I wasn’t sure what images I had portrayed for Bulgaria in my mind before I visited. The first time I heard of Bulgaria was when I read Harry Potter in middle school. Bulgaria was where Bill Weasley researched on dragons, and I learned about their famous rose valley when I was older. I got on the bus with other five people. After we had crossed the border of Macedonia and Bulgaria, acres of sunflower fields, lakes, and endless greens started to appear along the way. Five hours after I left Skopje, I arrived Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria at sunset.
Before I visited the Balkans, I didn’t know what to expect when it comes to their food. Frankly, I was on a budget, so I just ate whatever came along my way. I soon learned that Balkan cuisine not always, but usually, consist lots of meat.
I went to the supermarket with my Couchsurfing host the first night I was in Sofia. He bought bags of cucumbers and tomatoes to make a big bowl of salad for us. It was more than the usual amount two people would consume. I am not complaining, though. It was probably one of the freshest meal I had. He also baked some delicious Bulgarian sausages. Since he picked out so many cucumbers for our meal, I asked him whether the cucumber is a staple ingredient in Bulgarian cuisine. He told me he wasn’t sure, but he certainly loves eating cucumber.
During our evening conversation, my host recommended me to take the free food walking tour. It was intriguing, and free is awesome. So, I researched about the activity and went on the free food walking tour with Balkan Bites the next day.
I highly recommend taking the tour with Balkan Bites if you plan to visit Sofia. We met at Park Crystal in front of the big head statue of Stefan Stambolov (A Bulgarian politician) at 2 pm. The whole tour took about 2 hours. Besides receiving free samples at the restaurants, my guide was also a local Bulgarian who told good stories, history, and customs of Bulgarian culture and Sofia. I learned a lot on this tour, and if I remembered correctly, some of the restaurants my guide brought us to are family owned, and the food were all vegetarian and organic! It is surely a good way to support local business.
The first restaurant we stopped by was Supa Star, and this was where I had my first tarator: A Bulgarian cold cucumber yoghurt soup. The soup was salty, cold, and sour all at the same time, and the taste was smooth. It wasn’t what I expected but was surprisingly tasty and refreshing!! It was perfect for the dry, hot Bulgarian summer, and apparently, this is how they keep themselves cool in the heat.
I always mention it when people ask me whether I had anything special while in the Balkans. However, tarator probably isn’t for everyone. I have some friends who tried it when they were in Bulgaria but didn’t like it. But please, don’t let other people’s experiences speak for you. I urge you to try it if you are an adventurous foodie, and if you love cucumber as I do.
Not planning to visit Bulgaria anytime soon? Well, don’t worry about it – I was craving for tarator after I came home from my trip. I missed the taste of it, so I googled the recipe:
Your homemade tarator: Bulgarian cold cucumber yoghurt soup recipe
- Mix 500g of diced cucumbers and 500g of plain yoghurt. (Bulgarians are serious about their yoghurt. They have a yoghurt museum.)
- Add 3~4 of diced garlic cloves (Bulgarians also love their garlic according to my food tour guide.)
- You can add some dill and walnuts depending on your personal taste. I think walnuts go especially well with yoghurt.
- Add a teaspoon of salt and oil, then stir everything together. You can add some water or ice-cube if the yoghurt is not watery enough.
I learned it from Martin, my host in Macedonia, that the culture of drinking cold salty yoghurt originated from the Ottoman Empire. I had it in the Bazaar in Skopje as well. Dill doesn’t exist at the nearest supermarket in my hometown, so I just skipped it, but my homemade tarator still tasted exactly like how it was in Sofia without the dill 🙂
This dish is super easy to prepare, and it’s also a healthy choice. I haven’t made this since last summer, but just thinking about it reminds me of my days in Sofia. Good food always brings good memories.
Give the recipe a try, and you can tell me how you like it! (Or hate it.)
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Note: This article was first written in 2015 after I took a trip to the Balkans. I originally translated it from my Chinese article, but it didn’t make any sense. I revised a lot and hopefully, it’s readable now.
Also published on Medium.