Reasonably priced, ready-to-eat and with an unmistakable local flavour, street food is ubiquitous around Bulgaria and the Balkans. In fact, snacks might be the perfect introduction to the glories of Balkan food and Bulgarian cuisine in particular! Street food is available just about everywhere around the region, and of course particularly so in the cities and in major tourist destinations. So no need to worry while you’re exploring this enchanting corner of south-eastern Europe: you’re guaranteed a vast choice of delicious oriental finger food in-between meals!
Classic Balkan and Bulgarian street food has been heavily influenced by the centuries of Ottoman rule, so its taste will often remind you of Turkey and its rich culinary tradition – but always with a local twist depending on the country and region, the local climate and customs. And like almost everywhere, you’re likely to find local versions of Western street foods like pizza, hamburgers, doughnuts and sandwiches in the Balkans too – but you’d be surprised how different those can be from the originals sometimes!
From the world’s favourite late-night wrap to seeds as addictive as hard drugs, kashkaval tourist presents street food in Bulgaria and the Balkans: 8 regional snacks you must try!
1. World-famous meat cone: döner and gyros
Whether you call it döner, gyros or shawarma, this is perhaps the most recognized street food to come out of this part of the world. 🥙 Originating in 19th-century Ottoman Anatolia, döner kebab is now omnipresent in all Balkan countries – and it has expanded throughout Europe and beyond, conquering basically the entire world! This heavenly combo of seasoned meat (chicken, beef or lamb), slow-roasted as a humongous cone on a rotating vertical spit and then wrapped in bread with some salad and sauce, is an entire meal in itself.
In Bulgaria, dyuner (дюнер) is often sold by Turkish or Arabic immigrants, though it features some typically local quirks too. A Bulgarian dyuner will often be stuffed with French fries, which is a rarity in other places, and it will always be served wrapped in soft, thin flatbread, never as a sandwich. Chicken is by far the most popular variety and beef is to be found in the more respected döner joints, though lamb is a true rarity. The Greek version gyros is also quite beloved: it’s notable for its thicker bread and particularly for offering pork as an option.
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 3-5 BGN (1.5-2.5 €)
2. Breakfast besties: börek, burek and banitsa
Known as börek in Turkey, burek throughout former Yugoslavia and banitsa in Bulgaria, this flaky filled pastry is an absolute hit throughout the Balkans, be it as a breakfast staple or as a late-night snack. Prepared of multiple sheets of super thin filo dough, this piece of baked deliciousness 😌 is usually filled with various ingredients. In Bulgaria, the quintessential street banitsa includes sirene (white cheese) and/or curd. In former Yugoslavia, burek is more commonly filled with ground meat.
As a fast food, banitsa is sold by small bakeries that you can find on almost every busy street corner. In addition to this layered Balkan specialty, these bakeries also sell other local pastries and some Western-inspired varieties like strudel (which, in Bulgaria, is often basically a sweet banitsa with an apple flavour). In eastern Bulgaria and the Turkish-populated regions, bakeries also offer gözleme, a related filled pastry, which unlike börek is unleavened and cooked on a griddle.
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 1-2 BGN (0.5-1 €)
3. Seasonal fruits of the land: corn on the cob, chestnuts, pumpkin
Some snacks are only available during part of the year, which makes them incredibly popular during that time. In Bulgaria, boiled or roasted corn on the cob 🌽 seasoned with salt and butter is an absolute summer staple, especially on the Black Sea coast. Curiously, boiled corn is sold by enviably tanned hawkers who spend their days walking from one end of the beach to the other, creatively comparing their product to Pamela Anderson’s nipples or hailing it as “gymnastics for the mouth”!
A few months later in autumn, temperatures might be dropping, but nature has thankfully brought two other fast food favourites to the streets of the Balkans. Roasted pumpkin 🎃 (ideally with honey, cinnamon and walnuts!) is often sold by the kilo by little nut shops throughout town. And vendors sell warm and enticing roasted chestnuts as a trendy autumn snack too! 🌰
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 1-2 BGN (0.5-1 €)
4. Ciao, Italia: Balkan-style pizza by the slice
Sure, pizza is originally Italian, but some Italians might have a hard time recognizing the taste they know from their childhood when trying pizza by the slice in the Balkans! Like banitsa and the similar filo pastries, pizza 🍕 is sold by take-away pizza booths that are seemingly everywhere in Bulgarian towns. These massive pizzas with ten or twelve single-portion triangular slices aren’t usually baked in Italian-style wood-fired brick ovens, needless to say. And typical Italian ingredients like mozzarella and ham are often substituted with sirene and kashkaval cheese and lukanka salami. All these changes render the pizza a typically local flavour and Balkan pizza by the slice is indeed a delicious and well-liked street food – just forget about any comparisons with the original!
