Best Balkan Food Guide: 25+ Authentic Balkans Food You Want To Try

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Balkan food, underrated and not well known, is rich in diversity and cultural influences.

At the crossroads of cultures and people, the Balkans was once part of the Byzantine and Roman Empires and under Ottoman rule for centuries.

As a result, traditional Balkan cuisine is a blend of eastern and western influences. The food is rich in taste, flavor and rooted in culture.

As we traveled through the Balkans for almost nine months, we were struck by the pride and identity of the regional cuisines.

In the ex-Yugoslavia countries we visited many of the national dishes are similar yet prepared differently in each country.

On the whole, Balkan food is fresh, locally grown and incredibly tasty. Given the vastness of the region and variations of recipes, it’s impossible to cover all Balkan foods in this article.

Therefore, consider this Balkan food guide as an introduction to some of the popular Balkan foods. 

From starters to main dishes, desserts and drinks, discover the delicious secrets of Balkan cuisine.

And, if you want to get started with Balkan food, be sure to check out the simple Balkan recipes below.

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What is Balkan Food?

The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula is a region in southeastern Europe. The name comes from a Turkish word that means “Mountain” in reference to the rugged mountains running through the region. 

Balkan cuisine is a developing cuisine with influences throughout the ages. The food combines influences from Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, and Mediterranean cuisines. 

Food from the region is diverse with dishes from the mountains and specialties from the great rivers, lakes, and seas.

Balkan food is simple and made with abundantly grown local vegetables and produce. While meat dishes play a central role, the mouthwatering flavors go way beyond. 

The celebration of traditional Balkan dishes bonds families together. Many of the regional foods are made from treasured family recipes which change based on the seasons.

A generous spirit of hospitality greets visitors with a welcoming sweet or drink and copious servings.

Balkan food deserves more of a spotlight and we invite you to get to know it.

Best Balkan Food For Starters

1 – Dips – Ajvar, Pindjur and Lutenitsa

Ajvar Roasted Red Peppers Sauce Montenegro by Authentic Food Quest
Ajvar is a rich red relish made with roasted red bell peppers and eggplants

Sauces, dips and condiments are commonly found in Balkan cuisine. They are served as starters, alongside meat dishes or as salads.

Ajvar, one of the most popular spreads in the Balkans is one you will inevitably run into. Pronounced EYE-var, this rich red relish made with roasted red bell peppers and eggplants is found in abundance, particularly in the fall months. 

Lutenitsa, another traditional Balkan spread, is famous in Bulgaria. It is considered a national dish in the country. Unlike Ajvar which does not contain tomatoes, lutenitsa combines eggplants, red peppers, tomatoes, carrot and seasoning.

Pindjur, the pride of North Macedonia, is a luscious summer relish. The main ingredients are peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, with variations found across the Balkan region.

Red Peppers in Belgrade by Authentic Food Quest
Luscious red peppers are most often one of the ingredients for the dips

These Balkan dips and spreads are some of the most popular ones you’ll find throughout the Balkans. There are other variations of these spreads that go by different names in the different countries.

Not just a spread, the recipes are different and considered a matter of pride in each family and country. 

These popular spreads have their origins as a way of feeding families fresh vegetables during the winter months. 

Regardless of what time of the year you visit the Balkans, you will come across these popular dips. Sample them and ask about the ingredients used. 

Slather them on bread, nibble on them with cheese and have them with your meat dishes. 

Just as we did, you’ll find your favorites and discover why these spreads are much loved across the Balkans.

RELATED: 17 Authentic Montenegrin Foods And Drinks You Want To Try

2 – Cured Meats – Prust, Sudjuk, Lukanka and More

Elena Fillet and Lukanka are Traditional Bulgarian Foods AuthenticFoodQuest
Bulgarian cold cuts – Elena fillet and Lukanka

Cured meat like prosciutto, bacon and ham are staples within Balkan cuisine. Each country has their own specialities and ways of preparing them.

One of the most popular is njeguški pršut or prosciutto from the Njegusi area in Montenegro.

