Banitsa, stuffed with walnuts and pumpkin.

Orehovki – A Bulgarian cookie made with ground walnuts, egg whites, and sugar.

Tulumba – Fried choux pastry, sort of resembling short pieces of churros, coated in a thick sugar syrup.

Palachinki – Bulgarian crepes.

Garash cake – A popular layered chocolate cake invented in the late 19th century.

 

Bulgarian Drinks & Bulgarian Alcohol

Menta

Bulgarian Drink / Bulgarian Alcohol: Menta

Bulgarian Alcohol: Menta (Mixed with sprite)

Menta is a mint spirit with about 25% alcohol. We fell in love with this during our most recent visit to Bulgaria. It’s the quintessential Bulgarian summer drink, normally mixed with sprite, or sometimes milk. Super refreshing on a hot day.

Rakia

Bulgarian Drink / Bulgarian Alcohol: Rakia

Bulgarian Alcohol: Rakia (Fruit Brandy)

Rakia is a fruit brandy. It’s a popular spirit around the whole Balkan region. In Bulgaria grape rakia is the most popular, though plum, apricot, peach, apple, cherry, and quince are also available. It’s about 40% alcohol normally. Order a shot of rakia with a Shopska salad to begin any meal like a local.

Bulgarian Wine

Bulgarian Alcohol: Wine

Bulgarian Wines From the Thracian Valley Region

Did you know that Bulgarian Wine has some unique varietals? Almost the whole country produces wine and you’ll find a big selection while there which is hard to find internationally. Here are some to look out for:

  • Mavrud: An indigenous red grape, with a profile somewhere between CabSav and Shiraz. You can get bold, tannic, spicy wine
  • Rubin: A hybrid red grape created in the 1940s as a combination of Shiraz and Nebbiolo. Rubin produces dry, semi-dry and sweet wines with pungent red berry flavors.
  • Gamza: Used to produce both dry and sweet red wines with deep aroma and color.
  • Pamid: One of the oldest winemaking grapes in Bulgaria – used back in Thracian times. Pamid is low acidity, ideal for making young wines with some similarity to Beaujolais.
  • Shiroka Melniska: A red grape from the south of Bulgaria, near the Greek border. Produces tobacco notes, ages very well in oak and has similar characteristics to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
  • Rkatsiteli – Bulgaria’s most popular white grape – but it actually originates in Georgia, the birth country of wine.
  • Dimiat: An indigenous Bulgarian grape and second most popular white grape after Rkatsiteli. Normally light bodied and highly aromatic.

Bulgarian Beers & Craft Beers

Bulgarian Beers (Megsy enjoying a brew in Veliko Tarnovo)

Bulgarian Beers (Megsy enjoying a Shumensko brew in Veliko Tarnovo)

Bulgaria was historically a wine & Rakia drinking country until the 19th century. Now beer is everywhere with Bulgaria ranking 15th in the beer drinking per capita chart! There is even a fledgling craft beer scene kicking out some domestic brews.

Some of the mass produced beers you’ll find around:

  • Shumensko (Our Top Pick) – A malty easy drinking lager.
  • Astika – A blond pilsner from South Bulgaria, definitely worth a chug.
  • Zagorka – A Czech style lager
  • Kamenitza (Not A Fan) – The most pervasive lager in Bulgaria, brewed in Plovdiv. Simply a boring, average beer in my opinion.

Non-Alcoholic Bulgarian Drinks

Ayran – A salty thin yogurt drink also popular in Turkey and around the region.

Boza – Discussed in Bulgarian Breakfast section above.

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That’s it for our Bulgarian Food & Bulgarian Drink guide!

 

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