Ever wondered what life was like for an average Bulgarian family during communism? In The Red Flat, an interactive and immersive exhibition in an authentic socialist-era apartment in central Sofia, you can do just that.
The Red Flat’s front door might just as well be a time portal to the 1980s. As you enter the apartment, you’re instantly teleported to the private world of the Petrovi family for an audio-guided, true-to-life journey back in time.
Yogurt, cheese and milk are an integral part of Bulgarian cuisine – and in a sense, Bulgaria is the original homeland of yogurt! Dairy products are part of almost every meal in the country and a Bulgarian would find it hard to imagine classic local dishes like banitsa, musaka, shopska salad or tarator without cheese or yogurt.
Cow milk is the most popular source of dairy products in
Bulgaria, though sheep’s milk products are well-appreciated and quite ubiquitous
too. Perhaps not as commonly consumed, goat cheeses are also traditional and considered
a bit of a specialty because of their tart flavour. Native buffalo dairy products
are increasingly fashionable too – buffalo yogurt from the Balkan Mountains is
a real treat, especially served as a dessert with fresh blueberries!
From the legendary Bulgarian yogurt (big in Japan and China!) to the secrets of the gourmet green cheese of Cherni Vit (that the Moon is made of), kashkaval tourist presents 6 delectable Bulgarian dairy products.
1. Omnipresent Balkan crumbliness: sirene (white brined cheese) 🐄
In Bulgaria, white brined cheese (or sirene) is so universally beloved that it has come to own the word for cheese itself. Unless you specify something else, any Bulgarian would assume you’re referring to this classic Balkan cheese when you say “sirene”.
Sirene can be made of cow, sheep’s, goat’s or buffalo milk,
or a mix thereof. What sets it apart from other cheeses is the maturing in a brine
solution, which is responsible for its white colour and its trademark
saltiness. Bulgarian white brined cheese shares many similarities with its
Greek cousin feta and other regional cheeses like the Turkish beyaz peynir and Romanian telemea. Compared to feta, sirene (сирене) is somewhat softer and crumblier.
A variant of sirene is Dunavia, which is even softer, with less fat content and
a milder flavor.
Sirene is often enjoyed as a table cheese (sprinkled with some red pepper) and it’s a vital ingredient in characteristic Bulgarian dishes like shopska salad, banitsa with cheese, French fries with cheese, sirene po shopski (Shop-style sirene) and yaytsa po panagyurski (Panagyurishte-style eggs).
2. Fermented longevity food: Bulgarian yogurt 🔬
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp.bulgaricus. Sounds fancy, right? We owe the very existence of yogurt to these benevolent bacteria, naturally found in Bulgaria and discovered by Bulgarian doctor Stamen Grigorov in 1905. If you’re feeling geeky, you could learn more about it in the world’s only Yogurt Museum in Grigorov’s home village of Studen Izvor. 🤓
Bulgaria is regarded as the “birthplace of yogurt”, and as you can imagine, this fermented milk product is a huge part of the local culinary tradition. Known as kiselo mlyako (кисело мляко, „sour milk“), yogurt is a yummy Bulgarian breakfast staple, and it’s also used in appetizers, desserts, beverages and even soups (think tarator).
The research of Nobel Prize winner Élie Metchnikoff attributed the longevity of Bulgarian villagers to their regular consumption of yogurt, turning this dairy product into an international health fad. Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt has been a hit in Japan since 1973, spreading the fame of Bulgarian yogurt all over East Asia. And in China, the yogurt drink Momchilovtsi draws inspiration from the Rhodope village of the same name. Seeing a Rhodope-branded product in faraway China would be surreal to any Bulgarian, but it’s a testament to Bulgarian yogurt’s well-deserved worldwide popularity. 😏
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 presentsstreet food in Bulgaria and the Balkans: 8 regional snacks you must try!
1. World-famous meat cone: döner and gyros
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
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.
Locked in between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, the Iron Gates and Timok Valley regions ought to rank among Serbia’s cultural and natural highlights.
The branching tributaries of the Timok River irrigate the hillsides as they flow north towards the Danube, merging into one and briefly forming Serbia’s border with Bulgaria. And to the west, the mighty cliffs of the Danube’s scenic Iron Gates gorge overlook the Romanian bank of Central Europe’s iconic river.
This fertile borderland has been inhabited for millennia, and prehistoric sculptors have left their mark on the country jut as much as Roman emperors, medieval overlords or even 18th-century wine merchants. From what might be the oldest urban settlement in Europe to peculiar but merry wine cellars, kashkaval tourist presents 7 sensational sites in eastern Serbia!
1. Sentinel of the Iron Gates: Golubac Fortress
Sentinel of the Iron Gates: Golubac Fortress
Whether you’re arriving from the west from Belgrade or the east on the winding road along the Danube, the sight of the Golubac Fortress’s ten towers is sure to stop you in your tracks. Built in the 14th century at the strategic western entrance to the Iron Gates, the castle controlled river traffic at this key location in the Middle Ages. As such, it’s no surprise Golubac was the site of epic sieges and bloody battles from the Middle Ages on.
Today, Golubac’s gorgeous location and imposing architecture make it possibly Serbia’s most attractive castle. As of early 2018, entering the fortress’s inner yard was impossible because of ongoing renovation, but you can admire this Danubian bulwark from the surrounding gardens of the modern visitors’ centre.
2. Stone villages of wine: Rajac & Rogljevo wine cellars
Stone villages of wine: Rajac & Rogljevo wine cellars
Hidden in this faraway corner of Eastern Serbia are Rajac and Rogljevo, two of the country’s most peculiar and charming villages… namely, villages inhabited not by people, but by casks and bottles of wine and rakia! Okay, admittedly, there’s also people around, but the main inhabitants are most definitely the beverages.
