The Bulgarian language is a South Slavic language written in the Cyrillic alphabet. It was originally written with the letters of the Slavic brothers Cyril and Methodius, whose names are given to the letters themselves in the Bulgarian alphabet (glagolitsa). Although many older Bulgarians are fluent in Russian, younger people are more likely to use English as their second language. The Thracian and Slavic cultures shaped the culture of Bulgaria, along with the influence of Christianity. Many of these ancient customs are now recognized as part of Bulgaria’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Traditional Bulgarian cuisine focuses on cheese, yogurt and quality vegetables. It is similar to that of the surrounding Balkan countries, Greece and Turkey, but with its own unique twist. While most Eastern European cuisine revolves around meat, Bulgarian dishes are very suitable for vegetarians, with a lot of options for those who avoid red meat.
Most Bulgarian dishes are served family style, with the table filled up so that everyone can dig in and eat as much as they like. Food is often very generously spiced. The most popular spices are dzhodzhen, chubritsa, paprika and sirene. Dzhodzhen is a very distinctive herb, usually used as a dip for warm bread or mixed with olive oil to make a spread for sandwiches. It’s also commonly used in soups and stews, bringing its unique herbal flavour to the dish.
Chubritsa is another of the country’s most defining herbs, with its herbal character adding a distinct flavour to a wide range of dishes. It’s particularly good with grilled meats and fish. It can be used as a flavouring in soups and stews, or mixed with paprika and salt to make a colourful seasoned salt known as sharena sol.
In the morning, most Bulgarians eat banitsa for breakfast, which can be hot or cold. It can be eaten alone or paired with plain yogurt, ayran or boza. A lot of different varieties exist, including banitsa with spinach, banitsa with milk or bananas and pumpkin (tikvenik).
On certain holidays, such as May 6, the feast day of St George, who slayed a dragon, Bulgarian cooks add lucky charms into their pastry. The ingredients might be small coins or a dogwood branch with a bud, symbolizing health and longevity.
Traditionally, the per-capita consumption of yogurt in Bulgaria has been higher than that in any other European country. This is partly because the country is home to the microorganism Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which gives its famous sour-milk products their distinctive taste.