Sit-down meals are eaten in either a restorant (restaurant) or a mehana (tavern). There’s little difference between the two, save that a mehana is likely to offer folksy decor and a wider range of traditional Bulgarian dishes. Wherever you go, you’re unlikely to spend more than 25Lv for a main course, salad and drink. The best-known traditional dish is gyuvech (which literally means “earthenware dish”), a rich stew comprising peppers, aubergines and beans, to which is added either meat or meat stock. Kavarma, a spicy meat stew (either pork or chicken), is prepared in a similar fashion. Vegetarian meals (yastia bez meso) are hard to obtain, although gyuveche (a variety of gyuvech featuring baked vegetables) and kachkaval pane (cheese fried in breadcrumbs) are worth trying.
Foremost among snacks are kebapcheta (grilled sausages), or variations such as shishche (shish kebab) or kyofteta (meatballs). Another favourite is the banitsa, a flaky-pastry envelope with a filling – usually cheese – sold by bakeries and street vendors in the morning and evening. Elsewhere, sandvichi (sandwiches) and pitsi (pizzas) dominate the fast-food repertoire. Bulgarians consider their yogurt (kiselo mlyako) the world’s finest, and hardly miss a day without consuming it.
The quality of Bulgarian wines is constantly improving. Among the best reds are the heavy, mellow Melnik, and rich, dark Mavrud, while Dimyat is a good dry white. If you prefer the sweeter variety, try Karlovski Misket (Muscatel) or Traminer. Cheap native spirits are highly potent: mastika (like Greek oúzo) is drunk diluted with water; rakiya – brandy made from either plums (slivova) or grapes (grozdova) – is generally sipped, accompanied by salad. Bulgarian beer is as good as any, but local brands such as Kamenitza, Zagorka, and Shumensko must now compete with the likes of Staropramen, Stella Artois and Heineken, which are brewed locally under licence.
Coffee (kafe) usually comes espresso style. Tea (chai) is nearly always herbal – ask for cheren chai (literally “black tea”) if you want the real stuff, normally served with lemon.