Before I visited the Balkans, I didn’t know what to expect when it comes to food. I soon learned that Balkan cuisine not always, but usually, consists of lots of meat. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I had the opportunity to participate in a vegetarian/vegan food walking tour while in Sofia, Bulgaria and had the pleasure of trying Tarator – A Bulgarian cold cucumber yogurt soup.
In the summer of 2015, I traveled from the capital of Macedonia to Bulgaria. I got on the bus with the other five people. After we had crossed the border, acres of sunflower fields, lakes, and endless greens started to appear along the way. Five hours after I left Skopje, I arrived in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.
I was mainly doing Couchsurfing as well as staying at hostels. After my host Miro picked me up at the subway station, we went to the supermarket together. He bought bags of cucumbers and tomatoes to make a big bowl of salad for us. It was probably one of the freshest meals I had during this trip. 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 it and went on the free food walking tour with Balkan Bites the next day.
The Sofia Food Tour With Balkan Bites
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 were family-owned. Plus, the food was all vegetarian/vegan and organic! It is surely a good way to support local businesses.
The first restaurant we stopped by was Supa Star, and this was where I had my first tarator: A Bulgarian cold cucumber yogurt 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 learned it from Martin, my host in Macedonia, that the culture of drinking cold salty yogurt originated from the Ottoman Empire. I had it in the Bazaar in Skopje as well.
Whenever people ask me whether I ate anything special while in the Balkans, I always mention tarator. However, the 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.
Your homemade tarator: Bulgarian cold cucumber yogurt soup (VEGAN) recipe
- 500g – cucumber, diced.
- 500g – plain coconut or soy yogurt.
- 3~4 pcs – garlic cloves, diced.
- A pinch of dill & walnuts
- 1 tsp – salt
- 1 tsp – olive oil
- ice cube/water (optional)
- Mix cucumbers and plain coconut/soy yogurt.
- Add garlic (Bulgarians also love their garlic according to my food tour guide.)
- You can add some dill and walnuts depending on your personal taste. Walnuts go especially well with yogurt.
- Add salt and oil, then stir everything together – Stir well!
- You can add some water or ice-cube if you find the yogurt not watery enough.
This dish is super easy to prepare, and it’s also a healthy choice. Give the recipe a try, and you can tell me how you like it! (Or hate it.)
I couldn’t find dill at the time of making it, so I just skipped it, but my homemade tarator still tasted exactly like how it was in Sofia without the dill 🙂
Note: This article was first written in 2015 after I took a trip to the Balkans. I turned vegan in 2019 and decided to gradually delete or revise all my old posts that consist of animal products.
Also published on Medium.