Traditional Food In Serbia That You Have To Try

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Serbia has a central position in the Balkan peninsula, it is a sort of a crossroad. Over time many people settled here, bringing their own culture, customs, and food. That’s why food in Serbia is a great mix of Balkan food flavors. This country is also one of the most ethnically diverse states in the region, with over 25% of the population belonging to ethnic minorities.

Serbians view three things in high status: Novak Djokovic, Food, and Drinks. 

Since Djokovic wasn’t available for an interview, and the chances of you running into him in Serbia are pretty slim (he lives in Monaco); we are going to talk about something you will definitely get to experience: The best food in Serbia. 

What Is Special About Serbian Food?

Serbian Food is all about slow cooking and slow eating

And both processes take hours.

Despite having fast food stalls on every corner, Serbian food culture involves a lot of slow cooking. Most of the best Serbian dishes are cooked for hours in terracotta pots. Chefs start preparing them early in the morning so they would be ready for lunch. 

Minced meat for the street food barbeque dishes takes even longer to prepare. The preparations start two days before the actual cooking, so even fast food in Serbia is not fast.

Serbians also values slow eating

Eating is more of a social experience rather than just filling the stomach. 

This is also where “Meze” comes in. Meze is a common ritual in all the Balkan countries and has the same name. It’s a form of appetizer or hors d’oeuvre, usually served on a big platter. The platter consists of many different kinds of Serbian food – white and yellow cheeses, various smoked and air-dried meats, spreads, even salads. It’s served both in homes and restaurants. 

At home, people eat it before lunch while drinking traditional rakija. This ritual takes up to one hour. Sometimes, it is served for the guests that just pop by in the evening. When served at home, it symbolizes respect, closeness, and the desire to make your guest feel welcome and spend more time with you. 

It’s not important what goes into meze – It’s usually things that the host has in his fridge. What is important is the sentiment and spending time in good company. 

What Are The Best Food In Serbia?

There are so many tasty food in Serbia, here are some of the signature dishes that you should definitely not miss on your trip to Serbia:

Burek

serbian-dessert-burek
Burek fresh from Oven

As a pastry lover, this is not just a personal favorite but, by far, the most popular breakfast food in Serbia. 

Thin dough sheets stuffed with cheese, minced meat, or spinach, forms a perfect burek. The most popular is the burek with cheese, and it is also lightest on the stomach. Beware of overeating as I sometimes end up stuffing myself with too much of it after wanting to try all the flavors available.

The burek is all about the thin dough sheets. It takes years to master the art of making them as thin as possible, and the process involves using a lot of fat. That’s why burek goes extremely well with Serbian yogurt to reduce the feeling of fattiness when eating it. The dough makes a big part of a good burek.

Tip: If you don’t eat pork products, you should go for a Sarajevski Burek; it is usually made with oil or beef lard.

Cevapi And Pljeskavica

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Cevapi and pljeskavica in a tavern

These are the most popular street food in Serbia. Cevapi is essentially stick-shaped minced meat grilled on charcoal barbeque. Pljeskavica uses the same meat, but comes in the form like a burger patty. Every region in Serbia and Balkans has its version and, of course, each country claims theirs is the best one. The ingredients vary depending on the region. 

  • Leskovacki cevap. This is the most common type in Serbia. The original recipe involves only veal and beef meat, but sometimes the producers also use some percentage of pork meat. 
  • Sarajevski and Pazarski cevap. If you don’t eat pork, this is the safest version of cevap. They consist of veal and lamb meat. 

You can easily get them in restaurants, but the ones in corner street shops usually taste just as great and cost much less. These stores are also where most locals get their meal fixes, so mingle in!

Komplet lepinja

It translates as “the complete bun,” and it’s one of the best dishes in the Universe. Komplet Lepinja is a common breakfast option, but can certainly also be a good lunch. It is very filling and packed with calories.

