25 Authentic Balkan Food and Drinks You’ll 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 were 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 and 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.

Consider this Balkan food guide as an introduction to the top popular Balkan foods and drinks.

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What Is Balkan Food?

Traditional Balkan Food by Authentic Food Quest
Burek, an iconic traditional Balkan food

Balkan cuisine is simple food that is diverse, highly regional, and made with abundantly grown local vegetables and produce.

While meat dishes play a central role, the mouthwatering flavors go way beyond.

The culinary culture of the Balkans has been developing throughout the ages. It combines influences from Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, and Mediterranean cuisines. 

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.

Where Are the Balkans?

Kotor mountains by Authentic Food Quest
The rugged mountains in Kotor, Montenegro

The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, make up 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. 

Where Is Balkan Food From?

The Balkans typically comprise the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, with portions of Greece and Turkey sometimes also included.

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 bell peppers and eggplants

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

Ajvar is one of the most popular spreads in the Balkans. 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 considered a national dish in Bulgaria. Unlike Ajvar which does not contain tomatoes, lutenitsa combines eggplants, red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and seasoning.

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

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

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

The recipes are considered a matter of pride in each family and country. 

These 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. 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 a much loved Balkan food.

Balkan Food Recipes

Discovering Ajvar in the Balkans by Authentic Food Quest
Delicious Ajvar condiment

If you want to try a few authentic and popular Balkan starters, 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

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 meats like prosciutto, bacon, and ham are staples of typical Balkan cuisine. Each country has its own specialties 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. 

For a taste of Balkan starters, order the cheese and cured meat platter for regional favorites.

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

3. Balkan Cheese – Sir

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

Cheese, known as Sir or Syr,  is a popular staple in the Balkans and can be served as an appetizer, in salads, pastries, grilled, or mixed with minced meat. 

The names of the cheeses typically refer to the region they come from, such as Njeguši Sir, Sjenica Sir, Šar Sir, and Zlatar Sir.

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

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

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

The yellow cheese is generally a mild semi-hard paste made from cow or sheep milk. 

Kashkaval is a popular cheese name across several Balkan countries and more specifically Bulgaria.

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

Overall Balkan cheeses do not go through a long maturation process, with three months of aging being typical.

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

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

RELATED: Food in Crete: Your Guide To The Best Authentic Food On the Island

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 is a family of phyllo dough stuffed pastries that are traditionally filled with meat, spinach, cheese, or potatoes. 

It originated from the Ottoman Empire and spread around Europe, parts of Asia, and the Middle East.

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

In Bulgaria, it goes by banitza or banitsa, and it is a symbol of national pride.

Banitsa by Authentic Food Quest
Fluffy portion of Banitsa

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

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.

Burek also comes in sweet versions. Apple burek in Belgrade, Serbia was one of the most memorable sweet bureks we tried.

As you travel around the many Balkan countries, be sure to try the different burek 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 most notably in Bulgaria. Known as Kiselo Mlyako, or sour milk in Bulgaria, it is said to date back to the Thracian times around 4000 to 6000 years ago.

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

A culinary flexible ingredient, yogurt is used in a variety of dishes. It has a slightly sour taste and comes in a wide range of fat levels from 2% to 10%. 

It’s found in soups, used as a topping for main dishes, and consumed alongside pastries across the Balkans.

With the Ottoman influence in the region, you’ll also find a yogurt-based drink known as Ayran, which is beloved in Turkey.

Ayran is 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 sampling various yogurts and yogurt-based drinks in the different Balkan countries you visit.  

RELATED: 12 Most Traditional Turkish Drinks To Sip On Turkey’s Culture

Best Vegetarian Balkan Foods

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

Generous plate of the traditional Shopska salad

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. 

Shopska Salad, the country’s national dish, features the juicy pink tomatoes of the Kurtovo Konare variety.

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

We couldn’t get enough of the traditional Shopska salad in Bulgaria and enjoyed it as an accompaniment to grilled meat. This salad is also popular in Macedonia and Serbia. 

Another one of our favorite salads was the Belolučene paprika salad in Serbia, made with long, 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 along with roasted peppers, onions, and parsley for garnish.

Throughout the Balkans, you’ll find a variety of fresh, flavorful 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.

RELATED: Bulgarian Food Guide: 15+ Traditional Foods You’ll Fall in Love With

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. Regardless of the Balkan country you visit, you’ll find hearty dishes prepared with beans.

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 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.

If you ask “what is Balkan food,” you’ll find that beans play a significant role and 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 under Ottoman rule. 

Unsurprisingly, each country has its own name and unique recipe for stuffed cabbage.

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 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. 

Sometimes cured meats, smoked ribs, or bacon are added to the stuffing. The stuffing is wrapped in sour cabbage leaves and cooked in a large pot. 

Today, you can also find non-meat versions stuffed with ingredients like carrots, parsley, garlic, celery, tomato sauce, and yogurt. 

Besides cabbage leaves, sarma can also be wrapped in grape leaves, which is very popular in Greece

Collard greens, or native greens like raštan from Montenegro are other popular wrappings.

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

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

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 cuisine. 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 Croatia and Serbia, they’re called punjena paprika. They are known as filovana paprika in Bosnian, palnena chushka in Bulgarian, and polneti piperki in North Macedonia.

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

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. A variation with dried peppers was eaten during the winter months.

