Like the Balkans, Balkan cuisine is far from homogenous. However, there are some positions on their menu that we found in more than one country we visited. On the other hand, we managed to try plenty of traditional, country-specific dishes as well. It’s impossible to try everything in just 2 weeks, therefore our personal list consists of our favourites and the most memorable things we had on our Balkan trip. In Bosnia we fell in love with deliciously prepared meat, burek and shopska salad. In Montenegro and Croatia, we ate various types of camalari, in Macedonia we loved pindjur. Albanian cuisine was more similar to Turkish and Greek rather than Balkan, there’s also plenty of Italian restaurants and pizzerias there – “piceri” is the most popular sign in most of the large resorts! Turkish and Greek twists can also be found in Macedonian cuisine. Turkish baklava is a number one dessert everywhere here.
On your trip to the Balkans, be sure to try:
1) ĆEVAPI / ĆEVAPČIĆI
Ćevapčići (usually called cevapi in Bosnia) is where you should start! Especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina where you will find it in pretty much every restaurant and additionally in tiny joints called cevabdzinica that specialise in this very meal. Ćevapi are little meat rolls made from beef or lamb, grilled and often served with capsicum sauce called ajvar, chopped onion and delicious, soft pita bread. In Albania they call it qofte, while in Macedonia – kebap or kebapci in – you will easily find it in Čaršija – the Muslim district of Skopje.
Pljeskavica is yet another dish for meateaters: a round burger of a significant size, usually made from various types of meat (lamb, beef, pork), sometimes filled with cheese, best with ajvar. If you happen to be in Mostar, best order a meat platter. We usually waive from ordering this type of meals for more than one person, but in Bosnia it’s a good idea – everything is delicious and you can quickly decide what to eat in the following days.
Ajvar is a paste made from minced red pepper, usually with an addition of aubergine, tomatoes and garlic. In some Balkan countries it’s an obligatory side – a bit like tzatziki in Greece. In Bosnia it’s everywhere and we still asked for a second helping everywhere we had it – we liked it so much! Wait, no: for Łukasz it was not spicy enough. Ajvar “left us” in Montenegro and Albania and returned in Macedonia.
4) BALKAN CHEESE
Cheese is a piece of cuisine we are always eager to try. We love French, Italian and Spanish cheese, we eat lots of goat’s cheese, feta and queso manchego. On our Balkan trip we nibbled on salty cottage cheese and hard Macedonian cheese, preferably with ajvar or spicier lutenica.
5) SHOPSKA SALAD
If you’re not sure what to order, or are tired of meat (like I was after several meaty feasts!), shopska salad may be a thing for you. Simple, easy to prepare and very tasty. Tomatoes, cucumbers, bright pepper and lots of grated cottage cheese. Yummy! You will find it in Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro.
I already wrote about burek in the entry about our trip from Mostar to Sarajevo since it’s a perfect snack for the trip or for breakfast. Burek is made from Danish pastry and filled with meat, cheese, spinach, potatoes or even pumpkin. Everyone will find something suitable. I loved the cheese one which tasted a bit like my favourite Georgian khachapuri. You will find Burek in bakeries; in Bosnia, also in buregdzinica 🙂
7) STUFFED VEGETABLES
Another popular dish, both in Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia. Stuffed peppers, courgettes or aubergines. Sometimes with meat, rice and vegetables, sometimes with cheese or vegetables only. Cooked, baked or fried in light batter like peppers with delicate cottage cheese in Old House restaurant in Skopje.
8) PINDJUR AND LUTENICA
We were quite lucky in Skopje, since we tasted local cuisine with an original Macedonian serving as our guide. We instantly fell in love with vegetable pastes that tasted perfect with bread, cheese or stuffed vegetables I mentioned before. Pindjur is our definitive number one – made from aubergines, grilled pepper, tomatoes and garlic. We kind of ate it by the spoon! The spicier version of ajvar – lutenica was quite interesting too – also red pepper based but spicier with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes.
9) FISH SOUP
You will find fish soup (riblija corba) with vegetables in many places in Montenegro. The soup is quite delicate, the fish taste is a bit overshadowed by the tomatoes and spices, so if you love fish like Łukasz, it may not be the best thing for you. I liked the delicate flavour, though and Maks really fell in love with the soup.
10) CALAMARI, MUSSELS, SEAFOOD
Obviously it’s seafood that rules on the coast of Croatia and Montenegro! My beloved fried calamari was the first meal I ordered after a long trip and 3 hours of sleep, when we finally sat down in a charming little restaurant in Rovinj. We then ate calamari on numerous occasions – fried, grilled and stuffed. Unfortunately in Montenegro, calamari wasn’t always prepared well – I often knew that they were fried too long and the golden rings were unpleasantly hard. Our favourite were those served in Tre Lipe in Herceg Novi, stuffed with cheese and ham and in Castio by the beach in Petrovac – spiced up with garlic. Łukasz tried mussels too, but in most places they weren’t as good as in… Belgium 🙂 In Croatia and Montenegro you will also find plenty of fish, shrimps or spaghettis and risottos with seafood
11) BOSNIAK COFFEE
Bosniak coffee is an obligatory “dessert” or an addition to breakfast in Bosnia. What’s so special about it? The fact that it’s served in a tiny pot with sweet “lokum” cake. It’s supposed to be consumed in accordance to a special ritual: first lokum, then water and then coffee.
We tried peksimet quite accidentally. We ordered a snack platter in Hindin Han in Mostar. Apart from cheese and cold cuts we got fluffy and crispy buns, a bit similar to Polish racuchy, going well with cheese and cold cuts. That’s what peksimet is! Quite heavy, but very tasty. I still can’t forgive myself that I haven’t tried uštipci – racuchy with apples which are served in Bosnia – but only before noon! I wanted to try it in Montenegro but it turned out (to my horror!!!) that there, uštipci means something completely different. Imagine how disappointed I felt when I got a pile of meat spiced with onion and pepper, served with greasy potatoes while I expected sweet racuchy! I was heartbroken!
I guess I don’t have to tell you what a Baklava is since most of you know it. It’s definitely the most popular dessert in Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Usually served in a classic manner, with nuts, sometimes also available in less traditional versions – in the old town of Budva, we found a bakery that sold baklava with coconut and cherries. Amazing!
14) WATER CHESTNUTS
Not necessarily a typical Balkan snack, but it has its own charm if you’re sailing on Lake Skadar. After the cruise, try a fish straight from the lake – a carp or a trout.
15) TAVCZE GRAVCZE AND PASTRAMALIJA
Tavcze gravcze is a traditional Macedonian dish and also Maks’ favourite words after our Balkan trip (“trzęsienie ziemii” – Polish for earthquake, is his second favourite ). We will surely remember the name, however the dish itself is not really my cup of tea – stewed beans in tomato sauce, baked in a stone pot, does not look too interesting compared to other things we tried. Pastrmajlija is a type of bread with a traditional filling: bits of pork and hot pepper. It looks and tastes a bit like Turkish pide, but Macedonians don’t like this comparison, as they don’t like comparing it to pizza. 🙂
Macedonian or Montenegrin red wines are a perfect addition to dinners in the Balkans. The wine enhances the flavours beautifully!
* the entry was written in cooperation with HTC. All pictures were taken withHTC One (M8).