Foods and Culture of Bulgaria
Famous for its exports of fine fruits and attar of roses (used in perfume blending), Bulgaria is probably most renowned for the legendary vigorous health and longevity of its inhabitants. The Bulgarians themselves modestly attribute their health and long life to the properties of yogurt, which they claim was invented in Bulgaria. But a closer examination of their general dietary pattern shows it to be one of the healthiest in Europe, basically consisting of varied wholegrain, legumes, cheeses, yogurt, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Whether this diet is due to tastes, tradition, or to the almost “semi-permanent shortage of meats and meat fats” is difficult to assess.
Bulgaria is located in the heart of the Balkans bounded by Romania, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and the Black Sea. Bulgarian is the official language. Differing ethnocultural groups such as the Gypsies and Macedonians speak Turkish and several other languages. Bulgarian Christian Orthodox is the traditional church of Bulgaria, engaging more than 85 percent of the population, with smaller groups of Muslims (13 percent), Jewish (0.8 percent) and others (1.1 percent).
A continental climate of cold winters and hot summers prevails over the mostly hilly and mountainous terrain, but the fertile areas of the Dambian Tablelands and the Thracian Plains produce rich harvests of wheat, rye, corn, rice, and legumes, as well as orchards and vineyards famed for their quality fruits.
Bulgar means “man of the plow,” and the predominantly agricultural people who call themselves Bulgarian are actually a blend of many ethnic groups: tribes from the Asiatic Steppes, and early Slays who later melded with smaller groups of Turks, Greeks, Macedonians, Romanians, Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, Armenians, and Russians. In fact, most of the Bulgarians who came to North America before the Second World War were peasants and laborers of Macedonian origin from the Balkan Mountains. Later immigrants (after the Second World War) were mostly urban professionals and intellectuals who found themselves dispersed throughout Europe and were unwilling to return to their homeland because of Communist domination.
The long history of Bulgaria included acceptance of Christianity by King Boris I in the mid-800s, which led to the development of the first written Slavic in the form of church liturgy and the birth of the Cyrillic alphabet, also used by the Russians. Subsequent wars fought by the Russians and Serbs all left their mark, but it was mostly the 500-year domination by the Ottoman Empire that left Bulgaria with a Turkish imprint on its traditions and food customs.