Bansko is Bulgaria’s largest ski resort and it’s where we’ve been spending the summer. (Find out more about Bansko Summer Activities) Since we decided to take a break from travelling here, and relax I’ve been looking forward to the food. Bulgarian food is like that of other Balkan countries. You’ll find likenesses to Greek and Turkish food. You’ll also find great use of fresh ingredients. These are our Bansko Must Eats – our guide to great Bulgarian food and where to find it.
Summer Bansko is Different To Winter Bansko
The summer season in Bansko is much quieter than the ski season. Many mehanas (restaurants), cafes and snack bars close at the end of the ski season. This especially applies to those closer to the ski area. You’ll find it quiet too in Spring and Autumn and in the all season town of Bansko you’ll need to venture closer to the main square in the old town.
What Type of Food is there in Bansko?
Bansko combines traditional Bulgarian and Balkan mountain food with convenient ski resort food. So, yes, pizza is ubiquitous. French fries or chips are available everywhere and burgers are easy to find too. Crepes, Italian Ice-cream and candy floss also abound in summer. You’ll also find, if you look, pulled pork and chicken wings, great Italian, Indian food, steak and a fabulous deli and sandwich shop.
White (feta like) cheese, called “sirene” is present in many dishes, as is the hard yellow cheese “ kashkaval”. Fresh bread is everywhere and the tomatoes are to die for.
Bansko is famous throughout Bulgaria for its clay pot dishes and home-made sausages. Food is fresh, tasty, filling and cheap.
Menus in Bulgarian and English
In each mehana, you’ll find menus in both Bulgarian and English. You will also find Russian. Many mehanas now have menus with photos of the food – which is often helpful if you’re new to the cuisine. Some translations are a leap of faith, others will make you smile. Alongside each menu item, you’ll find, not just its price, but also its weight. It makes it easy to decide that what’s down as a hot starter will actually be more than enough as a main course for you.
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Alcoholic drinks are superb value. The best value is the local beer and wine by the glass, half a litre or litre jug are superb value. In 2016 you’ll likely pay between 2.5 and 3.5 leva for a 500 ml glass of beer. A 250 ml glass of good local wine will set you back 5 leva, half a litre is usually 10 leva and a litre is 20 leva. It’s no cheaper to buy a litre than two half litres. So you can pace yourself. Prices on the mountain – both during and outside of ski season are more expensive.
Bansko Must Eats Menu List
We’ll start our list with the main Bulgarian dishes. Then we’ll touch on a few specific restaurants that provide non-Bulgarian food. For each menu item, we’ll highlight locals favourite places to eat these dishes.
You’ll find this traditional salad in every mehana. It’s fabulous and fresh. Made from tomatoes, cucumber, onions or scallions and sometimes raw or roasted red peppers. A generous grating of white sirene cheese covers the salad and there’s sometimes a parsley garnish. It’s hard to find a bad version of this.
The Shepherds Salad comes with mixed reviews. It’s got the same fabulous fresh tomato, cucumber, peppers and onions that the Shopska salad contains. However, it additionally has yellow cheese (called Kashkaval here and similar to well, regular cheese in the UK), white cheese (called Sirene here, and similar to Feta) egg and mushrooms. It’s also topped with ham, which is where folks generally don’t like it as the ham tends to be the more processed sort.
- Favourite places to eat Shepherds Salad – Momini Dvori
Bobchorba – Bean Soup
This is a national Bulgarian Dish, it translates literally to “Bean Soup” It’s made from dry beans, onions, tomatoes, mint, summer savoury herbs and carrots. Some places will add paprika and potatoes, even meat, although this is generally viewed as a vegetarian dish.
- Favourite places to eat Bobchorba – Banski Han
Bansko Dried Sausage – Banski Staretz
You’ll find this in the starter section of every menu in every mehana. You’ll also find it in the “supermarkets” that you find around Bansko. There are good and bad ones. In the mehanas, they’re generally good. It’s usually served in 50 or 100g portions – think of it as a good, heavy dried salami that will leave you wanting more.