These compounds of hundreds of wine cellars with a characteristic stone architecture were established in the 18th century. Then, vine-growing and wine production in the Timok Valley were booming and even French merchants appreciated the quality of the local wines. Today, only a handful of the cellars in Rajac and Rogljevo are open for tastings, but the captivating architecture and the atmosphere of old are still there to be experienced.
With their unique language form, their Central European customs and their Catholic faith, the Banat Bulgarians might be the most outstanding and curious Bulgarian ethnographic group of all. Having lived in the Austrian and later Hungarian lands beyond the Danube (nowadays in Romania and Serbia) for centuries, some of them returned in 1887 and founded the village of Bardarski Geran in northwestern Bulgaria.
The Banat Bulgarians brought back their remarkable rural architecture and their distinctive folk costumes with them… as well as some of their ethnic German neighbours. Together, the two communities turned Bardarski Geran into a fascinating representation of their former homeland in the Austro-Hungarian Banat – and a true Banat Bulgarian cultural capital!
From the village’s quaint appearance to the unmistakable food and drink and the wild carnival celebrations, kashkaval tourist gives you 5 reasons to visit Bardarski Geran!
1. Keeping the faith: marvel at the two impressive Roman Catholic churches
Keeping the faith: marvel at the two impressive Roman Catholic churches
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Bulgarian village with two Orthodox churches, what’s left for two cathedral-sized Roman Catholic churches! Because the Banat Bulgarians and the ethnic German Banat Swabian colonists didn’t quite feel like mixing and formed two separate communities, they also built two separate church buildings in Bardarski Geran.
The Church of Saint Joseph, the spiritual home of the Banat Bulgarian parish, truly impresses with its size and its sparse but monumental interior decoration. And the Gothic spire of the German Church of the Virgin Mary, unfortunately abandoned after the Swabians left in the 1940s, is quite the sight for a village in the remote Bulgarian Northwest. Peek through the church’s arched gate and spot the mural portraits of the Slavic apostles Cyril and Methodius with their names written in German!
2. Hungarian-style sausages and wine: taste the unique local food and drink
Hungarian-style sausages and wine: taste the unique local food and drink
Sure, classic Bulgarian cuisine is a treat in itself. But if you venture to Bardarski Geran, you’ll encounter dishes that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Bulgaria. The old recipes from the Banat region show a strong Hungarian influence, and you can get a rare taste of homemade pork paprikash or kalbasa (kolbász) sausages in Bardarski Geran. In fact, after a kalbasa recipe from another Banat Bulgarian village won a nationwide Lidl recipe contest in 2017, the kalbasa sausages have become something of a hit, and will even be offered in Bulgarian Lidl stores.
And what goes with some award-winning Banat sausages better than local red wine from the Danube Plain? As it happens, the Bardarski Geran museum has its own vineyards and red wine they bottle happens to be the perfect pairing to the village’s unique meat specialties!
Labyrinthine bays dotted by little islands, coastal towns drawing you in with their Italianate charm, the awe-inspiring Dinaric ridges above and of course, the calm blue waters of the Southern Adriatic below. Montenegro might be tiny, but its breath-taking littoral ought to be the closest the Balkans have to paradise.
Although it might be just a 120-kilometre drive from the Bay of Kotor’s entrance to the sandy beaches of Ada Bojana on the Albanian border, literally the entire coastline of Montenegro is stunningly scenic. Add to that the allure of the local taverns (konoba) with their mix of Mediterranean and Balkan food, and you’d be hard pressed to ever leave.
From a morning walk among some of the oldest olive groves in the world to an evening stroll in the hidden gem of the Bay of Kotor, kashkaval tourist will now take you on a journey to 6 blissful places on the enamouring Adriatic coast of Montenegro!
1. Guarding the gateway to heaven: Herceg Novi
Guarding the gateway to heaven: Herceg Novi
Herceg Novi might be the ancient castle protecting the entrance to the Bay of Kotor from invasion, but it’s a welcoming, benevolent guardian. Its stark medieval fortifications share the streets with gentle Venetian and Austrian-style facades and the menacing slopes of Mount Orjen in the distance are offset by the verdure of palms and fig trees down by the sea.
As the first Montenegrin town you’re likely to encounter if you’re entering from Croatia, Herceg Novi is just the perfect place to say hello to the Bay of Kotor’s beauties. Explore the alleys and stairways of the Old Town before an opulent dinner on the promenade. For the finest beaches around, it’s a good idea to hop on a boat tour to a more remote location like Žanjice.
2. A tale of two islands: Perast
A tale of two islands: Perast
Headed for Kotor or hurrying to Dubrovnik, many visitors are likely to overlook the tiny town of Perast – and that’s the biggest mistake you can make when exploring Montenegro. Just a few kilometres north of Kotor, Perast is an absolute hidden gem of Italianate palazzos, graceful bell towers and mesmerizing island vistas.
Climb the St Nicholas’ Church tower for an iconic panorama of the Bay of Kotor and the two nearby islets of Saint George and Our Lady of the Rocks. From the promenade, you can easily arrange a boat taxi to the latter island and its Baroque church and museum. Or simply enjoy a glass of rakija with some Njeguški pršut and local olives on the side in a seafront konoba!
On 24 May, Bulgaria celebrates Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, officially known under the longish name Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavic Literature. Or rather, it’s the day when Bulgarians honour the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet in 9th-century Bulgaria, an event which effectively marked the beginning of Slavic culture and literature.
And for high schools all over the country, this is the time when 12th-graders finish their secondary education and have their prom night. Though this is a night which has little to do with culture and more with questionable fashion choices, binge drinking and reckless activities… but we’ve all been young! So happy Saints Cyril and Methodius Day to all, whether you appreciate Slavic literature or you’re a high school senior, or both!