In Bulgaria, Sudjuk, which resembles salami, is popular as well as Lukanka and our favorite Elena fillet.

The cured meats are typically eaten as a starter alongside cheese as part of a charcuterie board. 

If you are looking for a taste of Balkan starters, order the cheese and cured meat platter for regional favorites.

3 – Balkan Cheese – Sir

Kosi Sir Montenegro Cheese by Authentic Food Quest
Kozji sir at a local Montenegro Green Market

Cheese is a popular staple in the Balkan, known as Sir or Syr for “cheese”. The name of the cheeses typically refers to the region they come from.

Some of the common cheese in the Balkans comes from Njeguši, Sjenica, Šar or Zlatar. You will find them referred to as Njeguši Sir, Sjenica Sir, Šar Sir and Zlatar Sir.

There are typically two types of Balkan cheese, white and yellow cheese.

Some of the most traditional white cheeses resemble Feta cheese made with cow, goat or sheep milk. It is sometimes referred to as Sirene cheese, especially in Bulgaria.

White goat cheese known as Kozji sir is one we particularly enjoyed and recommend for its mild and soft taste.

It is best to always taste the cheese you’re looking to buy as the degree of saltiness can vary greatly.

The yellow cheese is generally a mild semi-hard paste made from cow or sheep milk. Kashkaval is a popular cheese across several Balkan countries and more specifically, in Bulgaria.

Some yellow cheeses from Njeguši in Montenegro are served in olive oil, giving them a slightly fruity and grassy taste.

Overall, Balkan cheeses do not go through a long maturation process. About three months of aging is a typical maturation period.

In the Balkans, cheeses can be served as an appetizer, in salads, pastries, grilled, or cooked with meat dishes.

If you are curious about Balkan cheese, consider visiting the Balkan cheese festival held in Serbia every November.

Best Balkan Breakfast Food

4 – Burek – Iconic Balkan Street Food

Burek Best of Balkan Foods by Authentic Food Quest
One of the many plates of Burek we savored in the Balkans

Burek, a beloved street food, is popular throughout the Balkans. It originated from the Ottoman Empire and spread around Europe, parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Generally, burek is the name given to a family of phyllo dough stuffed pastries. The pastries traditionally are filled with meat, spinach, cheese or potatoes. 

While traveling through the Balkan region, you’ll see many different shapes of burek. Most are coil shaped and you’ll also see triangular and skinny cigar-shaped phyllo pastries.

While eaten at any time of the day, burek is typically eaten for breakfast accompanied with a side of plain yogurt.

On your Balkan travels be sure to try the different expressions of burek. In Bulgaria, it goes by banitza or banitsa and it is a symbol of national pride. 

While in Skopje, North Macedonia, we had the pleasure of discovering one of the most unusual versions of burek. 

Skopje’s traditional breakfast, known as simit-pogacha, is burek pastry stuffed between two buns.

Beyond savory versions, burek also comes in sweet versions. Apple burek in Belgrade, Serbia was one of the most memorable sweet burek’s we tried.

Burek, a delicious Balkan filo pastry dish is not to be missed. As you travel around the many Balkan countries, be sure to try the different versions and fillings.

5 – Yogurt

Bulgarian Yogurt AuthenticFoodQuest
Bulgarian yogurt pairs perfectly with cherries or other fruits

Yogurt has a long history in the Balkans and most notably in Bulgaria. Known as Kiselo Mlyako or sour milk in Bulgaria, it is said to date back to the Thracians times around 4000 and 6000 years ago.

The probiotic yogurt has a specific bacteria, lactobacillus bulgaricus, which naturally ferments the milk into yogurt. 

A culinary flexible dish, yogurt is used in a variety of dishes. It’s found in soups, used as a topping for main dishes and consumed alongside pastries across the Balkans.

Be sure to explore the yogurt on your Balkans travels. The yogurt has a slightly sour taste and comes in a wide range of fat levels from 2% to 10%.

With the Ottoman influence in the region, you’ll also find a yogurt based drink known as Ayran.  It’s made with yogurt, water and salt and is particularly popular in the hot summer months. 

