Italian cuisine has conquered the whole world in recent years. Many of us here in Bulgaria also like it. Only it can be both sophisticated and unique, and also accessible, including when time is running out and we don’t have time to sit down for a full lunch. Then the pasta alaminuts come to the rescue, and behind each corner a pavilion appears, where we can buy a piece of delicious pizza.
Over the years, many Italian restaurants gradually appeared, and even ordinary restaurants began to offer one or more dishes in this spirit. Have you ever wondered why the Bulgarian finds the culinary tradition of Italy so attractive? Are there commonalities between the two and what are the differences?
The answers lie in a complex of several reasons: At the same time, some of the Italian delicacies are liked here in their original form, while others need a certain amount of “Bulgarianization”, to suit the local taste.
In Italian cuisine there are some foods that are actually quite similar to recipes from our cuisine. Do you remember, for example, the favorite dish of our grandmothers – the famous dish called porridge or in some northern parts of Bulgaria – mamaliga.
It is hard for some people to believe at first that Italians also eat it with great pleasure. There it is called polenta and is also made from corn flour, water and butter (olive oil). Polenta can be served as a porridge or as a side dish to the main dish, as it goes well with fatter proteins such as meat, mushrooms in butter and others. In our country, the porridge is sometimes topped with a sauce of fried red pepper with butter, while the Italians like polenta with tomato sauce or pesto.
Sometimes they let the polenta dry out and become something like a rusk. So it can be used as a substitute for croutons for your cream soup, for example.
Special respect for dairy products is one of the things that bring our peoples together in terms of food. Italian cheeses bring exoticism to our idea of cheese.
Mozzarella is a favorite of many Bulgarians because of its unique combination with one of our most respected vegetables, namely tomatoes. They also like the typical Italian pecorino, provolone, parmigiano and gorgonzola. When they try it, the Italians also like our national pride – white cheese.
No matter what we talk about, the Bulgarian will always remain a fan of pasta. Calzone, margarita, pepperoni, carbonara – pizza is one of our favorite foods. Here we consider it suitable for any time of the day, even for breakfast, although the Italians themselves are a little more picky in this regard. They prefer to eat pizza mainly for dinner – with more warm, thin, crispy and fragrant dough and a variety of fillings.
If it is for breakfast, a special type of pizza is made in Italy – impala. Its dough contains a large amount of water, which makes it lighter than usual and is suitable for the first meal of the day. Pizza, along with pasta, is the most commonly modified dish, which you can find here in a number of Bulgarian versions.
For example, the famous stuffing “quatro formaji“, which the Italians traditionally use for pasta and pizza, in Bulgaria can be found with yellow cheese and three types of white cheese – most often cow, goat and sheep. This option is very popular in our country, along with the original Fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola and Parmigiano, which are used in Italy.
With pasta we are also a bit more special here in the Balkans. We tend to eat spaghetti even in the morning and only with a little cheese and butter. For Italians, pasta is a main meal that contains a sauce, such as carbonara, bolognese, shrimp, etc.
Another point of contact that exists between the Bulgarians and the Italians – this is the love of good wine. Just like ours, their country is also known for its wine industry – dolceto, barbera, primitive – these are just some of its famous wines.
The traditions of wine in Italy are largely the merit of the Greek settlers. It boasts over 350 varieties of grapes – white and red. The Italian government applies a special classification. There is a category of wine that has a special status of protected geographical indication and a category corresponding to a guaranteed origin.
This means that it can be produced only in certain settlements that have received a special license from the state for this. Bruschettas are a typical appetizer for wine consumption. These are small grilled bites of bread with a garnish of delicious toppings, sausages and cheeses.
Sausages in themselves are a particularly important moment in Italian cooking. The country is known for its short- and long-lasting meat delicacies. Their quality is especially important for the preparation of a good pizza, pasta or tortilla.
It is interesting to note that the Italians have something quite similar to our blood sausage. Even the name of the sausage in Italian – “sanguinacho”, literally means “blood sausage” in Bulgarian. The Italians even make a dessert of pork blood, which they call “Sanguinacho dolce”. This is one of the traditional foods before Easter Lent for Catholics.
No matter how much we like strong appetizers, we Bulgarians would not replace the good old salad with anything. In Italy you will find a rich variety of flavors, dressings and spices for salads. Arugula is often present in the bowl, and the dressing is especially fragrant thanks to olive oil, lemon and fragrant balsamic vinegar.
Of course, they also add a rich bouquet of spices such as fennel, oregano, rosemary, basil and many others. Add a little sugar and a little salt, as well as a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a chopped clove of garlic. The same classic dressing is sometimes used for sandwich sauce and marinade for flavoring meat.
In fact, there is something very close to us in Italian cuisine. According to some sources, olives and olive oil were brought to Italy by the ancient Greeks, which is another reason for us to like Italian dishes. Other monuments argue that the olive trees appeared in the Roman Empire even earlier during the expansions in today’s territories of Tunisia and Libya.
In our country, seafood is not so common for the simple reason that our territory borders the sea only on the east side. Italy, for its part, is surrounded by water almost everywhere and has access to four seas.
This is precisely the reason why even in some of the poorest Italian regions seafood is often eaten. There are also many recipes for river fish and other aquatic life such as crabs. Most Bulgarians love exotics and for this reason find such dishes especially delicious.
One of the main similarities, however, is not a certain recipe or product. Both in our country and in Italy, cooking is based on the principle of “nothing out of nothing”.
Both nations have experienced difficulties that have made them even more inventive in terms of cuisine. The climate in both countries allows the cultivation of various crops, as well as the bringing of new and new fruits and vegetables from abroad.
In addition, the interaction with different cultures has contributed to the development on a large scale not only in the high tradition, but also in the daily cooking for the family. In the mountains of Italy, as well as ours, herds of cattle have been raised for a long time. Previously, they served the livelihood of the local population, and today entire animal farms are developing large-scale business activities in these regions.
Near and far – the traditions of Italy and Bulgaria intertwine and communicate wonderfully, which brings our two peoples together.