Of course, if you’re longing for a true Neapolitan pizza, there’s enough top-notch Italian restaurants around the Balkans to satisfy your cravings. And in south-eastern European countries next to Italy like Croatia and Slovenia, the taste of pizza by the slice should also be somewhat more authentic.
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 1.50-2.50 BGN (0.75-1.25 €)
5. Sesame-covered wreath of crispiness: gevrek and simit
The Balkans and the Middle East’s equivalent to bagels, the round breads gevrek and simit are another common sight in the cities of the region. In Turkey, they’ve become somewhat of a symbol of the working class and there, enjoying a simit along with a pear-shaped glass of fragrant black tea is a time-honoured tradition. Street vendors carry hot gevreks in a trolley or even in a trey on their heads and advertise their goods loudly. In Bulgaria, it’s most often old ladies 👵 who sell gevreks on the street in the morning, typically out of a trolley.
Depending on the recipe, gevrek and simit can also be briefly boiled before being baked, making them doughy and chewy rather than crispy. The crust is sometimes covered with sesame, poppy or flax seeds, though that’s not a must.
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 0.50-1 BGN (0.25-0.50 €)
6. Baked sandwich royalty: printsesa
A uniquely Bulgarian invention, this warm open sandwich variety has been bizarrely named printsesa (принцеса), or “princess” 👸 as you might have guessed! Its name has become the stuff of legends, with highly implausible explanations linking it to medieval Bulgarian rulers and ancient Thracian monarchs. Could it have been just the golden colour of the melted kashkaval cheese that inspired it?
Regardless of printsesa’s origin, this sandwich is a beloved Bulgarian fast food. Basically a single slice of white bread topped with a mix of eggs and yellow kashkaval cheese (and optionally with minced meat or lukanka salami), printsesa is then baked until it acquires its trademark golden colour and the bread turns into crunchy toast.
- Standard price in Bulgaria: 1.50-3.00 BGN (0.75-1.50 €)
7. Of old ladies and football hooligans: sunflower seeds
Though nuts are a popular snack all over the world, Eastern Europe and the Balkans seem to have a particular obsession with sunflower seeds. 🌻 Roasted with the shells and covered with a bit of salt and flour, these little things are so addictive to crack open with your teeth that they’ve been jokingly compared to heroin!
In 1990s Bulgaria, the hard drug sunflower seed trade used to be the domain of old ladies who would roast them themselves and then wrap them in newsprint paper cones. Nowadays, sunflower seeds remain the preferred stadium food for those dull Bulgarian league games in derelict socialist-era football grounds. And though they’re usually sold pre-packaged these days, one of the biggest brands has a mock newspaper package and a name that evokes football hooligans!
- Standard price in Bulgaria: under 1.00 BGN (0.50 €)
8. Barbecued meat galore: Balkan grill
Barbecue is a major part of Balkan cuisine and culinary culture, so unsurprisingly, grilled meat 🍖 is an important component of regional street food in all countries in the region, be it Turkish mangal, Bulgarian skara (скара) or ex-Yugoslav roštilj. As a snack, barbecued meat is usually served in bread, with fries or with veggies. Typical condiments include the spicy lyutenitsa relish in Bulgaria and the cheesy kajmak and urnebes spreads in southern Serbia.
The most popular grilled street foods vary by country, but Bulgarian kebapche, ex-Yugoslav pljeskavica (essentially a Balkan-style burger patty) and Turkish kokoreç (grilled intestines) are some of the regional highlights. Southern Serbia is known for a particularly strong barbecue tradition and the town of Leskovac counts as a something of a barbecue capital – it even hosts the annual Roštiljijada international grill festival, a genuine street food extravaganza.
- Standard price in Bulgaria (kebapche sandwich): 1.50-3 BGN (0.75-1.50 €)