In Bulgaria, we tried sweet versions of Ayran which have strawberries, blueberries or mixed fruits blended in. 

In Albania, ayran is referred to as Dhalle. We definitely recommend trying the yogurt based drinks in the different Balkan countries you visit.

RELATED: Bulgarian Food Guide – What To Know and Love

Best Vegetarian Balkan Foods

6 – Shopska Salad – One of The Most Famous Balkan Salads

Generous plate of the traditional Shopska salad

In general, Balkan food is replete with fresh and flavorful vegetables. Much of the produce is locally grown resulting in some of the best-tasting vegetables you’ll ever have.

For instance, tomatoes in Bulgaria are sought out and distinguished for their sweetness. They are pink tomatoes of the Kurtovo Konare variety and are in the Shopska Salad, the country’s national dish.

This salad is also popular in Macedonia and Serbia who also claim it with their own unique produce and domestic cheese.

This simple salad consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion, white cheese, fresh parsley garnished with vinegar and sunflower or olive oil.

We couldn’t get enough of the Shopska salad in Bulgaria and enjoyed it as an accompaniment to grilled meat dishes.

While in Serbia we also enjoyed Serbian salad, which is erroneously called the Shopska salad. It has similar ingredients but without cheese. 

Another one of our favorite salads in Serbia was the Belolučene paprika salad. A popular side dish made with long skinny roasted sweet red peppers, garlic, fresh parsley, vinegar, sunflower oil, and salt.

If your Balkan travels take you to Macedonia, be sure to try a tomato salad made with the country’s famous jabuchar tomatoes. 

This native tomato variety from North Macedonia is large in size and pink in color. It’s used in the Macedonia salad which consists of jabuchar tomatoes, roasted peppers, onions, and parsley for garnish.

Throughout the Balkans, you’ll find a variety of flavorful fresh salads. Try as many as you can and savor the flavors. One tip is to ask for the domestic olive oil to spread on your salad.

7 – Balkan Bean Stews, Soups and Casserole Dishes

Tavce Gravce Baked Bean Dish from Macedonia by Authentic Food Quest
Tavče Gravče, Macedonia’s national bean dish

Bean stews are one of the most beloved Balkan dishes. You’ll find hearty dishes prepared with beans commonly eaten throughout the region.

Not surprisingly, each country has its own unique recipes and preparation styles. The bean stews are traditionally prepared without meat and eaten during the winter months or during Lent.

One of the most famous bean dishes is Tavče Gravče, a baked bean dish considered the national dish of North Macedonia. 

In Montenegro, Serbia, and also found in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Prebranac, another classic Balkan bean dish.

In Bulgaria, we relished Bob Chorba, a white bean stew cooked in clay pots. 

Many of the Balkan bean soups are variations of the same dish. Each is prepared with locally available beans while cooked and seasoned differently.

So, no matter what Balkan country you visit, be sure to try the bean dishes. Beans play a significant role in traditional Balkan cuisine and these dishes pack a delightful punch of flavor. 

8 – Sarma – Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed Cabbage Balkan Food by Authentic Food Quest
Traditionally stuffed cabbage made with minced meat and rice

Stuffed cabbage is a traditional Balkans food with Turkish origins. The word ‘“sarma” is derived from the Turkish word “sarmak” meaning “to wrap”.

This dish became popular with the spread of the Ottoman Empire. And, each country has its own name for stuffed cabbage and unique recipes.

While stuffed cabbage is known as sarma in Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, the recipes differ. 

In Romania, stuffed cabbage goes by sarmale, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina you’ll also find it referred to as japrak or sarmice.

Regardless of name or recipe, there are two main elements that make up stuffed cabbage. The stuffing and the wrapper.

Traditionally, stuffed cabbage in the Balkans is made with minced meat and rice that is simmered in oil with onion. The stuffing is wrapped in sour cabbage leaves cooked in a large pot. 

Sometimes the cured meats, smoked ribs, or bacon is added to the stuffing. 

