In Bulgaria, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country, Christmas or Rozhdestvo Hristovo ("Nativity of Jesus") is celebrated on the Gregorian calendar's Dec. 25. (The Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar.)
Christmas Eve or badni vecher is just as important. It is the last day of fasting, in which a different number of meatless dishes are served at a grand meal. The Christmas Eve dinner table often is not cleared until Christmas morning to provide food for the ghosts of family members. On Christmas Day, the Advent fast is over and meat returns in all its glory with pork, sausages, and poultry. Desserts become more elaborate and drinking is not only allowed but encouraged.
Our recipe collection features the most famous dishes that Bulgarian families enjoy during these festivities.
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Boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, or kolivo, is a common first course at the Bulgarian Christmas Eve table. It is similar to Russian kutya or sochivo and is also known as kutia in Poland. This first-course Christmas Eve pudding is made with wheat berries (or other grains or legumes like rice, barley, or beans) sweetened with honey and sometimes garnished with poppy seeds, dried fruits or walnuts. The kolivo is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
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Kiopoolu and Pickled Foods
There are always pickled or roasted vegetables like peppers, cauliflower, cucumbers, or kiopoolu (eggplant) on the Christmas table, along with meatless spreads like lyutenitsa (a spicy red pepper spread similar to ajvar).
Some families allow oil and fish to be at the table, so tarama, a fish roe appetizer, might be part of the menu, as well as an assortment of olives preserved in oil.
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Sodena Pitka or Koledna Pitka
Bulgarian Christmas bread, or koledna pitka, is typically eaten on Christmas Eve and throughout the holidays. Often, a silver coin is tucked inside the dough and the person to find it should expect good luck in the coming year.
This recipe contains eggs, which are forbidden by some during Advent. When the bread is made with baking soda instead of yeast, it is known as sodena pitka.
04 of 08
In addition to bread, many families serve bobena chorba, or sour bean soup, prepared meatless (or in the "monastery way").
The classic recipe includes beans, vegetables, spearmint, paprika, and some type of souring agent. The meaty version of this soup is also prepared for other occasions.
This sour soup is similar to the Serbian meatless bean soup.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Legumes, Vegetables ad Grains
Beans and legumes figure prominently in these celebrations because they signify wealth and prosperity in the coming year.
On a Bulgarian Christmas Eve table, you might find sauerkraut salad with leeks; olives and carrots; grilled sweet red and yellow peppers; and grilled eggplant with olive oil, vinegar, spices, parsley, and garlic. A stew of beans served in a traditional clay pot is a common dish.
Meatless chomlek is another popular option, prepared by stewing onions, tomatoes, and garlic all seasoned with red pepper, bay leaf, and red wine and thickened with a roux.
Cereals and grains appear in the form of baked beans and rice (pechen bobs oriz), stuffed dried peppers (pulneni susheni chushki), and stuffed grape leaf rolls (lozovi sarmi).
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Not all Orthodox Christians eat fish and eggs during fasting times, so not all families serve them for the Christmas Eve supper. For those who do, pike-perch, cod, carp, eel, whiting, and salmon take center stage.
A simple roasted carp or steamed whole fish and potatoes might be part of the menu.
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Dessert on Christmas Eve in the strictest Bulgarian Orthodox households is just a dried-fruit compote known as oshav, similar to Polish compote, or walnuts with honey. Others enjoy apples, have a baked pumpkin purée dish sweetened with confectioners' sugar and walnuts, or serve a pumpkin banitsa also known as tikvenik.
Once midnight comes, desserts are consumed by the score, like maslenki (jam-filled cookies) and medenki (honey-spice cookies).
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Most Bulgarian families don't drink alcoholic beverages until midnight of Christmas Eve. Then they serve Bulgarian grape brandy (greyana rakiya) from ceramic ware.
This potent drink is also known as rakia, rakija, and rachiu in the Balkans. Serbian rakija is made with plum brandy instead of grape brandy.
Mastika is another popular Bulgarian drink that might be served. It's a strong, anise-flavored drink, served chilled. Or greyano vino, similar to Polish hot mulled wine, also might be served.
Christmas wouldn't be the same without the pita, a round loaf of bread that is broken into pieces by the head of the house. Each family member is given a piece. A coin is hidden inside the pita and whoever gets it will have luck, health, and prosperity in the coming year. If the pita is eaten on Christmas Eve, it is made without eggs and often with baking soda instead of yeast. But all the stops are pulled out for the pita served on Christmas Day, often elaborately decorated with religious and family symbols made of dough on top of the bread.
A budnik, or ceremonial log, is brought into the house and set alight in the fireplace.
Meaning of Food
Even though Christmas Eve is considered a Lenten meal, no one leaves the table hungry on this night. The dishes have symbolic meanings centering around fertility and abundance, and tradition holds that the more dishes on the table, the richer the next harvest will be:
- Bean or legume soup brings a fertile, abundant, and wealthy new year.
- Honey is present in desserts to make life sweet.
- Stuffed peppers, grape leaves, or cabbage leaves bring abundance and makes crops and families fertile.
- Fruits, usually oranges and tangerines, are offered to make the new year fruitful.
- Boiled wheat with walnuts and sugar symbolizes the association between death and life (death which is planted in the ground and life that emerges from it).
- Oshav, a dried-fruit compote represents fertility and abundance.