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Bulgaria and the Balkans as a whole are known for their hearty, mostly meat-based cuisine, but that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t have its share of vegetable and dairy delicacies to delight the palates of vegetarians. If you want to taste the best of Bulgarian vegetarian cuisine, here are the dishes you should order.
Start the day with a banitsa – the cheese and egg-filled flaky pastry can also be sweet (apples and pumpkin are other typical fillings), but it’s very unlikely that it will contain meat. You will find steaming banitsa in every bakery, and if you want to enjoy it like a real Bulgarian, ask for a bottle of boza with it. These two are an inseparable pair for Bulgarians, although you should keep in mind that most foreigners find the thick and slightly fermented boza hard to swallow.
If it’s summer and it’s hot, Bulgarians cool down by indulging in a bowl of tarator. This cold, raw soup made of diced cucumbers, dill, yogurt, garlic, and walnuts can be ordered at almost every restaurant, and it is both thirst-quenching and staves off hunger.
Another summer favorite are fried peppers served with tomato sauce and fresh parsley. This simple recipe epitomizes Bulgarian cuisine, which often contains only a few ingredients and relies on fresh, seasonal products.
Bean soup is a significant component of Bulgarian cuisine and is frequently on the table for lunch or dinner. Bulgarians cook it with a local kind of mint called djodjen (джоджен), and although it may sometimes have pork or sausages added, it is more often meatless. You will often find in the “soups” section of the menu or on the lunch menu at restaurants.
The two main types of cheese Bulgarians eat are Bulgarian feta cheese (white) and Bulgarian yellow cheese (similar to Gouda or Emmental). They make up a major part of the vegetarian cuisine in the country and are mixed with vegetables in salads or used in baked and grilled dishes. Sirene po shopski (literally, cheese cooked like they cook it in the Shopluk area, which is near Sofia) is cooked in a special pot called a gyuveche. Chopped fresh tomatoes and white cheese are stewed in the closed pot with a lid, and when they are almost ready an egg is cracked on top. A set of gyuveches also makes a perfect unique souvenir from Bulgaria.
Shopska salad is one of the most iconic Bulgarian dishes you can order. Its fresh combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (fresh or baked) and grated Bulgarian feta cheese on top makes it a perfect addition to any hearty main dish you’ve chosen from the menu. The best season to try it is during the summer when most of the vegetables are locally grown and are really rich in taste.
This is another white cheese delicacy for your to-try list. The marriage of scrambled eggs, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese in a frying pan yields a mouth-watering result. The recipe is very quick to prepare, so Bulgarians often make it when they are short on time. You can order it at many restaurants serving local food.
Sarmi is a shared Balkan dish made of a rice filling (that can have minced meat inside or remain vegetarian) wrapped in sour cabbage or vine leaves. The vine-leaf version is more often prepared without meat, but if you are a vegetarian, you’d better ask to be safe.