However, today, you can also find non-meat versions. For the stuffing, ingredients like carrots, parsley, garlic, celery, tomato sauce, and yogurt can also be used. 

Besides cabbage leaves, sarma can also be wrapped in grape leaves, collard greens or native greens like raštan from Montenegro.

While you’ll find sarma all year round, it is a typical winter dish and eaten at festivities and holidays.

9 – Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers with Cheese Serbia by Authentic Food Quest
Like many other Balkan dishes, stuffed peppers can have different names

Stuffed peppers are part of traditional Balkan cuisines. Traditional recipes call for bell peppers stuffed with a mix of minced meat, rice, and spices in tomato sauce. 

Like many other Balkan dishes, stuffed peppers have different names within the Balkan peninsula. 

In Croatian and Serbian it’s called punjena paprika, filovana paprika in Bosnian, palnena chushka in Bulgarian, and polneti piperki in North Macedonia.

Peppers are most commonly used for stuffed vegetables. Traditionally, locally grown fresh green or yellow bell peppers are used. 

However, in some places like in southeastern Serbia around Pirot and Dimitrovgrad, dried red peppers are used.

In the past, this succulent Balkan food was served in the summer months when the peppers were in season. And, the variation with the dried peppers were eaten during the winter months.

Similar to sarma, you’ll also find non-meat versions of stuffed peppers. If you are looking for a vegetarian option, simply ask in advance if the stuffing has meat.

Generally,  stuffed peppers are typically eaten at lunch all year around. They are a flavorful and wholesome dish, and one for your Balkan food list.

RELATED: Top 15 Authentic Food in Greece You Want To Savor

10 –  Proja – Traditional Cornbread

Proha CornBread by Authentic Food Quest
Traditional proja or Balkan cornbread

Cornbread or proja in the Balkan region is a simple bread that is growing in popularity today.

It is also known as the “peasant” proja as it reflects the poverty people suffered in the aftermath of the Yugoslavia wars. 

In those days it was traditionally prepared with the basic accessible ingredients of cornflour, water and salt.

Unlike cornbread in the US, proja is quite dry and is not fluffy nor sweet. It’s made by mixing corn flour with boiling water and salt. 

When the dough is well mixed, it’s poured in a pan and baked in an oven until golden brown.

Proja is typically eaten savory with cured meats, sour milk, domestic cheese or with kaymak, a delicious local dairy product.

As you travel through the Balkans and Eastern Europe, you’ll come across different types of proja. 

We saw them shaped like muffins, sliced into small squares or triangles and some thicker than others.

This dish born of poverty in the past is now a recognized specialty. You’ll also come across modern interpretations known as projara or projanica

This is a fancy version of proja that includes the additional ingredients of wheat flour, eggs and yogurt.

Best Balkan Foods with Meats

11 – Grilled Meats – Cevapi, Kofte And More

Cevapi Grilled Meat by Authentic Food Quest
Cevapi, the most popular Balkan sausages

Grilled meat dishes are popular throughout the Balkans and are a staple in the different Balkan countries.

While pork is quite prominent, you’ll also find lamb, chicken and veal on several menus. Beef consumption, we learned, has been increasing over the years, but it is not as popular as pork.

The meat dishes are prepared in various ways. Grilled meats are the most popular though you’ll also find meat slow-cooked in stews or used to stuff cabbage, peppers and more.

The most popular Balkan sausages are Cevapi, Ćevapi, Cevapcici, or Ćevapčići. You’ll no doubt come across this popular Balkan food on your travels.

Cevapi sausages are very particular. They are made of a mixture of pork, beef, and lamb of different proportions. They are typically molded by hand and do not have any sausage casing. 

Served grilled, they are a popular street food.

These Balkan sausages are considered a national dish in many countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and others.

Eaten as a sandwich, cevapi sausages are stuffed into a flatbread, known as lepinja in Serbian, and smeared with ajvar sauce. 

As a dish, you can have five or 10 cevapi sausages along with roasted or fried potatoes and a salad.

