8 Balkan Food and Drinks You Must Try
Find out all you need to know about the best Balkan food and drinks before your trip.
Welcome to the world’s gastronomy center, the Balkans. Widely celebrated as one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, the Balkans is a cradle of regional flavors blending together in myriad dishes and drinks. The most dominant influence is that of the Ottoman, but Balkan food carries traces from Austria, Croatia, and Italy as well. Balkan cuisine has features that make it all the more appealing, such as filling of vegetables, stewing of meat, and having delicious pastries as appetizers. Learn about the subtleties of Balkan food with our guide for the best culinary experience. Before you arrive, also keep in mind these Balkan food tips:
Must-Try Balkan Foods
Here are the top dishes of the Balkan food scene that will help you eat like a local:
Cevapi is among the most common and loved dishes across the Balkan peninsula and Turkey. It is grilled sticks of minced meat, usually lamb or beef, and a variety of kebab at its best. On a typical cevapi plate, you will find toasted pida (flatbread), sour cream, ajvar, and onions. The people of the Balkans eat cevapi as street food or a main dish for lunches and dinners. It is the national dish in many Balkan countries, while others like Romania have adopted their own versions.
Dolma (Stuffed Peppers)
While the classical dolma dish is a filling of rice wrapped in vine leaves as in Turkey, the folk in the Balkans fill bell peppers, dried eggplants, or zucchini. It is a satisfying choice of Balkan food if you are a vegetarian. The version without meat and with olive oil is the traditional one, although you will find dolma filled with a minced meat filling. Bosnians, for instance, serve it hot and juicy. If you are in Mostar, try ‘sogan dolma’, a version in which the main ingredient is onions. A spoonful of Turkish yogurt goes perfectly with it.
The Balkans have a long tradition of making pickles and sauces and stocking them for the winter. Ajvar is among the most iconic, a spicy and thick sauce made from roasted red peppers, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and eggplant. It has a slightly sweetened flavor which is truly delicious, perfect for both breakfasts and dinners. It is an essential dip sauce for cevapi and many other meat dishes. But, if you are having a traditional Balkan breakfast, put it on your bread and enjoy its taste on its own.
Banitsa is originally Bulgarian but has been at the forefront of the pastry scene of Balkan food in many countries. It is similar to burek, filled with cheese and brushed with eggs, but lighter in taste. It is very flaky and sweet versions exist, such as the ones with jam, chocolate, honey, and pumpkin. You can grab a banitsa from a local pastry shop and eat it as you walk around.
Burek is arguably the most treasured Ottoman addition to Balkan cuisine. It will be everywhere in the small and atmospheric streets of Balkan cities—from casual bakeries to fancier pastry shops. The classical one is made with feta cheese, but you can buy varieties with potato, spinach, and meat. It is salty and greasy and will make you want more without a doubt. But keep in mind that it is among the fattiest Balkan dishes.
Kadaif is one of the elite desserts of the Ottoman Empire, and today it is available in every sweet shop across the Balkans. It is made of very tiny and thin bits of filo dough wrapped around a nutty filling and soaked with a lemon-flavored sherbet. Don’t let its heavy look intimidate you, it is actually very light and perfect for summer days.
Must-Try Balkan Drinks
Don’t mistake it with Raki, an anise spirit that you will also frequently come across in the Balkans. Rakia or Rakija is a Serbian specialty and now the national drink of many Balkan nations. It is distilled from a variety of fruits such as grapes, apricots, plums, and pears. Although it is notorious for its high alcohol concentration, you can often see Serbians start the day with a shot of Rakia.
The refreshing Ayran is almost primitive, made with yogurt, water, and just a pinch of salt. It is arguably the most traditional drink in the Balkans consumed in winter and summer alongside every dish. You will often find it acompanying burek, complementing its greasy taste with a refreshment. Some restaurants serve versions with peppermint and basil in traditional copper cops with a thick foam on the top.
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