Although the more than 8 million Bulgarians include a variety of ethnic groups, almost 90 percent of them belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, a branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church; about 9 percent are of the Muslim faith, and these include the Turks and the Pomaks (the name given to Bulgarian converts to Islam), and a part of the remaining l percent are of the Jewish faith.
When possible, Christmas is celebrated with a roasted suckling pig, while a young roasted lamb forms the highlight of the Easter dinner. Fish is especially important in festive menus for “meatless” days: the traditional baked carp, sharan sawrehi, stuffed with a rice and nut filling, or with raisins, walnuts, and onions.
Weddings often occur in civil ceremonies, but with the bride and groom in full traditional dress. A merry time with singing and dancing the circular horo or the famed couples’ dance ruchenitsa, accompanied by heaped platters and full glasses – especially of Slivovka – complete the festivities. The wedding feast itself usually centers around a guivech (an oven-baked stew) of cubed lamb and succulent vegetables (an everyday guivech would be of seasoned vegetables only) to be followed by salads, condiments, and pickles, and a display of selected fruits in season, baklava, semolina puddings with rosewater, and finally Turkish coffee.
FOODS COMMONLY USED
The Bulgarian cuisine is mainly adapted from Turkey and Greece but many native dishes can be traced readily to each of the neigh-boring countries. The staple and plentiful vegetables, dried white beans, peas and lentils plus yogurt, though seemingly simple foods, are used with such ingenuity that they become a variety of hearty and nutritious dishes: guivech, dolmas, pilafs, tchorbas, musaka (made with potatoes or the more traditional eggplant). And though onions and garlic are very much favored, Bulgarian dishes are not highly seasoned, but seasonings and natural herbs are used with a deft hand to bring out the inherent flavors of the food. As well as a love for pickles, olives, and peppers as condiments, Bulgarians enjoy tartly sour dish-es, and in these the acid from lemon juice, natural yogurt, or sauerkraut add tang. Names of dishes vary slightly from one area to another, but the largest percentage of meals is based simply on wholegrain cereals, vegetables, cheeses, and yogurt.