Beyond the finger-sized cevapi sausages, meatballs known as kyufte in Bulgaria or qofte in Albania are also popular.

Similar to meatballs they can be made with ground beef and pork and in some cases also stuffed with domestic cheese. 

No matter how you choose to have your grilled meat and sausages, you’ll have a tasty and enjoyable adventure.

12 – Balkan Burger – Pljeskavica

Balkan Burger Plejskavica by Authentic Food Quest
Pljeskavica local burger in Serbia

Every country has its own burger and way of creating this much loved fast food delight. 

Pljeskavica, a wide burger from Serbia is also popular in other Balkan countries like Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina.

Its origins are attributed to the personal chef of Josip Broz Tito during the era of the Republic of Yugoslavia.

Milovan Mića Stojanović, the personal chef, created the recipe that eventually formed the basis for all other pljeskavica recipes.

This Balkan burger consists of a large flat meat patty inside a flatbread known as lepinje or lepinja.

The meat patty consists of a combination of either pork, lamb, or minced beef. And, there are regional differences in the proportions and types of meat used.

The burger is served with a soft, fluffy lepinja flatbread along with sliced onions, shaved cabbage, and slathered with ajvar.

This delicious burger was one of Claire’s favorite Balkan foods. The bread is slightly charred giving it a nice crunch to the meat. 

This unique burger gets its name from the word pljeskati which means “to clap the hands” the motion used to form the thin patties.

13 – Lamb Cooked Under The Bell

Lamb Cooked Under The Bell by Authentic Food Quest
Lamb cooked under the bell, one of the first meals we enjoyed in Montenegro

Cooking under the bell is a traditional way of cooking meat dishes in the Balkans. This style of cooking involves placing pieces of lamb or any meat in a pot and covering it with a bell-shaped lid known as sač

The sač, also called peka, is buried in hot embers and left to cook in its own juices for several hours. 

The result is succulent fall-of-the-bone meat full of flavor and aromas.  This way of preparing food has its roots in Ottoman cuisine and is common in Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and others.

Ispod sača or lamb roasted under the bell was one of the first meals we enjoyed in Montenegro. We also savored veal with potatoes cooked in the same manner.

While in Albania and Serbia, we enjoyed other traditional Balkan foods cooked under the bell. 

From casserole meat dishes, bread and burek, this ancient cooking technique yields tasty dishes worth seeking out.

14 – Goulash – Thick Meat Stew

Goulash Balkan Meat Stew by Authentic Food Quest
Popular throughout the Balkans, goulash is not to be missed

With Austro-Hungarian origins, goulash spread throughout the region becoming a staple Balkan food.

In the Balkans, goulash is a thick stew prepared from beef, veal, pork, lamb, or sometimes game meat. It also can include vegetables like onions, pepper, tomatoes, and carrots.

In Serbia, goulash is a national dish and eaten as a main meal with pasta, potatoes or polenta.

Besides paprika the main seasoning, other spices like cumin, marjoram, bay leaf, and black pepper are used. It is traditionally served as a main dish with pasta, potatoes, or polenta.

Goulash in Slovenia is a national dish that is steeped in history. It combines onions and two or more types of meat in equal proportions commonly served with mashed potatoes.

Croatian goulash or gulaš is popular in most parts of the country. In the north, there’s a special type of gulaš called “lovački gulaš” or hunter’s goulash which uses wild boar meat instead of beef. 

There is also a porcini mushroom goulash or gulaš od vrganja. In Croatia, the goulash is typically served with polenta, pasta, and vegetables.

Popular throughout the Balkans, goulash is not to be missed. Incredibly full of flavor with tender chunks of meat, you’ll enjoy the different versions as we did.

Best Fish and Seafood in The Balkans

15 – Lake Fish – Fresh Trout and Carp

Trout and Carp from Lake Skadar Montenegro by Authentic Food Quest
Trout and carp specialties from Lake Skadar

Fish from the rivers and lakes throughout the Balkans features heavily in the local cuisine. 

Freshwater fish is particularly popular and found on many local menus. Trout is one of the most common fish we had in the different Balkan countries we visited.  

