Banitza - Bulgaria's National Food

Like most Bulgarian food, banista isn’t as much of a singular dish, but more of a food group. You can make you banista sweet or salty, for breakfast or for dinner, hot or cold. It doesn’t matter, there’s a banista for everyone and everything. This symbol of Bulgarian cuisine is also an essential part of most holidays, especially Easter, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

What is banista?

Essentially, banista is a layered filo pastry stuffed with something and then baked. The usual filling is a mixture of Bulgarian white cheese, sour milk, and eggs, but you can also use leek, curd, onions, pumpkin, meat, potatoes, apples, cabbage, corn, the options are many, and the combinations between them are endless. Perhaps the most comparable foreign equivalent of the Bulgarian banitsa would be the strudel or the pie.

How do Bulgarians eat banitsa?

As you may imagine, Bulgarians are big fans of banitsa and eat it on an almost weekly and even daily basis. There’s a banista for every occasion. Since its relatively easy to make, perhaps the first fast-food in Bulgaria was the banitsa. Establishments called “баничарници/banicharnitsa“ or literally “banitsa shops” usually sell white cheese and curd-filled banitsas. They also sell other types of banitsa or böreks, kozunaks, krenvirshki (pastry filled with wieners or sausages) and even pizzas.

Bulgarians usually eat banitsa with either the traditional Bulgarian ayran or a boza, which are also sold in the banicharnitsa. We’d recommend trying both, as there’s no consensus on which one is better. Bear in mind that the boza is sweetened while the ayran is salted.

You can eat banitsa both hot and cold, it really doesn’t matter all that much and it's more a matter of personal taste and the specific variation of the food. However, fresh if often better, which is why the hot banitsa may have a nicer taste.

There are also many different ways of getting a banitsa. The ingredients for making one are widely available in all Bulgarian and even foreign grocery stores, and you can even buy a ready-made frozen banitsa in the same way you can buy a pizza, but in the humble opinion of the author of this article, that’s probably the worst option.

Special types of banitsa

Bulgarians have many traditions when it comes to this, with the most famous one being the New Year Eve “fortune” banitsa. This is somewhat similar to the Chinese fortune cookies popular in the USA. Small pieces of paper with “fortunes” inside are stuck in the banitsa. When you pull your piece, you get a fortune predicting your luck in the upcoming year. Usually, it’s travel, money, marriage, job opportunities, or some other positive development. There are no negative predictions in the fortune banitsa.

The Christmas Eve banitsa is also very important. Since the tradition of this holiday has to keep up the Christmas fast, no meat, milk, eggs, or cheese must be served. So this banitsa has to be made with vegetables, usually with pumpkin, cabbage, or leek.

It’s traditional to make another banitsa for Christmas, but this time there are no limitations, and eggs, cheese, and meat can be included.

How to make a banitsa?

Making a banitsa is pretty simple and even someone who’s not an avid cook can do it. It's also likely that the ingredients would be available in most grocery stores outside of Bulgaria. As mentioned above, you can make a banitsa out of many ingredients, but the most classic and popular Bulgarian recipe is the white cheese banitsa.

In order to make it, you’ll need to following ingredients – filo, eggs, white cheese, some butter, sunflower oil, baking soda, and soured milk (yogurt). Mix the eggs, cheese, soda, and soured milk into a bowl. Get the tray and coat it with some sunflower oil. Put two layers of filo, and coat them with some more oil. Then add some of the mixture. Repeat until the tray is full.

 Don’t add any mixture on the top layer. Cut the banitsa into smaller pieces. Melt the butter and pout it onto the banitsa. Bake in a 200°C oven until the banitsa gets a golden crust. Get the banitsa out of the oven, pour some cold water on top with your hands and cover the tray with a towel. Let it sit there for 5-10 minutes and you’re ready. You can follow a similar principle with other ingredients.

Banitsa and Bulgaria

If you every visit Bulgaria, make sure to try the local banitsa. Not getting a banitsa in Bulgaria would be like not getting a pizza in Italy, or apple pie in the USA, or fish and chips in the UK. It’s an essential part of Bulgaria’s cuisine that just about anyone can try, no matter your diet or tastes.

 

Alex Dimchev

Alex Dimchev is a writer, editor, and weapons master for EUscoop.com

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