Usually served as an appetizer, Katino Mezze has small pieces of veal and pork fried in oil with chopped onions, leeks and peppers. It’s served after being baked or stewed in a clay pot with white wine, mushrooms and seasoned well with parsley.
- Favourite Places to eat Katino Mezze – Baryakova
Although you’ll find this mainly in the starter menu section, it usually weighs in at around 300 grammes and for most people, it’s a solid main course. The way in which it’s prepared differs between mehanas but it contains potatoes, white cheese, yellow cheese, milk and eggs. It’s all baked together. Sometimes they’re grated, sometimes they’re sliced. Plan on a food coma after this. It’s great but always makes me feel so sleepy afterwards.
- Favourite Places to eat Patatnik – Molerite
Cheese with Blueberries/Honey and Walnut
Cheese is big here in Bansko, as if you hadn’t guessed by now. Whether it’s the yellow or white cheese, it’s everywhere and it’s hard to get bad cheese. Cheese with blueberries can usually be found on the hot starter menu. As can cheese with honey and walnuts. The cheese is usually baked (sometimes in parchment) and then served with the accompaniment drizzled over the top. Really, really, good.
- Favourite Places to eat Cheese with Blueberries/Honey & Walnut – the Log House
A sache is a (usually) meat based dish, cooked and served on a hot stone or hot iron plate, which is delivered to the centre of your table still very much sizzling and cooking. Main varieties are chicken, pork, mixed and Bansko special, which usually gives an additional spicy sausage to the platter. You’ll also find onion, peppers and potatoes cooking on the sache. You more than likely won’t need accompaniments for this dish and we’ve always found it incredibly tasty and filling.
- Favourite Places to eat Sache – Zehtindijeva Kuca
Chicken livers in village style is a favourite among Bansko locals. The Log House restaurant gets a big thumbs up for this dish. Chicken livers are roasted in a pan with onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices. Water, flour and often some wine are added. They’re served with fresh parsley.
- Favourite Places to eat Chicken Livers – the Log House
You simply must try nervous meatballs. You’ll find a great version of them at the Eagles Nest Restaurant in the main square in Bansko. In Bulgaria, meatballs are called kiufte and are a mix of beef and pork wth breadcrumbs and onions. They become nervous with the addition of hot red pepper. Although you needn’t be too nervous about them, they’re tasty, a little spicy, but not enough to send you running.
- Favourite Places to eat Nervous Meatballs – the Eagles Nest in the main square
A mishmash is simply that. A miscellaneous collection of seasonal ingredients – tomatoes, peppers, parsley, cheese, eggs. It’s usually a vegetarian dish made of what’s to hand in the kitchen. The winter version of this dish includes roasted and peeled peppers.
- Favourite Places to eat Mishmash – you’ve guessed it. The Log House
Clay or Earthenware Pot Dishes.
I’ll fess up. I could live on these dishes. The ingredients are freshly prepared, popped into a clay or earthenware pot and then baked until the cheese runs, the eggs cook and the roasted peppers assume heavenly being status. There are a variety of names used for these in translated menus. Some are vegetarian, some contain chicken, spicy sausage and flat Bansko sausage. We’ve never had a bad one.
White Cheese Shopski Style
You’ll usually find this first in this section of the menu. There’s tomatoes, roasted peppers, egg and white cheese. The cheese is light and fluffy, so don’t just expect a big chunk of feta-like cheese. It melts and merges into the other ingredients. You don’t need to break off a chunk of garlic parlenka to mop it up, but you only live once. so go for it.
- Favourite Places to eat White Cheese Shopski Style – Momini Dvori
Macedonian Cheese or Chorbadzhiiski Style Cheese
Macedonian cheese is similar to the White cheese Shopski style dish, but with the addition of flat Bansko sausage. You’ll find this on the menu at a variety of, called different names. At the Boulevard Mehana at the top of Pirin Street, it’s known as Chorbadzhiiski Style Cheese.