Fresh trout from Lake Ohrid, shared by both Albania and Macedonia is a popular Balkan food and one we enjoyed.

In Montenegro, we discovered and savored Carp, a native freshwater fish from Lake Skadar, southern Europe’s largest lake.

On your travels throughout the Balkans, there’s no doubt you’ll run into dishes made with fresh lake fish. 

The fish is simply prepared. Our favorite was grilled trout, garnished with olive oil and fresh herbs. It was served with freshly cooked potatoes and a small side salad.

The simplicity and flavors of a lightly grilled fish dish is worth seeking out.

16 – Balkan Seafood – Mussels, Oysters, Squid and More

Mussels Kotor Montenegro by Authentic Food Quest
Freshly caught mussels in Kotor Bay, Montenegro

The coastlines of the Balkans, along the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, offer more than just pristine beaches.

The culinary treasures from the sea include traditional fish soups, grilled fish, fresh mussels, oysters, shrimp, and much more.

Freshly caught mussels are a beloved Balkan food. You’ll find them typically referred to as mussels alla buzara and are served in either a red or white wine sauce.

Black Squid Ink Risotto is another popular Balkan seafood dish that is a specialty of several countries. 

While the recipes differ in the various Balkan countries, the ominous black color is consistent. Generally, it is a perfectly cooked risotto with a deep black color from squid ink along with tender slices of squid.

This rich risotto is a delicacy not only for the adventurous. It was one of our favorite Balkan foods to eat overlooking the water.

Best Balkan Desserts

17 – Baklava

Baklava Balkan Dessert by Authentic Food Quest
Baklava, a staple in most Balkan bakeries

Baklava is a universal dessert that pleases most sweet lovers with a soft spot for syrup or honey. The origin of this syrupy dessert can be traced back to the Ottoman empire. 

Once dominating the Balkan region, a lot of the regional cuisine is influenced by its heritage.

Baklava is no exception, with each Balkan country having its own version. 

Its particularity resides in the thin layers of phyllo pastry stacked on each other filled with chopped nuts and bathed in honey or syrup.

Typically, the nuts used are walnuts, pistachio, almonds, or a combination of the nuts. You can also find some baklava made using hazelnuts in the regions where the nuts are more predominant.

Baklava is traditionally served for special occasions, at certain times of the year, or for weddings.

You will find these tantalizing treats in most bakeries in the Balkans to enjoy any time of the day.

While certainly the most renowned sweet of Turkish heritage, you can find other popular Turkish sweets. Look for Turkish Delight, Tulumba, or Tufahija across the Balkans.

18 – Balkan Donuts – Krofne, Priganice or Mekitsa

Balkan Doughtnuts by Authentic Food Quest
Mekici, Macedonia donut in Skopje

In the Balkan, you will easily find these popular fried treats with slight variations depending on the country you visit.

In Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and neighboring countries you will find Krofne or Krafne, a soft, round and fluffy donut. It is typically filled with a sweet spread like Nutella, chocolate or jam.

While in Montenegro, you will find Priganice, a small airy donut. It is served either savory with cheese or sweet with honey or fruit jams. You can have it for breakfast, snack or an appetizer at lunchtime.

If your travels take you to Bulgaria, then ask for Mekitsa, a famous traditional breakfast treat. These donuts in addition to the traditional egg, flour ingredients also contain yogurt.

If you want to eat it the traditional way then add the local cheese, sirene. Today, you’ll also find sweet versions served with chocolate, honey or nuts are also available.

19 – Sweet or Savory Crepes – Palačinke or Palacinke

Palacinke Balkan Crepes by Authentic Food Quest
Palacinke pancakes filled with local fruit jam

Pancakes or Palačinke are a ubiquitous staple in the Balkans. While you can find savory versions, the sweet palacinke is the most popular and the most common.

You will find these Balkan pancakes at local kiosks where street vendors make them to order.

With origins from the Greco-Roman times, Palacinke has a long history and tradition in the Balkans.