The complete bun is a thin round bread, cut in the middle, then filled with kajmak and raw eggs. It’s all nicely mixed up inside the bread and then spiked with mocha (fat and juices left behind after pork and lamb roasting). It is all placed in the oven again, and after 10 minutes, you get one step closer to nirvana. Or a heart attack. But it’s worth it…

Sach Roasted Meat

Sach is a way of roasting food in Serbia. It’s the name of a big clay or cast iron roasting plate. The meat is placed in this dish, positioned near an open fire, and covered with burning charcoal. It’s cooked for hours, and the product is incredibly moist and soft meat. This cooking process can be used for any meat, but the most popular are lamb and veal in Serbia.

Gibanica

serbian-cheese-pie
Gibanica

This is a Serbian cheese pie, and uses thin pre-baked dough sheets. The filling includes cheese, eggs, and milk cream mix. It goes great with Serbian yogurt, and this is a typical breakfast or dinner food in Serbia. 

Gibanica can also come with meat, spinach, or pickled cabbage fillings. There’s even a vegetarian version with leek.

Svadbarski Kupus

Cabbage is all present in Serbian food culture – raw or pickled. This dish is made from raw cabbage, veal, lamb, and pork meat. They are then nicely layered into tall (2-3 ft) terracotta pots and slowly cooked on an open fire. It’s a traditional food in Serbia that is usually for wedding celebrations. However, it became so popular due to its taste, and you can now find it in many traditional restaurants.

Podvarak

Podvarak is another great meal with pickled cabbage. Sliced cabbage is cooked with smoked fatty pieces of pork meat, most commonly ribs, bacon, or shoulder. Serbian pickled cabbage differs a lot from the German Sauerkraut. It has fewer spices and many visitors who tried both prefer the Serbian version.

Sarma

famous-sarma-dish
Sarma

This is one of the most popular Serbian lunch dishes. A mix of rice, minced veal and pork meat are rolled into pickled cabbage leaves. They are then slowly cooked in a clay pot for several hours. It’s a great mix of tastes. Sometimes the chef adds smoked meat for extra flavor, and it creates an excellent mix of tastes.

You can also find vegetarian Sarma in some restaurants. They usually have the “Posno” makreting, and have a vegetables and rice filling mix.

Jagnjeca Sarma

It is a dish made from lamb liver, lungs, and heart, all nicely cut down to small pieces, fried and wrapped with caul fat (lace fat). It is slowly baked in a clay pot. Since it is quite a fatty dish, it goes very well with yogurt.

Kajmak

This is a type of salty milk cream and traditional Balkan food. Freshly boiled milk is skimmed, salted, layered up, and fermented. The process of making it is long, but the result is very impressive. Locals use it as a spread that goes great with fresh warm bread. It contains mainly milk fat, and thus a high calories count. Be careful not to succumb to the delicious goodness and overdo it.

Ajvar

serbian-cusine-ajvar
Ajvar

This is a Serbian homemade spread, but not really a dish on its own. The best way to eat it is with bread and white cheese. This special red peppers spread takes an enormous amount of time and effort to prepare. Every family is incredibly proud of their Ajvar. Do not miss out on a chance to try it when you visit a local’s place. You can also find Ajvar in supermarkets, and the more expensive ones taste like the homemade stuff.

Slatko

For something sweet, Slatko, which translates directly as “sweet,” is a good option to satisfy your dessert cravings. Slatko is a traditional food in Serbia and a way of preserving fruits for the winter by cooking them in sugar syrup. 

Various kinds of fruits can be used for this dessert; berries, plums, and cherries are common. The ones available in supermarkets can be as good as the homemade ones. 

Traditional Serbian Drinks

It’s impossible to talk about food in Serbia, and not mention traditional Serbian drinks:

Rakija

rakija-in-serbia
Plum Rakija

This alcohol drink is made by distilling different fruits. The plum rakija is the most common and easiest to find; but the most valued is rakija from quince. Many Serbians make this drink, it’s like a badge of honor to be able to make the best one. 

If you visit a Serbian home, it’s one of the first things that’s offered to you. Your host will say it with a sense of pride and a smile in the corner of his lips, saying its homemade, from his friends, father, grandfather… and so on. 

