It is estimated that approximately 3.5 million Bulgarians live outside of Bulgaria and around the world (for comparison, there are a little bit more than 7 million Bulgarians living in the country). Some of those living abroad have found compact Bulgarian expat communities, but even when surrounded by fellow countrymen, there are many things they miss from their homeland. Here are some of the things Bulgarians are most nostalgic about when living abroad.
Bulgarian yogurt is produced by a natural fermentation process using the bacteria lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, which occurs naturally in Bulgaria and is used during the process of turning milk into yogurt. Every Bulgarian knows that every other yogurt in the world just doesn’t compare. Plus, you can’t make a real tarator or yogurt salad with yogurt that isn’t Bulgarian.
Baba Marta (or Grandma March) is one of the core Bulgarian traditions that is celebrated from the time Bulgarians are young, and they always bring it with them. On 1st March, Bulgarians celebrate this pagan tradition by giving and receiving dozens of white-and-red threads that they tie around their wrists. It is believed that the threads, called martenitsa, bring the wearer health, happiness and good luck.
Bulgarian grannies spend the whole summer and autumn preserving food for the winter in jars and bottles, including compotes, jams, jellies and juices. When abroad, Bulgarians often try to recreate the taste they know from their childhood, but it seems that the magical ingredient—love—is really a thing.
The coffee and people-watching culture is something all Balkan people have in common. Everything happens at a slow pace here. You can literally spend hours chatting with a friend over one cup of coffee, and the café staff won’t mind. It’s hard to find this when you live in a fast-paced culture.
While living in Bulgaria, they might not have indulged in the traditional pastry banitsa every morning, along with boza, a slightly fermented drink, but many Bulgarians miss these local favourites when they’re no longer easily available at the nearest bakery.
Christmas Eve is an even more important day than Christmas Day in Bulgaria because it’s the night when the whole family gets together and prepares the traditional dinner. Many Bulgarians who live far from their country are separated from their grandparents or other relatives, and Christmas Eve is a particularly hard time of the year.
The vegetable varieties grown in Bulgaria seem to be different than those in Western Europe, Australia and the U.S. Bulgarians who are used to the rich taste of the vegetables at home (tomatoes are a particularly hot topic) find it hard to eat the seemingly tasteless vegetables found abroad.
Bulgarians are openly emotional—you can tell what they feel just by the look on their face. If they are happy, they express it. If they are angry, they express that, too. That’s why it’s hard for them to live in countries where relationships are more reserved, and neither positive or negative emotions are freely expressed in public.
Horo is the umbrella term for the hundreds of complicated folk dances that are part of many celebrations in Bulgaria. Most Bulgarians know at least two or three horos, but they are collective dances that you can’t dance alone. You simply need several people chained together performing the steps of the respective horo.
Shkembe chorba (tripe soup) is the ultimate Bulgarian hangover cure. Living in a country where they don’t serve shkembe chorba at every corner is hard for any Bulgarian.
When you live in a country where you have to speak in a foreign language, even a swear word in your mother tongue can bring you to tears. Bulgarians have an impressive kaleidoscope of curse words that are part of their national identity, in a way. Even if they do use them while abroad, it’s just not the same if the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand.