Serbian traditional food is a delicious blend of smells and tastes of the Balkans. Thanks to its position in a region of the Southeast Europe - crossroads between the West and the East, Serbian cuisine was influenced by the various peoples who have lived in this part of the Balkans for centuries, or were just passing through.
For almost five centuries this region was occupied by the Ottoman Turks and Austro-Hungarians, so the Serbian cuisine became a fusion of the two. Still, there is a dish that does not have roots in any of a mentioned - proja (corn flour, milk and white cheese, baked in the oven, cut into pie squares).
Serbians like to spend much time eating and socializing. Even though it is less common in the big cities, the tradition of long and large meals - afternoon lunch on weekends is much alive in smaller places where the occasion is always for the whole family to gather.
The love of food and its diversity, made Belgrade one of the top food destinations in this region. Belgrade culture is strongly connected to restaurants and night life. If you come to the Serbian capital, you will soon discover there are more than plenty restaurants, cafes and fast food venues that can satisfy your appetite (of which delicious Serbian snacks in local bakeries make some of the top choices).
On the list of what to visit in Belgrade, don’t miss one of its centrally located open green markets – pijaca. Selling mostly the organic food from village producers, it is a place where Belgradians do their weekly vegetable/fruit/dairy products shopping, mostly on weekends.
Serbians love peppers, and prepare almost anything of it. From the famous baked peppers salad - pečene paprike in a sauce with oil and garlic, to delicious ajvar (baked peppers – red pimentos or red/yellow bell peppers, cooked in sunflower oil). In the heat of the late August, south of Serbia is famous for drying peppers. The entire villages become red for the peppers are dried hanged on the walls of houses (punjene paprike are peppers stuffed with minced meat, rice and spices).
Being by far the most popular Serbian food, sarme are stuffed sour cabbage rolls (minced meat, onion, rice, spices). In the spring, sarme od zelja are stuffed in the long green leaves known as zelje (“patience dock”, in English). In the summer, punjene tikvice (stuffed zucchinis) are the most common dish, so are the stuffed vine leaves.
Sour taste lovers must try turšija, the pickled vegetables - cucumber, peppers, cauliflower, carrots, prepared by the housewives together with marmalades (rose hip and plum marmalade being the most common). Winter time is famous for beans, of which prebranac dish is the most known (layers of white navy beans and onion, baked in the oven). Typical to Serbian countryside, čvarci (chvartsi) are a kind of pork rinds like salty crisps, made of fat thermally extracted from the lard.
Serbians are known for their mastering grill techniques. Serbian barbeque - roštilj includes ćevapćići (small rolled pieces of minced meat), ražnjići (white pork meet cut into squares, put onto large toothpicks like barbeque skewers), pljeskavica (Serbian hamburger), etc.
You must try Serbian Style Moussaka - musaka, as well as Karađorđeva šnicla (Karadjordje’s Schnitzel), rolled pork meat stuffed with yellow cheese and bacon, baked and breaded, served with tartar sauce.
One thing you should not miss is a large variety of delicious dairy products including jogurt (in Serbia, yoghurt is a thick texture sour drink). Don’t miss kiselo mleko, low fat cream made of cow or sheep milk. Another dairy delicacy is kajmak, spread over bread as a breakfast dish, but also put aside warm barbeque to deliciously melt over the meat! Try different kinds of white cheese - from hard and salty Sjenički sir, soft young white cheese - mladi beli sir, to švapski sir (grated white cheese) ideal for the famous Serbian dish – gibanica (cheese pie with filo - Serbian pastry and eggs).
Belgrade lies on a confluence of two rivers – Danube and Sava, and Serbian river fish is an integral part of its cuisine. Old part of Zemun (district by the River Danube) has lots of fish restaurants. Fish soup is a local delicacy - with laurel and sweet pepper powder, especially if eaten in less remote restaurants.
Serbian sweets include fruit pies made of filo pastry (apple and sour cherry pie being the most common), but also cakes made of butter, flour and walnut pastry with lots of chocolate. Besides creamy krempita and šampita, many cakes have their origin in the Hungarian or Austrian tradition, such as Doboš torta and šnenokle (“floating islands”), prepared from whipped egg whites and quickly poached, and with the egg yolks, vanilla and hot milk, briefly cooked.
By far the best way to get to know the Serbian cuisine is to visit a Serbian family in the time when they celebrate “Slava”. Slava is medieval Serbian family tradition - celebration of the family patron saint, strongly connected to the religion of Orthodox Christianity. It is a social event that brings together the whole family and friends - time when the best Serbian festive meals are served to the honored guests. Traditionally, the guests for Slava are not to be invited but come on their own and are expected! Recently, Serbian Slava is inscribed on the Representative list of the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
If you come to Slava, you will be greeted with žito (mashed cooked wheat with sugar) and Serbian plum brandy Šljivovica. For those who prefer more traditional drinks, there are lots of fine Serbian wines (e.g. Vranac), as well as beer brands (e.g. “Lav”, “Jelen”). Before you leave, you will be offered a black coffee made by boiling ground coffee beans with water and sugar then serving the result into smaller cups, where the grounds are left to settle.
Bon appetite, or in Serbian – Prijatno!