If you have just arrived in Bulgaria and are still curious to taste the vast variety of authentic Bulgarian meals and drinks, undoubtedly the most traditional and emblematic alcoholic beverage to start your night with is the local rakia. There has hardly been a single guest of Sofia to remain neutral after the first sip. Both locals and internationals either fall in love with rakia or cannot stand the strong taste and smell of the spirits. A common Bulgarian joke – and for some elderly people even a fundamental belief – states that 30-40 ml rakia a day have a preventive effect against different viruses, including the coronavirus. While we cannot guarantee that we believe that giving it a try is essential to your trip to Bulgaria.
Largely compared to a fruit brandy, rakia is produced out of large quantities of smashed fruits in a barrel. Then, sugar and water are added. It takes a few weeks for the juice to ferment before the chemical process of distillation begins. The end product for sale usually contains 40% alcohol. The homemade rakia for personal consumption, however, often surpasses 50% and even 60% alcohol. It is even a matter of pride for some of the locals who of them would produce stronger and still better tasting version of the national drink.
Most commonly, Bulgarian rakia is made out of grapes and plums but other fruits work equally well, too. In Serbia, they also use pears, quinces, apricots. The more exotic varieties of the drink are produced out of strawberries, honey and even roses. Rakia is also very common in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia. In Greece, Romania and Hungary the drink is popular with different names – tsipouro and palinka.
Although some locals prefer to start at noon, the best time to drink rakia is at dinner, with a table full of traditional Bulgarian dishes. Be it shopska salad, ham, cheese dipped in olive oil or any other meat and vegetarian appetizers; it is always better to drink rakia while eating. The beverage is available at most of the Bulgarian bars and restaurants. Some of them are likely to serve you the drink in a shot glass. DO NOT ex the rakia but take it slowly sip by sip because the alcohol is pretty strong and might spoil your plans for the rest of the night. It might be wiser to consume the drink responsibly with some ice or a bottle of water next to it.
If you happen to visit Sofia and Bulgaria during the cold and icy winter, do not miss your chance to try the mulled version of rakia. Honey and few small bits of black pepper added to it! In case you are not impressed with the Bulgarian national drink at all, you can still dive into the rich variety of Bulgarian wines and especially the traditional red wine called mavrud. Do not forget to learn and practice the Bulgarian toast “Na-zdra-ve!” which literally translates as “To your health!”
Author: Free Sofia Tour Guide – Dimitar Dimitrov