If you ask a Bulgarian what the most popular traditional dish in his country is, probably one of the first things mentioned will be “Shopska Salata”.
Many Bulgarians believe that this is a centuries-old traditional salad, but in fact it was invented in the 1950s when the communist government was trying to promote foreign tourism to the country. The salad matches the colors of the Bulgarian national flag with the red of the tomatoes, the green of the cucumbers, and the white of the Feta cheese.
The name “Shopska” comes from a region in the country, best known for the stubbornness and the conservatism of its occupants. There is a popular joke in Bulgaria that when a “shop” went to the zoo for the first time and saw a giraffe, all he said was “there is no such animal”.
The “Shopska Salata” and the tomatoes are sacred for the Bulgarians. Probably there is no worst insult to a Bulgarian than saying that this is a Greek or Macedonian salad, or that the best tomatoes in the world are not in Bulgaria. When I am back home, I am incredibly careful not to mention that I have eaten tastier tomatoes in Canada. I would be crucified and probably banned from entering the country.
There are as many variations of this salad, as many households are in Bulgaria. Some use red peppers, some use green peppers. Some use roasted peppers, some use it raw. In my family we always put a little bit of wine vinegar in “Shopska Salata, but Ivan hates vinegar, so I never use it at home.
Probably the first food Ivan ever started to eat as a baby was tomatoes. He loves tomatoes in any form and on our trips that was one of the dishes I made in every occasion. In many of the AirBnBs on the road there was no salad bowl, so often the salad was made in a cooking pot, and sometimes in a frying pan.
Sometimes, a few of the ingredients were missing, but if there were tomatoes – there was a salad.
For Salad for 2:
5-6 medium tomatoes (chopped in large pieces)
1 medium-sized cucumber (chopped and preferably peeled)
1 green or red pepper (roasted or raw, chopped)
1 yellow onion (chopped; or 3-4 green onions, sliced)
2-3 tablespoons parsley (fresh, chopped)
2-3 spoons olive oil
1 spoon red wine vinegar (optional)
Salt (to taste)
1/2 cup Bulgarian white cheese (or feta, crumbled)
Optional – black or green pitted olives
Put the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers in a large serving bowl, if you find any. Add salt/olive oil/vinegar dressing to the tomato mixture. If you use it, add vinegar. Mix until well blended. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Top with crumbled feta cheese and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.
Serve and enjoy.
It is well known that this salad tastes much better with a shot or two of Bulgarian rakia, that is how we call the grape brandy. If you cannot find the original, the Peruvian and Chilean Pisco have been tested and approved to be fully compatible with the “Shopska Salata”. The Italian grappa is not on the top of my list, but also will do.