The origin of the rakija is very important – the closer the relationship with the producer is, the better

Tip: Many foreigners want to buy rakija to take home with them. You can get high quality, traditionally made rakija in supermarkets as well, but they are expensive – in line with the finest cognacs and whiskeys.

Most Serbians who don’t produce rakija, buy it from trusted friends or relatives, and the prices are much lower. If you want to buy, you can ask your hosts or Serbian friends if they have a good producer in mind.

Serbian Wines

Serbia is not particularly well known for wine production. However, for wine lovers, there are some wines made from domestic grape types that will be hard to find anywhere else: 

Red wines: 

  • Prokupac
  • Vranac

They are dry and go very well with red, strong meats.

White wines:

  • Tamjanika
  • Grasevina.

These are autochthonous wines with a strong aroma.

FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD

Where To Eat In Serbia?

It depends if whether you want a quick but hearty bite or a full course meal. In Serbia, you can get food in three types of establishments:

Fast Food Shops And Bakeries

You can find them in every corner. They offer a wide variety of foods, barbeque, crepes, pastry…. Traditional bakeries in Serbia offer a limited number of products, mostly burek. More modern ones have a large variety of pastries, even cakes. An important thing to note is that you can usually find the best burek in the old, small specialized bakeries.

Kafana

Kafanas are traditional Serbian restaurants. Apart from a charming, old-school atmosphere, they also offer rakija, smoked meats, and other different products they produce independently. Every kafana has its specialty and is famous for it. It is not uncommon to see 90% of the guests eating the same dish.

Kafana has a special place in Serbian food culture. They are not only a place to eat, but also to spend time with your friends, conduct business talks, and enjoy traditional music.

Restaurants

delicious-serbian-foods
Mix grill at a Belgrade Restaurant

Serbian restaurants are not that different from their foreign counterparts. They offer international cuisine, often combined with traditional Serbian food. If a restaurant looks expensive, it usually is.

Where Can A Vegetarian Eat In Serbia?

Although Serbian cuisine is mainly meat-based, vegetarians and vegans do have some options here. 

In bakeries, shops, and restaurants, just look for the “Posno” sign or international Vegetarian and Vegan signs. While most international restaurants have vegetarian dishes on their menu, it is harder to find them in fast food stores.

Luckily, fast food in Serbia always comes with a variety of salads and spreads. You can ask for a burger bun with all kinds of vegetables, spreads, and salads, but without the meat patty. 

What Are The Prices Of Food In Serbia?

Street food in Serbia is, like almost anywhere in the world, the cheapest way to go. 

It is not surprising that some of them serve better tasting food than those you find in restaurants and kafana. The prices of food in Serbia vary, depending on the region. Belgrade is the capital, and prices are higher than the rest of Serbia.

The cheapest food is in South Serbia, where the street food sandwich or burek will cost you from $1 to $2, a meal in kafana with a salad and a drink will cost around $10, and a restaurant will be slightly more expensive.

The prices of food in Serbian supermarkets are comparable to the ones in the European Union.

Dolina Gladi (aka the Valley of Hunger)

If you do visit Belgrade, you may hear of this street. It’s an interesting name for one of the Belgrade’s best food spots. The entire street is packed with fast food stores, and this is the place to stop for a quick bite after a night out. The food selection is enormous with many international dishes there.

No matter what dish you choose, you are in for a treat with food in Serbia. To burn off your calories, here are some of the best things to do in Belgrade!

PLANNING YOUR TRIP? CHECK THESE RESOURCES!

Book Your Flight

I usually use a combination of 2-3 of the following search engines to find cheap flights: Skyscanner, Momondo, Google Flights

Find Your Accommodation

Booking.com is my usual platform for finding accommodation options as they have one of the largest selections. Hostelworld is great for booking hostels. For more private or long term accommodation, Airbnb is my go-to platform.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is important for to protect yourself against unforeseen circumstances. I usually look at a few insurance companies depending on my travel needs.
  • SafetyWings for Travel Health Insurance
  • IMG Global for added Insurance when doing activities outside of usual coverage
Packing for your trip? Check out the packing list for ideas on what to bring

For more travel resources, check out my resources page for best platforms and companies to use when you travel.

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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.

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