These days, you’ll find both options year-round, and you’ll also find non-meat versions.

Stuffed peppers are typically eaten at lunch. They are a flavorful and wholesome dish and one for your Balkan food list.

10. Proja – Traditional Cornbread

Proha CornBread by Authentic Food Quest
Traditional proja or Balkan cornbread

Cornbread, or proja, is a simple bread that is traditional to the Balkan region.

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 or sweet. It’s made by mixing corn flour with boiling water and salt. 

When the dough is well mixed, it’s poured into 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.

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 meats are a popular staple of the Balkan diet. 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.

Balkan sausages, known as Cevapi, Ćevapi, Cevapcici, or Cevapici, are a popular street food made with a mixture of pork, beef, and lamb of different proportions. 

The sausages are typically molded by hand and grilled and do have any casing. 

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 main dish, you can have five to ten 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. 

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 its own way of creating this 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. The meat patty consists of a combination of either pork, lamb, or minced beef. 

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 a generous slathering of ajvar.

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

Watch Our Short About Tasting Pljeskavica in Serbia

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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 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 meaty casseroles to bread and burek, this ancient cooking technique yields tasty Balkan 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, peppers, tomatoes, and carrots. Paprika is the main seasoning, and other spices like cumin, marjoram, bay leaf, and black pepper are also used.

In Serbia, Goulash is a national dish. 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 also a national dish 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 also popular. In the northern part of the country, 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.

Goulash is Incredibly flavorful with tender chunks of meat. Savor as we did, the different popular recipes.

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

Freshwater fish is one of the popular Balkan foods 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.

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 flavor of a fresh, 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 more.

Freshly caught mussels are a beloved Balkan food. You’ll find them typically referred to as mussels alla buzara and 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. This was one of our favorite Balkan foods to eat overlooking the water.

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Spaghetti Al Nero Di Seppia Recipe: How To Make Sicilian Black Pasta

Best Balkan Desserts

17. Baklava

Baklava Balkan Dessert by Authentic Food Quest
Baklava, a staple Balkan treat

Baklava is a universal dessert that pleases sweet lovers with a soft spot for syrup or honey. 

The origin of this dessert can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. 

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, pistachios, almonds, or a combination. You can also find some baklava made using hazelnuts in the regions where those nuts are more predominant.

In Turkey, we were surprised by the diversity of Baklava varieties and the different shapes it came in.

While in the Balkans, you’ll find these tantalizing treats at most bakeries and served with Turkish tea or Turkish coffee.

Even though Baklava is the most renowned sweet of Turkish heritage, you can also find other traditional sweets like Turkish Delight, Tulumba, or Tufahija.

RELATED: 17 Most Popular Turkish Desserts You Can’t Wait To Try

18. Balkan Donuts – Krofne, Priganice or Mekitsa

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

In the Balkans fried donuts are a popular breakfast dish. You’ll find them throughout the region with slight variations by country.

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 jam, chocolate or, Nutella.

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, a snack or as an appetizer.

If your travels take you to Bulgaria, ask for Mekitsa, a famous traditional breakfast treat.

These donuts contain yogurt in addition to the traditional egg and flour ingredients. If you want to eat it the traditional way, add the local cheese, sirene. 

Sweet versions served with chocolate, honey, or nuts are also available.

RELATED: From Mekitsa Breakfast to Dinner: 10 Sofia Food Not To Miss

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 traditional and the most common.

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

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

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

Made with white flour, Palacinke is commonly served with sweet toppings like Nutella, chocolate, local jam, or the region’s famous Eurocrem hazelnut spread.

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

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

It’s a traditional welcome treat or greeting to make you comfortable at a restaurant.

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 followed by coffee and rakija, a traditional fruit brandy.

Slatko is 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.

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, we tried several other fruit-based rakias.

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

RELATED: 10 Traditional Bulgarian Drinks to Sip Into Culture

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.

Even though Balkan wines are often overlooked, a wine-making renaissance is happening, and we discovered several unique and excellent wines. 

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.

As you feast on Balkan food, be sure to sip on wines made from the local grapes.

RELATED: Plantaze Winery – Vranac Wines in Montenegro | One of Europe’s Largest Vineyards

23. Balkan Beers

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

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

Most Balkan beers are lagers with a light or mild taste that benefit from excellent water sources used as the base ingredient. 

You will find Niksicko beer, a pale lager, in Montenegro, produced in the town of Niksic since 1896. This beer is 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 that she thought had more character, to Lav, another pale lager.

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

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. 

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.

In Turkey, Boza is one of the oldest drinks, and it is mostly available in the winter months. In Bulgaria, Boza is a popular breakfast beverage consumed with banitza.

Depending on the country, the ingredients differ. It can be made from corn, wheat, fermented wheat, or millet. The taste varies from slightly sour to sweet, depending on the grains used. 

We did not enjoy boza in Bulgaria, but we loved it in Turkey, 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 during your Balkan travels.

25. Turkish Coffee or Balkan Style Coffee

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Traditional coffee in the Balkans

With the spread of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish coffee entered the Balkans. The coffee culture is strong, and each country takes their coffee seriously.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s called Bosnian coffee. In Greece, it’s Greek coffee. 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 called kafana.

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Have you had Balkan food or drinks before? Please let us know what you’ve had or what you would like to try in the comments below.

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