What to order when eating out in Bulgaria? What kind of foods are available? Will the children eat the local cuisine? How much will eating out cost us in Bulgaria? These are the usual questions we want to know before visiting a country on holiday for the first time.
I hope reading this post will give you a good idea of what to expect when eating out in Bulgaria and a little extra knowledge about the cuisine too.
A Mehana (механа in cyrillic) is a Traditional Bulgarian restaurant and serves a variety of traditional cuisine and all welcome families.
Eating Out like a Local
The Bulgarians place an emphasis on the social side of eating out rather than ‘fine dining’ that is not to say they are not fussy where they eat, but rather the importance of the occasion when dining. An evening meal will last for hour’s, it is an event rather than a meal out.
Remember, once you have your table its yours for the evening, Take your time and don't rush your meal. It's not very Bulgarian to rush!
If you are invited for a meal to someone’s house it is tradition to bring an odd number of flowers. ( even numbers are for funerals, don’t mix the two up!)
Eating out is always going to be a mystery, especially if the menu is not in our native tongue and we haven’t a clue what to order.
Fortunately most restaurants in Bulgaria have a menu written in English, particularly in the tourist destinations. Some menus even come with pictures of the dish to help us choose.
Another great idea observed by restaurants is to write the weight of the dish item on the menu. This is a great help when deciding if the meal is large enough to share between two, or more.
Unless stated the dishes do not come garnished with vegetables etc, these must be ordered separately.
On some restaurant menus you may see an asterisk or a number next to the meal item. This number will correspond to a list of ingredients contained in that meal that may cause a reaction to those who suffer from allergies. The list may be found elsewhere on the menu or on a separate card at the table.
If in doubt ask.
Food Orders and Service
Bulgarian customer service has along way to go in my opinion, restaurant service included. However we are but guests in this country and until things improve be aware that in some restaurants your orders may not always arrive together. Your main dish may come before your appetizer and your side bowl of chips (you thought they had forgotten) will come 10 minutes after you’ve eaten your main course.
This can still happen even in the more expensive restaurants. When we go out to dine particularly with friends, we usually order in stages. For example, order the starter and when that arrives order the main dish and so on. Another idea is to order things to share including the main dish, then you are not eating alone or stealing someones chips!
Of course this doesn't happen all the time, and to many people, this won't matter as long as the food is good and tasty,but it is something to be aware of.
Tipping is not obligatory and is at your discretion. 10% is often speculated but rounding up a couple of leva over the bill total is accepted too.
As ever, staff should be rewarded accordingly for service received.
Travel Guide Bulgaria. Restaurants Food and Shopping
Shop at amazon.COM or amazon.CO.UK
Influence on Bulgarian Cuisine
One thing we all have in common, is that wherever we are in the world, we must eat and drink. What we eat and drink will generally be influenced by the country’s geographic position.
Bulgaria is on the crossroads between Asia and Europe, where East meets the West so many of the Traditional Bulgarian dishes are a culmination of Turkish, Greek Russian and Middle Eastern flavour.
Types of Dishes
Pork and chicken are the most common dishes followed by veal and lamb. Many varieties of fish are also served in restaurants.
Vegetarian dishes are now a feature on all good restaurant menus.
Grilling, stewing and baking are the main types of cooking, so on your menu you will see dishes like Chicken or pork Kavarma, a traditional dish baked in a clay pot called a Guveche with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions and mushrooms.
The Bulgarian Moussaka, (not Greek)! with potatoes instead of eggplant is another popular and well known dish.
Oven and grill dishes include chops, ribs, fillets, legs of lamb, sausage, meatballs, and meats on skewers known as shishe are also a favourite.
Nearly all dishes use spices and herbs for flavour but bulgarian dishes are not hot spicy as in Indian cooking.
Cheverme is an entire lamb roasted on a spit. You can order one in advance from a local restaurant if you are having a big party or really feeling hungry and have a big appetite.
If you are the adventurous eater then try kozak, brain, ezik tongue or shkembe , tripe soup. My favourite for lunch is liver and onion with chips.
Other popular dishes include stuffed vine leaves with mince and cooked peppers with rice and meat.
Bob Chorba. or Bean soup which may have pieces of spicy sausage thrown in is very filling and may suffice the appetite for a lunch.
One of the most popular breakfast items is the ‘banitsa’. Although it can be eaten at all times of the day. It is made of pastry with various fillings, such as cheese, spinach or rice. Bulgarians usually have this with a sweet wheat drink called Boza.
Other breakfast dishes include pancakes and tasty breads with jam marmalade or honey and of course the ubiquitous Bulgarian yogurt.
Cows are bred for milk yield rather than meat and so dairy produce plays a big part in Bulgarian cooking. In particular the ‘World Famous’ Bulgarian yogurt, ‘Kicelo Mlyako’ is used in many dishes
Sirene and Kashkaval cheese.
The main two cheeses are ‘Sirine’ a white brine cheese like ‘feta’ but more creamier, made from cows, sheep or goats milk or a combination and ‘kashkaval’ a yellow cheese which can be from cow or sheep milk or again a combination of both which would be called ‘Kashkaval Preslav’
Cheeses are eaten with salads, chips, cold meats or come as an ingredient in many main dishes and pastries.
On opening your menu you may be amazed at the variety of styles of salads. The Shopska salad is perhaps the more well known and has tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cheese.
Eaten as an appetizer, an accompaniment and even as a main course the salads are fresh, plentiful and cheap!
I believe Bulgarians have a sweet tooth, (I have seen the amount of sugar they put in their small coffee)!