While also common in other parts of Europe, we found these pancakes slightly thicker than the ones we are used to in France.

Made with white flour, palacinke are commonly served with sweet toppings like Nutella, chocolate, local jam, or the famous Eurocrem.

Rosemary and Claire Eating Palacinke Novi Sad Serbia by Authentic Food Quest
Rosemary and Claire trying savory baked palacinke in Novi Sad, Serbia

In Serbia, we had the opportunity to taste savory palacinke stuffed with cheese and ham, and baked in the oven. While tasty, these crepes were incredibly filling.

20 – Fruit Preserves – Traditional Balkan Welcome

Fruit Preserve Belgrade Market by Authentic Food Quest
Fruit preserves and juice at a Green Market in Belgrade, Serbia

One of the most interesting culinary experiences we had in the Balkans was with slatko, a sweet jam in Novi Sad, Serbia.

Just having got seated at a restaurant, the hostess approached us with a tray lined with jam, small spoons and glasses of water.

“Welcome”, she told us, and this is our traditional greeting to make you comfortable at our restaurant.

Slatko, we learned, are a popular fruit preserve in Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and several other countries including Greece.

It’s usually made of whole pieces of fruit that are doused in a thick, sugary syrup. The most common types of slatko are those made of whole strawberries, slightly unripe skinned plums, or sour cherries. 

You’ll also find other fruits used like cherries, quince, grapes, figs, peaches, blackberries and more.

While the tradition is not typically practiced in urban areas, you will run across it at people’s homes or outside the major cities.

Once you take a spoonful of the sweet preserve, you typically take a drink of water from the glass and leave the teaspoon in it.

Generally, this gesture of hospitality is typically followed by coffee and rakija, a traditional fruit brandy.

Best Balkan Drinks

21 – Rakia – Traditional Balkan Spirit

Rakia Balkan Spirit by Authentic Food Quest
Rakia, the perfect start or end to a copious Balkan meal

Considered the national drink of the Balkan countries, you cannot miss the traditional fruit brandy- liquor that goes by Rakia or Rakija.

Rakia is made from the distillation of fruit to make a potent brandy that ranges from 40% to 60% alcohol-proof.

This strong spirit is produced from a variety of fruit, each with significance in different Balkan countries. For instance, in Montenegro, rakia is made from grapes and it is called Loza or grape rakia. 

In Serbia, plum-based rakia known as Sljiva can be described as the country’s national drink. In Albania, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia where we also sampled rakia, we tried grape and fruit-based rakia.

Rakia is both homemade and a commercially produced fruit brandy. More than a drink, it is a way of life in the Balkans.

Throughout the Balkan countries we visited, we learned about rakia being an integral part of gatherings. 

From a welcoming drink to weddings and celebrations of all kinds, rakia is ubiquitously present.

As you try the different expressions of rakia in the Balkans, be sure to pace yourself. 

It can be quite strong, especially the homemade versions.

22 – Balkan Wines

Vranec Macedonia by Authentic Food Quest
Cute mini bottles of Vranec in Skopje, Macedonia

The Balkans is one of the most ancient wine regions in the world. The rich viniculture tradition dates back thousands of years. 

Melnik in Southwestern Bulgaria has been a major wine production area since 1346. And, winemaking in Montenegro dates back to the 2nd Century AD.

This rich wine legacy is found throughout the Balkans. The wines are made with indigenous grape varieties like Serbia’s Prokupac red or Tamjanika white, considered as some of the oldest authentic grape varieties.

Despite the climate and ideal grape-growing conditions, wine-making in the Balkans has had a tumultuous history with communism.

Today, there is a renewed focus on quality wines with smaller wineries leading the charge.

Even though Balkan wines are often overlooked there are unique and excellent wines worth discovering. 

In each Balkan country, we tried some of the celebrated autochthonous wines. The dark fruity and intense red wines were among our favorites. 

From Bulgaria’s Melnik and Mavrud red wines to Vranac in Montenegro or Vranec in North Macedonia, we savored the delightful nuances. Serbia’s Prokupac red varietal is one that we also consistently enjoyed.

