Bulgarians as a whole are very hospitable, but residents of the Rhodopes are particularly friendly to visitors, especially to travelers from overseas. Once you come to the Rhodopes, it is impossible not to fall in love with the local cuisine. Natural groceries combined with the craft of the local people takes you to the other dimension when it comes to food. Recipes are homemade, passed on from generation to generation, and every one is more improved than the previous one. Homegrown vegetables, herbs, and organic meat all in one place. Any Rhodopean would easily win a MasterChef competition, as they are capable of turning the simplest dishes into masterpieces of innovative creation.
You can’t leave the Rhodopes, without eating patatnik (пататник). Even its name originates from the local word patat, which means potato. There are various ways of preparing it – baked, fried, boiled or with rolled out sheets. In each locality, various spices are added to the basic products. Basically, it is a very simple meal, all you need is potatoes, onions, eggs, salt, vegetable oil and a type of very mild mint called Gyosum in Bulgarian. All mixed and cooked on a slow fire.
The classic recipe for the Rhodope Patatnik includes 10 medium-sized potatoes (about 1 kg), 1 – 2 eggs, 3 – 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil, salt and gyosum based on your taste. Patatnik can be served with another typical Bulgarian dishes, like tarator and shopska salata or just with a glass of youghurt.
Although it is a traditional local meal, patatnik has something like an analogue in the face of the Spanish tortilla de patatas. This classic omelette, filled with pan-fried potatoes and onion, makes a delicious light vegetarian meal or tapas bite in Spain and it is well-known around the world. The products used for the preparation and the pie-like form of the dishes are similar, but they still differ in taste and in the way they are served. The picture below shows traditional Spanish tortilla de patatas.
Another traditional meal is the whole lamb, which is prepared, being in a direct contact with the fire. It is called cheverme (чеверме). Cheverme grill means to put the entire lamb and fry it above the slow fire. It takes 3 to 4 hours for the meat to be done, and while it is prepared people gather around to talk, sing, have fun and collect memories. Although many people relate it to the skews and other types of barbecue, it barely can be found in another cuisine on a worldwide scale. The picture below shows traditional Bulgarian cheverme (чеверме).
Later it is served with many salads, some wine, and Rhodopes finest rakia (ракия). It is an essential part of the special lunch and supper on St George’s Day (6 of May). Fruit brandies are commonly known as rakia in Greece (Ρακί, Ρακή or Τσικουδιά/Tsikoudia), Croatia (rakija), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ракија/rakija), Albania (rakia), Macedonia (ракија), Serbia (ракија/rakija), Montenegro (ракија/rakija) while in Romania, the terms ţuică and palincă are used over rachiu, răchie. If we travel to Hungary we will drink pálinka, while in the Czech Republic and Slovakia the concept is known as pálenka. In Slovenia, it is known as šnops. The picture below shows traditional Bulgarian rakia.
Another traditional meal, which is quite suitable to be served with patatnik and cheverme is called tarator. It is a soup, usually consisting of yoghurt, oil, water, various vegetables such as cucumber and garlic, dill and sometimes walnuts. The picture below shows traditional Bulgarian tarator (таратор).
It is served cold and there are varieties of it, popular around the Balkans and the Middle East, as well.
In Albania, tarator is a very popular dish in summertime and it is also called sals kosi. It is usually served cold and is normally made from yoghurt, garlic, parsley, cucumber, salt and olive oil. In Greece there is a similar dish is known as tzatziki. There is also a similar dish in Iran called ab-doogh-khiar which contains salt, basil, leek, mint, black pepper, raisins, and ice. In this style, sometimes dried bread chips are put in the dish just before serving. Tarator is a popular salad and dip in Serbia and Macedonia; it is also known as tarator salata. It is made with yogurt, sliced cucumber and diced garlic, and served cold. In Turkish cuisine, tarator is a dip sauce generally eaten with fried fish and squid. The sauce includes white bread crumbs, walnuts, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, herbs and yogurt. There is also one Turkish version using the name, tahinli tarator, which is a similar dish specifically containing tahini or sesame. In the coastal towns of Turkey, fried squid or mussels are almost always served with tarator sauce. In Syria and Lebanon, طرطور (tarator or taratour) is made of tahini, lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt and water.
What makes Bulgarian tarator unique, though is our traditional yoghurt, which is said to be the best in the entire world, due to the aptly named Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacteria. In the Rhodope Mountains, yogurt is not mass produced but rather a homemade product of the family cow. Bulgaria’s organic, full-fat yoghurt, which is full of good bacteria, protein, and calcium but low in sugar, has numerous health benefits. That is why it is also known as the Bulgaria’s Secret to Long Life.
WE WISH YOU ДОБЪР АПЕТИТ!!!
Written by Bozhana Yoncheva
Translation Trainee at DG TRAD’s Bulgarian Translation Unit at the European Parliament in Luxembourg. She is a professional translator and proofreader. Native Bulgarian speaker, fluent in English and Spanish and learning Portuguese and French.
- Domenico, P. (2014) Health benefits of Bulgarian yogurt. Available at: http://bit.ly/2kzZ0Eg (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Eventsworldwide (2010) St. George’s day in Bulgaria. Available at: http://bit.ly/2kPKO8C (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Food, F.B. (2017) Rakia – a Bulgarian drink. Available at: http://findbgfood.com/rakia (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Wikipedia (no date) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ab-doogh-khiar&action=edit&redlink=1 (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Wikipedia (2017) ‘Rhodope mountains’, in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodope_Mountains (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Wikipedia (2017) ‘Tarator’, in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarator (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
- Wikipedia (2017) ‘Tzatziki’, in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzatziki (Accessed: 10 February 2017).