Kapama mixes rice, sauerkraut, beet, veal, pork, chicken and black pudding. Cabbage leaves provide layers in between layers of this mix. White wine and water are added. The dish cooks a clay pot for 5 to 10 hours. It’s a good solid, hearty and tasty meal.
- Favourite Places to eat Kapama – Banski Han
Slightly different from the previous dish, Kavarma is again prepared and served in a clay pot. Bansko sausage, pork neck, mushrooms, onions and peppers are spiced and stewed or baked together.
Another clay pot dish, Chomlek contains veal knuckle, potatoes, onions and garlic. There’s also seasoning, red wine and tomato puree, water and vinegar added. 5-10 hours later, you’ll have a melt in the mouth robust meal. In some mehanas you’ll also have it served still bubbling at the table!
- Favourite Places to eat Chomlek – Baryakova
Side Dishes and Bread
Parlenka is the Bulgarian version of a flat or naan style bread. Best baked in a tandoori-style oven, there are many varieties, some of which are shop bought and which should be avoided at all costs. There’s plain parlenka. Garlic parlenka. Sirene (white cheese) stuffed Parlenka, kashkaval (yellow cheese) stuffed Parlenka. Our personal favourite is the parlenka you get from the Momini Dvori mehana on the main square in Bansko. It’s sprinkled with an amazing mix of spices that have just a hint of curry. It’s Moorish and amazing when used to scoop up their fresh lutenitsa.
- Other favourite places for Parlenka: The Eagles Nest on the main square, the Boulevard on Pirin Street
Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian pastry – whisked eggs and white cheese are sandwiched between filo pastry and baked. It’s often served for breakfast with plain yoghurt. It can be eaten hot or cold and is a great snack when hiking.
- Favourite Places to get Banitsa – Buy from a supermarket or the Bakery by Alexander Services
Lutenitsa is a relish, chutney, puree or dip depending on who you talk to. It’s usually in the garnish section of a menu. It’s made primarily of roasted pureed red peppers, although also contains peppers, carrots, eggplant, onion, garlic, black pepper, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt, and tomatoes. Some recipes call for it to be a little spicy, although we’ve never found it so. We usually scoop it up with fresh Bulgarian parlenka bread.
- Favourite places to eat Lutenitsa – Anywhere!
Bansko Style Potatoes
The potatoes here in Bansko are amazing. The speciality of the area is to have them sauteed in butter and garlic and tossed with dill. These will either be on the menu as sauteed potatoes or Potatoes Banski Style Varieties you’ll see in Bansko include the addition of bacon (always good), grated cheese, either white or yellow, on the top (sometimes good) and potatoes baked in their skins and then sauteed in butter, garlic and dill. Potatoes will usually appear on the start menu – and be served then unless you ask for it all together. The potatoes vary between restaurants, but we can seriously recommend them from the following places.
- Great places for potatoes Motikata on the road up the mountain, Momini Dvori in the main square, the Boulevard on the top of Pirin Street
You’ll probably know Bulgarian Delight as Turkish Delight. The Bulgarian version is light in taste. It’s flavoured with the Bulgarian speciality of rose oil, although there are other varieties available including fig. It’s a delightfully fragrant sweet.
- Buy from any supermarket in Bansko
Non-Bulgarian Bansko Speciality Restaurants
We’ve not personally been (we’re not steak people), but many swear by the steak here. It’s a little more expensive than the mehanas in town, but a great feed.
- See other people’s reviews of Steakhouse Lazur, Bansko
A great favourite for pizza, pasta and Italian food, the Victoria can be found near the Kempinski Hote. When you’re looking for something a little more upscale it’s a great place to feed your pizza appetite.
