I love food. I love cooking. I love eating. I love trying new food. I love planning where to eat my next meal. I love planning what to eat for dinner while I am eating lunch. Experiencing new cuisines is one of my favourite things about travelling. It’s one of the best (and easiest!) ways to immerse yourself into a new culture. Researching the regional cuisine is normally the first thing I do when planning a trip. But seeing as I grew up in an Eastern European family, I had ignorantly assumed that there was little variation of food between countries and therefore had done no research before arriving in the Balkans. But what kind of food is Balkan? I found out was that the food differs greatly from that of countries to the north and Balkan cuisine is really worth trying!
Balkan Cuisine: Breakfast
While still possessing Slavic roots, food and drink in the Balkans are also heavily influenced by both Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. For instance, while you can definitely still find espresso-based coffee drinks, you are most likely to be served Turkish-style coffee. The coffee is ground ultra-fine, mixed with water, and heated in a small pot directly on the stove top. It is then poured, grounds and all, into a small cup. The fine grounds settle at the bottom and produce a strong and wonderful cup of coffee! The preparation differs slightly from what is traditionally done in Turkey as it is not customary to add sugar while brewing the coffee, but to dip a sugar cube in as desired while drinking. If you’re craving some Turkish coffee at home then check out this stainless steel pot and Turkish coffee set!
Alongside a coffee, if you want a typical Balkan breakfast, you cannot go wrong with Burek! Burek is a kind of pie made with phyllo and a number of different fillings — generally potatoes, cheese, spinach, or some kind of meat (typically pork, beef, or lamb). It is available at every bakery throughout the region always at an extremely affordable price. Michael and I ate burek for breakfast nearly every day during our time in the Balkans, and it was always delicious.
Other customary breakfasts include toast, a feta-like cheese, cured meats, cucumbers, tomatoes, and various spreads — like kajmak and ajvar. Kajmak is something like clotted cream, but slightly fermented so it has a more pungent taste. Ajvar is a relish made from red bell peppers, garlic, and sometimes chilli and eggplant. It is absolutely delicious, I could eat it straight from the jar! Both condiments are also not exclusive to breakfast and you will often see them on the table at any meal. Thankfully even after you come home from the Balkans, you can buy ajvar online!
Balkan Cuisine: Lunch And Dinner
Balkan cuisine is fairly meat-heavy and it can be difficult to eat like a local if you are a vegetarian. Perhaps the most prevalent dish throughout the Balkans is ćevapi. Considered to be the national dish of Serbia, ćevapi are a sort of small, caseless sausage comprised of minced meats that are then grilled. You are typically served 5 – 10 of the sausages along with diced onions, kajmak, yoghurt, and a pita-like bread.
Another common dish is pljeskavica, which is essentially a Balkan twist on the hamburger. It is a patty made with a mixture of meats such as pork (although this is unlikely in Bosnia), beef, lamb and onions. It is grilled and served on a bun with yet more onions, kajmak, and ajvar. A popular variation is šar pljeskavica where the meat is stuffed with cheese and is absolutely delicious but maybe one to avoid if you’re on a diet!
Stuffed vegetables are also very common in the Balkan cuisine, notably punjene paprike (peppers stuffed with meat, onions, and rice), stuffed cabbage or grape leaves, and punjene tikvice (stuffed zucchini).
If you fall in love with some of these dishes, then why not try recreating them at home with this Balkan cook book?
Balkan Cuisine: Drink
Last, but arguably most importantly, you can’t have an article about Balkan cuisine without mentioning rakija. Rakija is essentially the Balkan form of schnapps, a fruit brandy most commonly made with plums, but can be made from nearly any fruit under the sun. Most homes will make it themselves, but it is also available to purchase in supermarkets and liquor stores throughout. Homemade rakija can be quite strong (upwards of 60% alcohol by volume!) and there is a protocol to drinking it and not looking like an idiot!
All in all, Michael and I both very much enjoyed the Balkan cuisine and certainly ate well during our time in the region.
What are your thoughts on Balkan cuisine? What’s your favourite dish? Leave a comment below!