Serbian cuisine is influenced by neighboring destinations such as Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. // © 2017 D. Bosnic
Feature image (above): Grilled meats are a focal point of Serbian cuisine. // © 2017 D. Bosnic
When it comes to eating one’s way across Europe, the menu is seemingly endless. From Italy to Spain to France — and even now to the kitchens of the U.K., Scandinavia and Germany — the options can feel dizzying. But for those who are saying “been there, done that” to Western and Northern European tables, it may be time to see what’s cooking in Serbia.
An Overview of Serbian Cuisine
Serbian cuisine — and Balkan cuisine, for that matter — is unlikely to be top of mind when it comes to savoring European flavors. But in this new age of travel, adventure and discovery, where experience and authenticity is the new luxury, Serbian cuisine is finding its time to shine.
The fabric of Serbian cuisine is woven from threads of its neighbors, with influences from Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Hungary. Serbian cuisine staples revolve around dough-based foods — such as bread, strudel and pasta — which are often complemented with chicken or beef. Spinach pies and spit-roasted pork are common in central Serbia, while the western part of the country focuses on smoked meats, specifically lamb. In the east, travelers will find shepherd’s-pie-style dishes, smoked wild boar and a regional specialty made of polenta, potato and feta cheese. Additionally, the Danube River runs throughout the country, which means that Serbian tables are often heaped with fish. A traditional fish soup is one of the most popular items to grace a Serbian menu, which is made with carp, catfish or pike.
Grilled meats have become the focal point of Serbian cuisine, such as “cevapcici” (also spelled “cevapi”), which is minced meat served with finely chopped onions, or “mesano meso,” which are mixed grilled meats that typically consist of beef burgers, meatballs stuffed with cheese and smoked ham, sausages, pork chops, shish kebab and more. Stuffed eggplant filled with lamb and pork and served with a yogurt sauce is a popular Serbian treat, too. Meanwhile, salads are a typical side dish for Serbians; generally, these consist of vegetables, cheeses or cheese spreads that are spiced up with chili peppers, onion, paprika and garlic.
Another typical Serbian treat is freshly made honey from the countryside along the Mlava and Krupajsko rivers, where beekeepers produce Homolje honey. This special honey is heralded for its medicinal purposes, which include aiding digestion and boosting the immune system. And often overlooked is Serbia’s wine region, which hugs the borders of Romania and Bulgaria. This area, known as Negotin, is known for its wine cellars that age grape varietals such as Muscat.
Where to Eat in Belgrade. Serbia
Most first-timers to Serbia will make the capital city of Belgrade their first stop. While there, don’t miss the following local restaurants for indulging in authentic Serbian cuisine.
Dva Jelena, founded in 1832, is one of the oldest restaurants in Belgrade, located in the historic and bohemian center of the city. Known for its traditional menu and old-world-style decor, this is one of the best spots in the city to taste the roots of Serbian cuisine.
Another historic restaurant to know is Question Mark Tavern, a 200-year-old establishment that is both a restaurant and a national landmark. The menu here is also made up of traditional Serbian treats.
For a side of live music with a typical Serbian menu, it has to be Reka, which features a boisterous and consistent calendar of live music.
Foodies looking for a modern twist will want to sample nouveau Serbian fare. One of the best examples in Belgrade is Manufaktura. Inside is a veritable hipster’s paradise, with wooden shelves stacked with cans, jars, jellies and different sauces and cured products. Wooden tables are decorated with humble potted herbs, while wooden boards are piled high with local cheeses and cured meats. A front counter for takeaway proudly displays hanging legs of meat, as well as a selection of salads, sauces and sausages.
For a sleek-and-chic atmosphere, visit Ambar. This modern restaurant has an industrial, minimalist vibe with clean lines and metal and wood accents. Start with the goat cheese and olive oil or the sliced prosciutto, and follow it with breaded peppers stuffed with cheese. A menu must is the charcoal roasted lamb roulade, which is roasted for six hours and serves two people.