Shopska Salad – Bulgarian “Greek” Salad

This guy from Bulgaria, Hristo, cool guy. He kept inviting me to attend a conference. I said no twice. He asked me a 3rd time. I thought, “If I don’t go this time, he won’t ask me again.” So I went.

Man, Bulgaria was amazing. I’m glad I went. I’ll go back some day and buy a condo on the Sea and spend my afternoons eating cheese and smoking short fat cigarettes that cost $1 per pack, drinking $2 750mls of rakia. I give that a year or two before I die of health complications. A life well lived.

It cost me $1k to get there on Aeroflot, from JFK through Moscow to Burgas. I don’t think you can take that flight now. From Burgas, Hristo hired me a taxi to Nessebar. I offered the cabbie $20 for the ride and he was confused. I tried $5, he refused. “I’ve already been paid!” he said in broken English. I insisted on $3, which he finally took.

I spent 4 nights in Nessebar Old Town in St. John’s Hotel, right on the Black Sea. It was $80 a night. You can’t stay in a Motel 6 for that. According to a lady I spoke to, in “new” Nessebar they call the peninsula “Fish Town”, because of the smell, she was sure to clarify. I thought it smelled just fine though, like the sea. Like a healthy girlfriend after a good sweaty workout. They left chocolates and other treats on the desk. I asked the Cocierge. It wasn’t a minibar, it was treats they left every guest. No extra charge.

The entire peninsula, 1 km x 2 km, was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing on my tiny balcony, to my left 50 meters was the Sea. In front 50 meters was the ruins of an old Roman barracks. To the right 50 meters was the ruins of an old Cathedral. A tiny bed practically on the floor in a slightly damp but very serviceable and very cozy room.

I walked the peninsula a dozen times. Everywhere was a tiny shop, a tiny hotel, a tiny bar & restaurant. Nobody knew what prices were. I had anything and everything from the menu for less than $10. They sold me pints of beer for $1, aged scotch for $3. My hotel had a little bar run by a friendly old fat man who cooked my meals. He would feed me an entree and a side, plus two beers, and charge me a whole $10. I’d give him $12 and tell him to keep it. After two nights he started bringing me extra drinks, just whatever he thought I’d like. We’d smoke his short, fat cigarettes together on the patio, and he’d give me a few to take with me. We didn’t understand each other, but we did.

I walked into Nessebar city center and ate an entire lamb shank with mashed potatoes and root veggies, had a beer, got a dessert, and only paid $15. You can barely get an appetizer at Applebees for that. These Bulgarian guys, they don’t know what prices are. I love them. Everything was half-finished Soviet blockwork right beside ancient ruins and brand new but maybe somewhat questionable construction.

One night I was at the Hemingway bar looking over the Sea. Hristo, a few of his colleagues, and I got to talking about a giant branch that went through the entire bar, and the barman brought us each a drink of rakia. “There must be some mistake,” I said, “We didn’t order this.”

“On the house!” he said, “I heard you admiring the branch. This is it’s fruit. We make it here ourselves.”

They made the house rakia from that old grape vine, could be 100 years old, maybe 500 years old. Thick as a man’s leg. The rakia was delicious.

I was walking around Fish Town and saw some new construction by the docks. I went to take a look and some fisherman said something I didn’t understand. “Huh?” I replied.

“Oh, English,” he said. About 1/3 of Bulgarians spoke fluent English, another 1/3 spoke broken English, and the last 1/3 pretended they couldn’t understand me because I wasn’t Russian. “You can’t go down there, it’s under construction.”

“What are they building?” I asked.

He searched for words. “Condos,” he came back after a moment.

“Are they for sale?” I asked. I was falling in love with the place.

He laughed. “Maybe if you’re VERY rich!”

“How much?” I asked.

He was flabbergasted. “Maybe almost 200 thousand Euros!” He said. You could stumble at your front door and fall into the Sea. The perfect place for a political assassination.

“Maybe I am very rich, then?” I thought to myself. But there was no sense telling him that. Nobody in Bulgaria knew what prices were.

After 4 days, the conference started and Hristo had me move to the “new” Nessebar town, to an all-inclusive resort a few kilometers away. They had buffet meals, and the soda fountain wasn’t soda, it was beer and wine. They sold bottles of local wine for a literal pittance. Hristo told me it was $250 per night for the resort. You can barely get a room at the Doubletree for $250, it’s not on a sea of any sort (perhaps adrift in an ocean of madness, depending on what city you’re in), and they barely even give you breakfast and coffee.

