Eastern Europe has long been a problem area for vegetarians, the lactose-intolerant, health nuts, or just anyone on a diet. A guidebook entry I once read on the Czech Republic said the three food groups were cheese, beer, and ice cream. (Not fair—it should have cabbage and potatoes in there too.) But it sure is yummy.

I just spent three weeks traveling through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria and can tell you there’s very little chance you’ll go hungry in this region, even if you’re on a tight budget. Portion sizes are on par with the U.S., sometimes even larger, and there will always be something filling. To excess sometimes: even when you get a beautiful salad with fresh local vegetables, it’s going to be covered with shredded cheese. And maybe have some chunks of white cheese in it for good measure. No dressing though unless it’s a yogurt one—mostly oil and vinegar. Here’s a slideshow of photos and if you can’t see them on your hobbled Apple mobile device, follow this link instead. Some areas have more German influence, some more Turkish, and of course climate is a factor too. But I tossed them all together to form a contour from salad through dessert.

Here’s the interesting thing: I didn’t see all that many fat people. Those who had gotten pudgy were mostly old married couples who just didn’t care anymore. I’m now convinced that the evils of eating dairy are highly suspect since all the musclebound men and curvy women I saw in Bulgaria were eating cheese and yogurt with pretty much every meal. And sometimes for dessert too.

Some of the items in that slideshow tasted a lot better than they looked. Overall, it was scrumptious. The article I’m doing for the June issue of Perceptive Travel webzine will be on Bulgaria and the connection with the land. “Slow food” is not a fad there. It’s just the way they eat.

I ate this stuff for three weeks, drank my fair share of local beer, and got home two pounds lighter. ┬áSo maybe the lesson is I should give up Cheez-its and eat fried cheese instead…

Naz-dravay! (“To your health” in Bulgarian).


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Tim Leffel is author of five travel books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and A Better Life for Half the Price, on living abroad. He is editor of Perceptive Travel webzine and this blog. He splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa Bay. See his writing portfolio, awards, and links to his books at TimLeffel.com.