I have also witnessed some people go to a restaurant just to eat the cake desert and nothing else.
Many Bulgarian deserts are pastry based like the infamous ‘Banitsa’and popular fruit desserts like apple, pear peach etc are like that of other countries recipes.
However, the creamy rice pudding, flavoured with rose water, garnished with rose petals, walnuts, and pistachios is a Bulgarian classic, so too is the Bulgarian biscuit cake which comes in a variety of forms dependent on the fruit of the season and then there’s the chocolate Garash cake made also with egg whites and walnuts is another Bulgarian favourite for you to try.
Lukanka is a favourite salami made of beef, pork and spices minced together and stuffed inside a cows intestine.
Sujuk is another favourite and is made from minced meat and spices and put into sausage casings.
Both of these meats are quite chewy and should be sliced thinly. They can be eaten as an appetizer and along with a few pickled gherkins are a great accompaniment to white or red wine or local beer at any time of day.
Purlenka and pitta hearth breads plain or with garlic are freshly baked in the restaurant oven and are good with any dish.
Many restaurants have their own pizza ovens and if you have never tasted a pizza that has been made in a wood fired oven before, then you are in for a treat. The pizza come in different sizes too, we find a large pizza will suffice for two people for a lunch maybe with a bowl of chips and a drink is a cheap and filling lunch.
Wandering around any town or city in Bulgaria you are surrounded by places to eat. Fast food chains are prominent in all cities including that old man who started with a farm!
In some cafe’s the food will be sold by weight. Just select the items you require and pay at the counter.
Puffs off smoke coming from a stall hopefully means they are selling grill food including sweet corn.
Doughnuts, popcorn, doner kebabs, pizzas, sandwiches of varying kinds and ice cream stalls means you should never go hungry.
Kebapche & Kufte
Two of the most popular and cheapest street foods are the Bulgarian grilled kebapche and kufteta. Both made from pork and/or beef mince with herbs and spices. Kebapche is shaped like a sausage and the Kufte is flat like a burger and contains onion and parsley.
You will also find these items on the menus in most restaurants.
Rakia is a very strong aperitif 40% and more in volume and is taken traditionally with salads and pickle appetisers. It is usually made from plums or grapes, but all
kinds of different fruits can be used.
During summer, always drink your Rakia cold and with an ice cube.
Homemade rakia can be 60%. So be careful of how much you drink of this rocket fuel.
Beer and wine & Spirits
Bulgarian beer is excellent and I wouldn’t buy anything else eating out or staying in. In many restaurants and bars other brands of international beers can be bought.( at a very much inflated price) Boliyarka, Shumensko, Zagorka and Astika are just a few of the local beers.
Bulgarian wines are some of the best in the world and far cheaper than most.
The indigenous variety of grape is the Mavrud and Melnik. A very descent bottle of red can be purchased for under 20 leva.
When eating out on a budget you can buy the local house wine, ask for a 500 ml karna (carafe) expect to pay about 5 leva.
Local spirits of whisky, vodka brandy etc are available so to are the international brands which are of course more expensive.
The local water in public places such as your hotel and cafes, restaurants etc are good to drink. You may come across many village fountains or spring wells and although used by locals for drinking I would abstain from trying it.
Bulgaria is famous for its mineral spas and bottled water is very cheap to buy.
Soft drinks are available in all shops.
Ayran & Boza
Ayran,& Boza both originate from Turkey but are popular drinks in many Balkan countries. Ayran is basically yogurt with water and unless it is made from a quality Kicelo Mlyako it is a weak taste. Boza is a brown wheat drink with about 1% alchohol and is a very popular drink with the breakfast banitsa.
It may be an old wives tale but, Boza is said to enhance the chest of ladies!
It is said young mothers drink it as the yeast used in making boza is good for breast feeding
Some cheap boza lacks the quality and taste if you come across the home made stuff, give it a try!
Tea and Coffee
Coffee is available everywhere even from vending machines on the streets but be warned the coffee is usually strong. A long coffee gets you a little extra warm water.
In some restaurants when eating out or in some hotels you may be fortunate to find a better choice of tea and coffee otherwise for a tea drinker you may have a hard time finding a decent brew. Bring some with you on holiday if you are fussy over your beverage. We do!
If you take your coffee or tea white, you must ask and pay extra for milk or cream.
Sofia will have the greatest choice for eating out on international cuisine although Chinese restaurants are found in most of the major cities.
Indian restaurants to my knowledge can only be found in Varna and Sofia and those wishing to eat there should do an internet search.
Many establishments now have wi-fi access including hotels.
What is the cost of eating out?
Many of us like to budget when preparing for a holiday and the costings for eating out in restaurants bars and cafes is one of the most popular questions.
The Black sea resorts are more expensive for eating out during summer months due to the tourism. Sofia like any other capital city in the world will be dearer than other city areas. So although I can't give an exact cost because of all the variants I will try to give a ball park figure for 2016.
A 3 course meal for two in a good mid range restaurant will cost around 30 - 60 leva. This will include a couple of drinks each.
A meal in an inexpensive restaurant for two will be 25 - 35 leva with drinks
Pizza 800gms for lunch shared between two with chips and drinks should average around 12-18 leva
Kufte and Kepaches are 1-2 leva each
Salads 3 -8 leva for large servings.
Main course pork, chicken,veal dishes 7 -14 leva
Beef Steaks 20 -30 leva
Deserts 3 - 8 leva
Beer 2- 3 leva
Spirits 3-5 leva
House wine 3 -5 leva per glass or order a karna.