- See other people’s reviews for the Victoria, Bansko
Although primarily a hotel, it’s here that you’ll occasionally get the chance to have a curry in Bansko. You’ll need to watch the Avalon blog or Facebook page for specific dates – but if you’re lucky enough to be here while James is hosting a curry night, then you’ll be in for a feast. Naan from the tandoori-oven and poppadoms compliment all your Indian favourites. Don’t miss it!
- See other people’s reviews for the Avalon
- Follow the Avalon blog for details on dates of Curry nights
Smokey Mountain, run by long term Scottish residents, Scott and Keira specialises in ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and burgers. All served with thrice fried fries. Incredibly tasty and at a good price. Tuesdays at Smokey Mountain are Taco Tuesdays and they’re fabulous! Their Sunday night specials of Beer Can Chicken is fantastic and the Buffalo Chicken Wings are the best we’ve ever had. Period.
- See other people’s reviews of Smokey Mountain, Bansko.
- Follow Smokey Mountain on Facebook for details on new menu items
Self Catering in Bansko
There are lots of “supermarkets” in Bansko. Although those from the UK would term most of them corner shops. During the summer months, the biggest are the “BG Markets”. These are located on Glazne Street (half way up), near the Molerite and at the bottom of Pirin Street, near the main square. These two supermarkets are the cheapest in town. The BG located on Pirin Street generally has a wider selection, especially of frozen goods. The smaller ones get more expensive, but not by much. There is little difference in price when it comes to fruit and vegetables in these shops. Sometimes they are cheaper than the market below the main square. A box of wine will cost 3 – 5 leva more near to the Gondola than at the bigger supermarkets. < See how I got my priorities in there?
If you want a larger supermarket you’ll have to go to
- Lidl in Razlog (you can take the train or a bus)
- Kaufland in Blagoevgrad (train or bus)
- Metro in Blagoevgrad (train or bus and walk or taxi < a membership card is required)
Seriously. You don’t think Brits could write about food and not tell you the best spot to buy tea bags? You won’t find Tetley’s, PG or Yorkshire Tea here in Bansko in the summer. (In Winter, if the Carrefour at Bansko Royal Towers re opens, you might, lets see..) Few of the supermarkets stock black teabags. The three places we found it were
- Opposite the Log House (until they ran out)
- Midway down Pirin Street just above the Vihren Family Hotel
- In the tiniest shop on Pirin Street opposite the Holy Trinity Church
Daily Market Stalls
Each day fruit and vegetable stalls ply their trade below the main square. They usually have a great selection of in-season fruit, vegetables and some occasional herbs. Fresh herbs tend to be parsley and dill. The only place to buy fresh mint and coriander is in Metro in Blageovgrad. Their herb delivery is on a Wednesday.
The Sunday Markets
The small space where the market is located fills on a Sunday morning. It’s then that you’ll get local villagers bringing their wares. Whatever fruit and vegetable is in season, freshly made cheese, dried herbs, jams and chutneys. Try the home made wine if you’re brave enough. It’s sold in recycled plastic drinks bottles. We’ve tried it once. The Mavrud was good. The Merlot was positively terrifying.
The second Sunday market is found along Tsar Simeon, near the Gardenia Hotel, by the park. There are clothes stalls, duvets, blankets, pillows and bedding. There is also a potted plant stall, which usually has potted herbs for sale also, including, once, mint. But, no, no coriander.
The quality of food in Bansko is on the whole superb. It’s fresh, well cooked and generally cheap compared to Western European costs. Many mehana’s may stay in the family, but their management changes between seasons, so the quality may change from one year to the next.
Before we go. What’s your favourite Bulgarian Food? Where do you eat when you come to Bansko? What else should we put on this list?
Resources Available for Bansko
- Summer Activities in a ski town
- The Bansko Jazz Festival
- Get your adrenalin going with a Buggy Tour in Bansko
- Bansko Tourist Information
- Find out the options on how to get from Sofia to Bansko
- Read our guide on how to get from Plovdiv to Bansko
- While in Bansko our MUST visit is the Dancing Bears Park