When we arrived in Bulgaria, our friend Nic told us we had everything to learn about “cafe culture.” In an effort to educate us, we spent that afternoon wandering from cafe to cafe, taking an inordinate amount of time to finish our drinks and snacks. My favorite cafe snack was these little fried fishes.
Please accept my blanket apology for all of the late-night dinner flash-filled photographs ahead. We weren’t going to eat earlier or move for better lighting, so that’s how it went. For our first dinner in Bulgaria, we sat outside (and froze) for a lovely meal of big, rustic salads, french fries (above, which they always serve with sprinklings of white cheese), and…
Chicken with Mysterious Sauce. Is there any way to resist such a thing when it is listed on the menu? Not for us. I think they might’ve meant something less ominous, such as “secret sauce.” Our extra-sweet waitress brought us more snacks on the house, even though we were already stuffed.
In the morning, we bought pastries from a bakery window. Bulgaria is known for their cheese-filled pastries in many different forms, and while we ate plenty of those, this particular morning we especially enjoyed this sweet version, bursting with a nutella filling.
We accidentally found ourselves at a fairly nice restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. I’m not sure how, but they managed to make these cheese/bacon/mushroom balls look classy. They’re coated with corn flakes and fried, then served with a ranch-inspired dipping sauce. That’s a pea puree that is supporting the potato chip. Do I even need to tell you that these were delicious?
My eggplant, red pepper, and parsley salad with fresh cheese on grilled flatbread looked (and tasted) like more than the sum of its parts because of the pretty presentation.
Michael’s veggie pizza was good, but I still think you have to be careful how you use corn on a pizza. And peas.
At one of our usual bakery window breakfast stops, I used the “point at what you want” method to order this pastry, still-warm, and freshly dusted with powdered sugar. The incredible thing is that the dough is lightly rose-flavored. It took me a minute to place because it was so unexpected, but the effect was heavenly. Bulgaria (like Turkey) is known for its rose products.
Bulgaria has its own version of Turkey’s Döner Kebap: the Duner Kebap. The Bulgarian variety comes in all sorts of configurations, but one of the main ingredients is the french fries. Strange, but good. Honestly, I didn’t ever know which kind I was ordering. The first ones we tried were so-so, but they got progressively better as we enjoyed Duners for Dinner often. I even ordered mine without meat sometimes (gasp).
In Plovdiv, Bulgaria, we splurged on a super fancy hotel (Prince Charles stayed there!) for one night because it was still cheaper than our budget Paris hotel. The Hebros Hotel restaurant is part of the slow food movement, so we spent a happy evening there. We started with this tomato and aged chevre dish, topped with a basil dressing. I could eat a big plateful for dinner.
Michael insisted on ordering this foie gras pate with berry sauce, and it really was worth it.
Michael ordered the veal. It just looks like dark lumps from here, but he enjoyed it.
I expected my “Old Town Chicken” to arrive complete with villagers playing folk instruments, but alas no. It was so good, though, that I was still pleased. The chicken was surrounded by veggies, olives, and mushrooms, with delicious potatoes on the side. Bulgaria is now known for their incredibly beautiful produce because they never started farming inorganically (too expensive). Their produce markets are bountiful and inexpensive.
The most unexpected and wonderfully surprising thing was this spinach sorbet, brought as a palate cleanser. I’m going to try to recreate the lemon-tinged green sorbet at home.
In Sofia, we met up with Marina, a food journalist who wrote about my sandwiches. She kindly showed us around her city and took us to a barbecue restaurant. We shared these fresh cheese-stuffed peppers. I narrowly prevented myself from scarfing down the whole plateful.
Michael ate meatballs, flanked by fried potatoes, a cabbage salad, and red pepper sauce. By the way, lots of things come with red pepper sauce in Bulgaria, and I like that. I bought two jars to bring home, and only one broke in my luggage and made a bit of a mess. 50%? Not too bad, I guess.
I loved my fresh “village salad” with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onion, olives, and fresh cheese.
You may or may not know that I absolutely cannot resist the siren song of a gimmicky restaurant that specializes in one thing, especially when it has a portmanteau name. Michael let me take him to Soupateria for lunch in Sofia, and we both were thrilled with our red pepper soup.
And they have a big spoon in their logo! Soupateria really does offer a great selection of soups, salads, and other lunch snacks at a good price. When will they open a branch in Portland?
While fitting in a little more cafe culture in Sofia, Michael ate this stunning layered dessert. It doesn’t look too challenging either: ladyfingers on the bottom, a panna cotta-ish layer in the middle, and a gelatin berry topping. Nice for summer.