Ćevapi and pljeskavica
Probably the most famous Balkan food, especially in Serbia and Bosnia, ćevapi can be found on virtually every corner of Belgrade, from expensive restaurants to fast food stores. The dish is made from minced meat that is grilled in a shape of a small sausage. They are usually served in portions of 5–10 pieces on a plate or in a flatbread (lepinja or somun), often with chopped onions, sour cream, kajmak, ajvar, feta cheese, minced red pepper and salt. The meat can be either beef, lamb or pork or mixed.
Pljeskavica is pretty much the same meat as ćevapi, but grilled in a shape of a burger patty which is of much larger size from the western standards. Apart from standard pljeskavica, very popular variations are “Leskovačka” which is quite spicy, and “Gurman” for which preparation varies from place to place, but usually the meat patty has a melted cheese filling.
Karađorđe’s Steak is a Serbian breaded cutlet dish. It is a rolled veal or pork steak, stuffed with kajmak, and then breaded and fried. It is served with roasted potatoes and tartar sauce. The steak is sometimes colloquially referred to as the maidens’ dream because of its phallic shape.
Meat roasted on the spit
Most commonly pork and lamb, but variations include beef, veal, goat and chicken. Another alternative way of preparation is “under sach”, where meat is slowly cooked in the specially dug out hole. In both options meat can be consummated hot or cold, normally with large portions of bread and a salad.
Sarma is a dish made out of grape, cabbage, monk’s rhubarb or chard leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat, but sometimes also rice in a vegetarian version. It is found in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire from the Middle East to the Balkans and Central Europe. Even though it has many variations, traditional Serbian sarma is made from cabbage and minced meat. It is a meal that demands a long process of preparation and slow cooking. It is also a seriously caloric, and considered to be a “winter food”.
Čvarci or “pork crisps” are another “winter dish”. This is a rustic food, usually homemade, even though sometimes they can be found on a restaurant menu. They are made by slow cooking of pig fat and considered a starter dish. They go well with beer and rakija.
Pasulj (bean soup)
Serbian bean soup is usually made of white, cranberry or pinto beans, and more rarely kidney beans. It is normally prepared with meat, particularly smoked meat such as smoked bacon, sausage, and ham hock, and it is also considered to be a winter dish. Another popular version is “prebranac” which is not really a soup but more a dry dish baked in an oven.
Fish soup is very common on menus of Belgrade, since the city is based on two rivers. It is made from river fish cooked in tomato juice and spicy paprika. Traditionally eaten with large amounts of bread. The soup be really spice sometimes so make sure to check with the waiter.
Veal or lamb soup
The name says it all, no need to explain. Very popular and very tasty.
Veal soup and shopska salad
Serbian burek is made from layers of dough, alternating with layers of other fillings in a circular baking pan and then topped with the last layer of dough. Traditionally it may be baked with no filling, with stewed minced meat and onions, or with cheese. Modern versions are cheese and spinach, potato, mushroom and pizza-burek. Burek is traditionally served with yogurt, a thick liquid drink characteristic for Balkan, not the kind of yogurt you normally see in the west. Normally eaten for breakfast.
This is a traditional Serbian breakfast made of cornmeal and usually served with white cheese and kajmak.
A salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, white brine cheese and parsley. Very tasty and goes very well with rakija.
An appetizer, but also a condiment, that can be consumed only with bread or added to soup or in a meat dish. It is a dairy product of sour taste which depends on the type of milk used in a process of production as well as the period of fermentation.
A type of relish, usually made from roasted red bell peppers, with garlic, but sometimes eggplant and chili peppers are also added. Goes very well with local cheese and dried meat.
A creamy paste made of cheese and hot chili peppers, with salt and other spices. Sometimes really spicy. Usually accompanies grilled meat.
Rakia or Rakija is the collective term for fruit brandy popular all over Balkans. Do not confuse it with Turkish raki which has a minty taste, think of it rather as fruit flavored vodka. Traditional flavors are šljivovica (plum) and loza (grape), but vilijamovka (pear) kajsijevača (apricot) and dunja (quince) are also very popular. There are no rules really and many other fruit flavors are available as well as herb, or a mixture of herbs flavors. The alcohol content is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakija can be stronger (typically 50% to 80% but going as high as 90% at times). Serbia is the world’s largest rakija producer and drinks more rakija per capita than any other country. There are at least 10,000 private producers of rakija of which only 2,000 are in the official register and only about a hundred cellar produces a high-quality product.
Serbian version of Jägermeister. A bitter liqueur based on wormwood, called “pelin” in Serbian. The alcohol content varies between 28%-35%. Great digestive.
A dark brown brandy, produced in a process of wine distillation after which it is aged in the oak barrels. Depending on the age it can be labeled VS – “very special”, VSOP – “very special old pale” and XO – “extra old”. Alcohol content is cca 40%.
There are nearly 70,000 hectares of vineyards in Serbia, producing about 425,000 tons of grapes annually. The majority of Serbian wines are produced in local wineries. Major varieties include: Belgrade Seedless, Prokupac, Sauvignon blanc, Italian Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc and Pinot noir, Hamburg, Muscat, Afus Ali, Vranac, Tamjanika, Krstač, Smederevka, and Dinka. Some rare varieties survive in Serbia, too, such as the Muscat Crocant. The eldest authentic grape sorts are considered to be Prokupac and Tamjanika. Prokupac is the sort of red wines and was known even in early Middle Ages, while Tamjanika is a Muscat sort originated from Southern France, known in Serbia for more than 500 years. Good quality wine is not usually found in small supermarkets, so look for it in larger ones or in specialized stores and restaurants.
Beer in Serbia (called “pivo”) is not really famous outside of the country. Commercial brands are not really that bad but also not exceptional, even though there is a tendency of improvement. Most popular commercial brands are Lav, Jelen and Zajecarsko. However, Serbia is slowly catching up with the trend of microbreweries and quite a few places in Belgrade offer really good crafted beer. The international selection of beers is also quite good.
Turkish (domestic) coffee
Probably the most popular Serbian drink, wit a prominent role in Serbian social life. Roasted and then finely ground coffee beans are simmered in a pot (called “dzezva”), optionally with sugar, and served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle. Even though the method of preparation is virtually the same as traditional Turkish coffee, Serbian doze is quite bigger, and even with this most Serbs drink it couple of times per day.
From the store
The most famous Serbian biscuit. Goes very well with a glass of milk or tea.
Corn-flips with taste of peanuts. Also made coated with chocolate.
A favorite sweet of many generations. Foamy filling with banana flavor, coated in dark chocolate.
Medeno srce (Honey heart)
Honey cakes with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and high percentage of dark chocolate.
A two-colored hazelnut and vanilla flavored milk and chocolate spread. Usually eaten on a slice of bread with a glass of milk in a pancake.
Just like jaffa cakes in other countries, this biscuit is made of a Genoise sponge base, a layer of orange flavored jelly and a coating of chocolate. It is very popular in Serbia. Lately new flavors have been introduced but the classical version is still the most popular.
There is a nice variety of ice creams in Serbia but if you want to try the classical flavors that are enduring decades, buy it on the street and ask for Kapri, Leni or Rumenko.
Honey and jam
Everyone knows that the best honey and jam is a home-made one. Sometimes there are small fairs on Belgrade squares where you can buy them from small producers. Another option are green markets. If you are buying at the store look for “Bakina tajna”, (Grandma’s secret) as they are made in traditional way, without preservatives and artificial aromas. Authentic Serbian flavors are those of plums and rose hip.
Want to know more? Go to our blog section – Belgrade recipes and find out how to cook Serbian-style!
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