Tamjanika white wine from Serbia, Graševina from Croatia, Krstač from Montenegro are some of the whites that accompanied our seafood dishes.

There is a wine-making renaissance happening in the Balkans and the wines are getting better and more popular. 

As you feast on typical Balkan cuisine be sure to sip on wines from the local native grapes.

RELATED: 7 Melnik Wineries You Want To Visit For Amazing Bulgarian Wines

23 – Balkan Beers

Balkan Beer Niksicho in Montenegro by Authentic Food Quest
Niksicko, Claire’s favorite Balkan beer

Despite a strong culture of rakija and winemaking, beers remain popular across the Balkan peninsula. Each country offers its national beer with pride.

The Balkan beers benefit from excellent water sources that are the base ingredient for these regional beers. Most Balkan beers are lagers with light or mild taste. 

You will find Niksicko beer, a pale lager, in Montenegro, produced in the town of Niksic since 1896. This beer was one of Claire’s favorites in the Balkans.

While in Serbia, you will find Jelen and Lav the two most popular beers. Claire preferred Jelen, a pale lager, which she thought had more character to the Lav, the other pale lager.

The beers in Bulgaria are mostly light lagers with Kamenitza brewed in Plovdiv and Pirinsko, brewed in Blagoevgrad in the Pirin Mountain.

In Macedonia, Скопско or Skopsko is the most popular brand brewed in the capital, Skopje. 

Albania doesn’t have a strong beer culture though Korca and Birra Tirana are some of the beers you’ll easily come across.

While we have not tasted all the Balkan beers, you will find Laško in Slovenia, Sarajevsko Pivo in Bosnia, and Ožujsko in Croatia. 

The most popular beers in the Balkans regions are typically available in several neighboring countries allowing you try several beers regardless of where you are,

For example, you will easily find Jelen in Montenegro while you will have no problem drinking Nickisko in Serbia.

Enjoy your Balkan tour through its beers.

24 – Boza – Fermented Non-Alcoholic Balkan Drink

Boza Pelivan Belgrade Serbia by Authentic Food Quest
Our best boza drink in Belgrade, Serbia, at Pelivan bakery

Boza is one of the most surprising traditional drinks we discovered in the Balkans. It is a fermented non-alcoholic drink that can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire.

Depending on the country, the ingredients differ. It can be made from corn, wheat, fermented wheat or millet.  And, the taste can vary from slightly sour to sweet. 

It is consumed as a refreshing drink. And, in Bulgaria it is consumed as a popular breakfast beverage.

The taste varies with the different grains used. We did not enjoy boza in Bulgaria, but we loved it in Albania and Serbia.

This traditional drink holds a special place in the hearts of the Balkan people and it should be tasted at least once your Balkan travels.

25 – Turkish Coffee or Balkan Style Coffee

Turkish Coffee by Authentic Food Quest
Traditional coffee in the Balkans

With the spread of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish coffee entered the Balkan region. In the Balkan countries, the coffee culture is strong and each country takes its coffee seriously.

While the preparation of the coffee is similar between the Balkan countries it goes by different names.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s called Bosnian coffee. In Greece, it’s Greek coffee. And, in Serbia, it’s domestic coffee or domaća kafa.

It is prepared in a džezva, a special long-handled pot traditionally made of brass or copper. 

Today, every Balkan household has at least one džezva made of aluminum or stainless steel.

The way the coffee is prepared differs by country. How the water is boiled, when the coffee grounds are added, and how the foam rises are important distinctions. 

No matter how you have your Balkan coffee, you should enjoy drinking it at a traditional coffee shop or kafana.

Balkan Food Recipes

While Balkan food is not as well known as other cuisines, it is diverse and incredibly delicious. If you want to try a few authentic and popular Balkan dishes, here are two simple recipes to make at home.

Ajvar Recipe – How To Make Delicious Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Easy Lutenisa Recipe – How To Make The Best Bulgarian Spread

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Have you had Balkan food or drinks before? What is your favorite from reading this list? 

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