Every person who has passed through Serbia can testify to two things: 1) Serbian food is delicious; and 2) Serbia’s hospitality is unparalleled. Some believe that that famously welcoming spirit is due to ancient pagan beliefs. Serbs use to believe that a host will not gain any favors from the Gods if he doesn’t offer a bed and food to a guest.
Whatever the case may be, Serbs still insist on maintaining their reputation as good hosts. As such, they spoil their guests with incredible food and drink. When traveling to Serbia, pack pants that are two sizes too big. Don’t worry, you’ll fill them out in no time.
Here are 10 Serbian delicacies you must try:
1. Turkish Coffee
Serbs are not exactly like Swedes when it comes to coffee consumption, but they still love to sip a cup of this warm drink every day. People call it “domestic coffee” or “Turkish coffee.” The first coffee shops in the city, better known as “kafanas” originate from the Ottoman Empire and one of the oldest ones is called Question Mark.
This dairy dish is a popular appetizer. It is very similar to clotted cream and it’s mostly eaten with bread or with some dishes—usually pljeskavica (Balkan burger) or in pita bread with cevapi (a grilled dish with minced meat). Lepinja sa kajmakom (bun bread with kajmak) is a specialty in Zlatibor region. Nowadays you can buy kajmak in any large supermarket but you’ll find the best one at farmers’ markets across the country.
Serbs love their ajvar and they produce 640 tons of it each year. It is a spread made of red bell peppers and it may also contain garlic, chili peppers or eggplant. It’s mostly eaten on flat bread or as a side dish. There are two kinds of ajvar: one is made from roasted red peppers and the other has a more spicy kick to it as they add hot peppers.
Rakija is a fruit brandy with 40% of alcoholic content. It is mostly made out of grapes but other fruits such as peaches, pears, cherries, figs, quince are also commonly used. Some of them are sometimes mixed with herbs, honey or walnuts. People drink it as aperitif, at parties, in bars and at weddings. An average Serbian grandmother uses it as a cure against heartburn, sore throat and pretty much everything else.
In my opinion you must try these three types: 1) honey rakija: medovaca 2) raspberry rakija: malina 3) apricot rakija: kajsija.
5. Serbian Salad
This vegetable salad consists of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and is seasoned with olive oil, salt and a hot pepper called feferon. Salads in Serbia are usually eaten as a side dish along with roast meat or other dishes.
6. Karadjordje’s steak
Karadjordje’s steak is probably one of the main reasons Serbians are rated high for suffering from cardiovascular diseases. 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.
It was made by accident by a famous Serbian chef Mica Stojanovic who cooked for the likes of Tito, Queen Elizabeth II and Gaddafi. He had a guest that ordered the Chicken Kiev but he didn’t have all the ingredients and he improvised and created Karadjordje’s steak. When he garnished the steak he noticed an uncanny resemblance to “the order of the Star of Karadjordje, which is how the dish got its name.
Possibly the most popular dish on our list is sarma. This old Serbian dish has been around as long as anyone can remember. Sarma is a cabbage roll with minced meat and rice. There are many versions of sarma, some prefer to make roles out of chard with rice and tuna. Usually it’s served with a side of sour cream.
Burek is the most common breakfast order in any bakery in Serbia. The French have croissants and the Serbians have this incredible pastry with think flaky dough. It’s usually filled with minced meat or cheese. The best place to try it is in the city of Nis, where it originated here as early as 1498. It was introduced to Serbia by a Turkish baker called Mehmed O?lu.
Podvarak is an easy dish to prepare, but what makes it incredible is the quality of its ingredients. Serbians mostly eat only seasonal. In the winter there isn’t much variety in farmer’s markets, so they prepare large quantities of food preserves. In this case, barrels of fermented cabbage. Every family has at least a barrel of fermented cabbage, they use it throughout the year to prepare sarma, cooked cabbage or podvarak. Usually made from fermented cabbage, smoked pork and some other type of meat such as pork ribs or sausages.
In most Serbian households when they welcome a stranger to their home they greet them with a spoonful of slatko and a glass of water. Slatko meaning sweet in Serbian is a homemade fruit preserve. Most popular fruit preserves are made from quince, white cherries or blackberries. If you’re keen on acquiring a jar to take back home, visit any local farmer’s market.
Zorica Loncar is an author behind EuroTribe, a website that showcases European destinations, great local experiences, off the beaten path destinations and budget travel advice. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.