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The Balkans, a region in Europe’s east, is often forgotten on the traveler’s radar. However, this region has much to offer a visitor of its lands filled with culture, nature, and some of the best eateries in the whole continent!
The foodie scene in the Balkans usually includes hearty meals that are sure to fill your stomach based with a lot of grilled meats and prepared with seasonal produce. The culinary experience in this region includes influences from a lot of surrounding cultures including the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and even historic influences from periods such as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.
First, it must be stated that no matter where you go in the Balkans — whether it is the mountains of Bulgaria, small villages of Montenegro, or beach side resorts in Croatia — a good portion of all menus in the Balkans will look similar.
What brings together the Balkans diet is a common appreciation for a simple menu done right and that is exactly how it should be!
17 Balkan Foods You’ll Wanna Sink Your Teeth Into
We have put together a list of what we believe is a good mix of all Balkans cuisines so you can branch out your tastes while in the Balkans and become a true foodie of one of Europe’s most underrated regions. Without further ado, we bring you the best foods of the Balkans.
Cevapi is, by far and away, the most important staple to any Balkans cuisine and you can try different forms of it in almost any country you travel to. They are served differently, in different amounts, and made with different combinations of ingredients each place you go, however, you can expect the same great satisfaction.
Cevapi are generally small and served in bunches of 10 or so. Although they are made differently everywhere, you can usually expect some kind of grilled meat — whether that’s beef, lamb, pork, or veal — with chopped onions inside flatbread. They are usually served to compliment other dishes.
OK — so this really isn’t a food at all but it deserves to be on the list as well as it is another staple of the Balkans food chain. Think of Avjar to the Balkans cuisine as what pesto is to an Italian’s cuisine.
It is served with almost any meaty order at restaurants, including fish, and you will find a large variety of avjar brands and flavors at any market throughout the region.
The original avjar flavor consists of mainly roasted red peppers and garlic. You may be familiar with the taste already without realizing it. It can also contain spices to make it hot, tomatoes, and a little bit of eggplant. You will surely get plenty of tastes of avjar on your vacation to the Balkans.
Dolma can take many shapes and forms and use a variety of vegetables, however, the most commonly eaten dolma dish consists of rice wrapped in some kind of leaves. The filling and wrap can vary — there are dolma’s made of onion, zucchini, cabbage, meat, stuffed tomatoes, squash — you name it, it probably can be turned into dolma! Most ingredients are backed in some kind of liquid stock or tomato sauce before being served with kajmak (see #12).
Pljeskavica is a round patty made of beef, lamb, pork, or veal (or a mixture) depending on where you are visiting in the Balkans. It is a fairly common dish served either plain or on a bun with kajmak and ajvar spread. It is basically the equivalent to a hamburger if you want to look at it that way.
This is a salad you can find on almost any menu in the Balkans. Just as any salad you have ever had before, it can be a mixture of many ingredients, however, the traditional shopska salad usually has cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and some kind of fine cheeses such as grated feta.
It is a very Mediterranean take on a salad as there is usually no leaves in a shopska salad and is served with olive oil and vinegar on the side. This is one of the only non-meaty options you will find on this list of the best foods in the Balkans.
They look sort of like salt water taffy but this Turkish Delight is anything but. The cubed, squishy, jelly-like sugary sweets are typically served with tea or enjoyed for dessert at the end of a heavy meal.
Some are covered in various nuts or have them inside but there are many different versions. Spend some time in the Balkans and you are bound to find your favorite kind after at least a handful of tastings.
Grilled Meat and Fish
We know we have already mentioned the Balkans infatuation with a meaty diet but this can’t be understated. They enjoy their grilled meats and there is usually a base of meat or fish in any main course on any menu throughout the region — usually rice or potatoes to compliment.
The closer you are to the sea, the more likely you are to find fish as part of the local diet and almost anywhere you can find a sort of rare slow cooked lamb on the menu which should be tried at least once.
Bread, Bread, And More Bread
Bread is not more common in a Balkans diet than, say, an Italian diet — however, you will find many kinds of bread served with almost every meal you eat while on vacation in the Balkans peninsula. Whether it is with the famous cevapi or served as a side with stew — or buried underneath heapings of the main course, you are sure to fill up on bread with your meal.
Soft bread for breakfast and usually sweet, too. Most pastries we tried were delicious and are worth noting as there are not many breakfast foods on this list.
Balkans bread is not renowned but you will notice goes well with almost every staple meal.
Traditional Struklji is usually prepared with different ingredients not as common to the Balkans region such as apple, tarragon, various nuts, and cottage cheese. It can either be roasted and flaky like a strudel or boiled so it is very versatile in the way it is served.
Depending on what it is filled with, it can either be served to compliment the main course or as a dessert. They can either be salty or sweet and it seems every year a new flavor of struklji is being favored by the general public such as mixed fruits and chocolates. However, the staple flavors are consistent throughout.
Struklji is mainly a Slovenian delicacy that you can find in nearly every restaurant in Ljubljana and can go well with a local beer.
Mekitsa is most commonly found in Bulgaria at the breakfast table. The best mekitsas are always handmade and not store bought. You can try some of the best mekitsa on offer on almost any food tour you take in Sofia.
It is a sweet tasty treat to wake up to made of puffy dough like donuts but with a sort of crunchy texture.The main base ingredient, believe it or not, is yogurt and usually coated in honey, chocolate spread, or fruity jam. There is also a version of just powdered sugar and almost any other topping you can come up with, however, these are the main ones.
Though it is mainly consumed for breakfast, you can always find a mekitsa on the streets of Bulgaria and you usually don’t have to look for too long. You must try this delicacy on your vacation to Bulgaria!
