No matter where in Bulgaria you are, you inevitably reach a point where you enter a restaurant, sit on a wooden table, covered with a handmade tablecloth, and wonder what to order. In this case, I have a piece of advice for you – sarmi ("sarma" is the singular of this word). If you are familiar with Japanese cuisine, sarmi are the Bulgarian version of sushi.
Known as "sarma dolma" in Turkey and "sarmale" in Romania, this dish is not exclusively ours, but it is a very popular one in Bulgaria. There is a vegan version as well as one with meat, so you can adjust the recipe according to your own preferences. The principle of making it is similar all over the world, including Japan – rice and vegetables or meat, wrapped in leaves. But the details are what makes the Bulgarian sarmi stand out from the rest.
For four servings of sarmi, you would need a head of cabbage or a rope of vine leaves, 500 g of minced meat, 1 teacup of rice, half of an onion, 1 carrot, 2 teacups of water, 4 tablespoons of olive oil or some other type of oil, as well as salt and pepper. First, you cut the onion and carrot in small pieces, put them in a pan together with the oil and fry until the onion starts becoming brown. After that, you add the minced meat in the pan and squash the mixture until it becomes homogenous. Five minutes after adding the meat, you put the rice, 1 cup of water and the spices, and stir it on a lower temperature until the rice is cooked. When the rice is cooked, the mixture is ready and needs time to chill and cool down. In every leaf, you can put three or four tablespoons of the mixture and fold them. Then, you put the sarmi in a baking dish and cover them with the second cup of water, some oil and put them in the oven or boil them for about an hour.
You could try the traditional sarma dish in almost every restaurant you come across during your travels. However, I have two options for you. The first one is the restaurant "Tsarev vrah" in the RIla monastery complex. The second one is close to Gabrovo, within the ethnographical complex "Etar".
The Japanese are famous for their healthy diet, which includes rice, a lot of vegetables and fish. Although their sushi is more fashionable than our sarmi, which are served warm, this Bulgarian dish is a part of our traditional cuisine and our heritage. The vegan version of sarmi is a typical dish for the Christmas eve in Bulgaria, as it is the last day of the fasting period. So, next time you are wondering what type of food to amaze your guests with, surprise them with Bulgarian sushi. The success is guaranteed! Or even better, bring your friends to Bulgaria and make them try the original version.
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