On the buffet they served some of the best food I’ve ever had. Most of it quite simple and traditional. Inspired by Germany and Russia, mostly, to suit the tastes of their main tourists. They had some of the most fanastic cheeses.

On that buffet was Shopska, and Shopska is fantastic. I’ve eaten it ever since. God bless Fish Town. Thank you Hristo.

Bulgaria is goddamn incredible. You should visit.

Shopska Salad

Bulgaria's take on the classic Greek salad
Prep Time 45 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 8 servings


  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 chef's knife
  • 1 large bowl with sealing lid
  • 1 small bowl for mashing cheese
  • 1 strong fork for mashing cheese
  • 1 salad tongs



  • 1 medium onion Vidalia preferred, else sweet, yellow, or white.
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 1 medium green pepper
  • 1 bunch green onion
  • 2-3 lbs tomatoes Roma, "on the vine", or heirloom preferred
  • 16 oz Sirene cheese aka "Bulgarian white cheese". Similar to feta, and can be substituted with feta. But get Sirene, it's just so much better.


  • dried or fresh dill
  • 8 oz pitted olives
  • 4 oz pepperocini or banana peppers
  • mint
  • parsley
  • other fresh herbs

Topping to serve

  • salt
  • lemon juice


Prep the vegetables

  • Slice the onion in half, then slice each side. Cut each side into thirds. Place in bowl.
  • Add dill, olives, herbs, pepperocini and/or banana peppers, if using them.
  • Close the lid and shake the bowl to break up the onion and mix it with the dill, herbs, and pickled veggies.
  • Split & slice cucumbers into half-moon pieces. Don't sliver them, use pieces thick enough to stab with a fork.
  • Core green pepper, cut into quarters or eights. Cut into thin slices, but not slivers.
  • Sliver green onions.
  • Add all veggies EXCEPT tomatoes, close the lid, and shake to mix.
  • Quarter the tomatoes, then slice each quarter into 7-10 slices.
  • Add tomatoes to veggie mix, close lid, and shake again to mix.

Mash the cheese & place it on top

  • Place a section of Sirene in a separate bowl.
  • Use a strong fork to mash the Sirene into crumbles.
  • Spread the crumbles over the salad mix.
  • Repeat until all Sirene is mashed & placed over the veggies.

Use Salad Tongs to serve

  • Using tongs, place a serving in a separate bowl.
  • Sprinkle salt over the serving.
  • Sprinkle lemon juice over the serving.


Shopska was invented as the Bulgarian “national salad”, as an answer to Greek salad, which is very similar, except Greek salad usually has lettuce, and uses feta instead of Sirene. 
Sirene is probably the best cheese on the planet. It’s like feta, but softer and creamier. I get it at a local mediterranean store. You can buy it online, but if you live in a bigger city, just visit a mediterranean store and if they don’t already stock it, just ask them to. My local mediterranean store started stocking it at my request, and they now carry 3-4 varieties because of how much demand there is. It frequently sells out. They didn’t even know it existed until I asked, and now it’s a top seller. Probably because it’s an incredibly good cheese! 
I never liked salad much, but Shopska showed me that I like salad, I just don’t really like lettuce. Shopska is a great salad without any lettuce, but still an actual vegetable-based salad (unlike, for example, pasta salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, etc.). 
I fell in love with Shopska when I visited Bulgaria, and have eaten Shopska for lunch practically every day since about 2020. It’s great because it’s tasty, pretty healthy, and easy to meal-prep. Just make a big bowl of it on Saturday or Sunday, and spoon out a serving all week long. 
Don’t add lettuce to this! I mean, you can if you want, but it’s best without lettuce. 
You can add other ingredients like celery or carrots if you want, but that moves you away from Shopska and into something else. 
I toss the salad a few times before adding the tomatoes, because when you toss it with the tomatoes, they release a lot of water. So tossing it without the tomatoes, then adding them, then re-tossing it with the tomatoes, minimizes how much water the tomatoes release. 
Don’t toss the salad after adding the Sirene! Leave the Sirene spread evenly over the top of the salad. 
Traditionally Shopska is served with only Sirene cheese topping, or with salt and lemon juice. You can use salad dressing, if you prefer, but that’s not how Shopska is served in Bulgaria.
I have a great Balsamic Vinagrette recipe if you want to use that instead of salt & lemon juice.