Burek is not only common in the Balkans but in many places all over Northern Africa and even in the Middle East. It can be baked at home or found at any bakery or quick food shop.
It is a versatile food on any menu because it can be prepared differently for different meals of the day. Generally, for breakfast, Bureks can be prepared sween with jams and in the afternoon and evenings, the jam can be replaced with meats, cheeses, potatoes, and much more — usually to compliment some sort of yogurt-y dish.
Though it may look different in other places of the world, the ingredients remain similar and its flaky, doughy texture is usually commonplace. The bureks in the Balkans are normally rounded and look like a bunch of layers of pie compacted into small bite-size pastries.
As mentioned earlier, Kajmak is used in or on many dishes in the Balkans and, therefore, if not even a dish itself, must be mentioned on this list.
Kajmak is just a spread — sort of like firm butter or cheese — served with some bread as an appetizer or used in various recipes just as cream would be used.
It has the texture of a thick cream but very mild in taste. We love kajmak on almost any dish in the Balkans — or at least to compliment. And locals would agree with us. That is very obvious by the amount you will be served this side staple.
If you haven’t eaten kajmak over the course of your Balkans road trip, you probably haven’t eaten local enough during your stay and should consider returning for a more fulfilling culinary experience.
This is a fun Balkans dish usually served for more than one person — sort of like you are at home sitting around the table with family. Everyone digs into this meaty dish prepared with all sorts of chunks of meat but most commonly chicken, pork, and sausage.
It is served on a scorching hot iron plate in the center of the table where you can hear the meats and other various ingredients still sizzling away. Though this tends to be a meat-eaters dish, there are also vegetarian forms of Sach with loads of peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and onions — a little something for everybody’s pallet.
Since it is a hearty meaty dish, this meal is usually best washed down with some red wine but when there is some spice to the meats, nothing hits the throat better than an ice cold craft beer brewed in the heart of one of the Balkans countries.
Banitsa might be the most well-liked Bulgarian dish of all traditional foods in the country. It is a good taste for breakfast, or really, any other times of the day. With plenty of different variations of the popular food, you would be hard-pressed to not find one which suits your liking.
Usually, it is made of eggs and cheese backed into a flaky-ish pastry that practically melts in your mouth. Some of the other varieties include yogurt, honey, pumpkin, spinach, and much more so as you can see, there is a taste of banitsa for every craving.
You can find banitsa specially sold in Banicarnitsa around any part of Bulgaria where there will usually be a local or two enjoying one when you walk in.
Stuffed peppers are probably the most common dolma of them all so it gets its own place on this list of Best traditional foods all over the Balkans. Usually filled to the brim with yummy ingredients, stuffed peppers are sure to have your mouth watering and (probably) craving more at the end of it.
Some of the ingredients include (but are not limited to) meats (of course), rice, paprika, tomato sauce, onions, and garlic. The most favored pepper is the red when preparing stuffed pepper dolma, but yellow peppers are slowly catching on in a few Balkans countries as well.
Baklava is a special Greek dessert that deserves some love although it is not found just in Greece. You can find many different pastries similar to Baklava all over the Balkan peninsula. However, you must try the original in Greece to get an appropriate idea for comparison.
The traditional Greek baklava is made of phyllo dough, layered in walnuts and cut into cube-shaped bite-size pieces of heaven. Usually, a waterfall of honey is cascading from the treat and we suggest to let it soak into the thin pastry for the best tasting experience.
Be careful when trying Baklava as after you have your first one, you are almost guaranteed to come back for another. . . and another after that. Perhaps, it is best to save baklava for the back-end of your trip through the Balkans that way you can’t become addicted or splurge too often on these overly sweet sensations.
Well, here we are. We have reached the end of this list of the best culinary experiences in the Balkans. And what would this list be if it didn’t include the all too-famous drink of the Balkans — Rakija.
Actually, rakija may not be renowned enough throughout the world, but it certainly is throughout the Balkans. Everyone, everywhere (in the Balkans) drinks this delicious spirit throughout the region and cultures.
It is generally made from plums which gives it a naturally sweet taste similar to that you get from a good bottle of brandy. Though, plums are only the beginning. Almost anywhere you go, you will see endless choices of flavors such as berries, apples, pears, peaches, herbs, nuts, and so much more beyond what you can imagine.
Every vacationer to the Balkans has their own rakija story of a night drinking one-too-many and, believe us, it can happen easier than you think. This stuff goes down like water!
Foodie’s Guide to the Balkans
While we by no means consider ourselves experts on every country’s culinary scene in the Balkans, it is safe to say we have ventured out and tried our fair share of a majority of many countries’ tasting pallets.
We have had enough grilled meats and stuffed vegetables to last ourselves a while for now, but we definitely approve of the Balkans traditional foods listed above and recommend anyone visiting the
Balkans try to taste as many of these delicious dishes they can.
A Perfect Balkans Itinerary
We have also done a lot of travel — whether it be via road trips, Eurail, Adriatic cruises, or flying all over the Balkans. Over the course of those trips, we have been able to accumulate what we believe to be the best itineraries no matter the length or modes of your travels. Have a look at some of our best guides around the Balkans and its many scenic roads, coasts, and railways.
Your One-Stop Resource for Balkans Vacations
At Chasing the Donkey, we pride ourselves on knowing the Balkans region inside and out and we are passionate about bringing the Balkans to the world’s attention — as it rightfully deserves.
Whether it is the best foods from the Balkans, itineraries, best hotels, and resorts, or off-the-beaten-path ideas for your entertainment, we try our best to bring you the most from the Balkans.
This beautiful region of Europe has been vastly under-explored and underappreciated for far too long and it is time vacationers are made aware of this gem of a vacation destination.
If you have any inquiries about other Balkan foods to try, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!