Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit all of the eleven Balkan countries during my time there, but I did get to three of them: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. But even though I only visited a small slice of this charming land, I still feel as though I was able to experience the most fascinating part of this corner of the world, which is of course, the food.
The food in the Balkans, and more specifically these former Yugoslavian countries, is actually unreal. I have always been very open to trying new cuisines in every country I go to, and I would have to say that this particular style of food is definitely amoung my favourites. This area is heavily influenced by many diverse cultures and this diversity is definitely shown through it’s cuisine! If you are a North American, like me, traveling to this particular area, it won’t make a huge impact on your wallet. The dollar (both Canadian and American) goes very far here. So this will allow you to skip the cheapest hole-in-the-walls for the more upscale restaurants. But, I would never suggest skipping over the hole-in-the-walls if you don’t have to because they usually end up having the best food. Go where the locals go, that’s the cliche travel motto, right?
So, here is a list of Balkan foods that you HAVE TO TRY if you are ever lucky enough to travel to this beautiful land.
1. Cevapi or Cevapcici. This is a dish that is very common throughout the Balkans and is actually paradise on a plate, in my opinion. It consists of kebabs, small grilled meat sausages made of anything from lamb to beef to pork and is typically served with onions, sour cream, other local sauces and, in Bosnia it comes with a local pita bread. It’s served in a platter-like fashion which allows you to pick at each item or combine them all in a sandwich. This was my favourite thing to eat and in Sarajevo, Bosnia you can find the best Cevapi in the old Turkish Quarter by simply walking through the small streets until you find a menu that suits you. If you go to a decently priced place, you will not pay more than $8 Canadian for one of these plates. In Novi Sad, Serbia I was able to buy one of these plates with a beer for less that $2.50 Canadian altogether.
2. Baklava. This a dessert that is readily available for very cheap (usually under 35-50 cents Canadian) at restaurants and bakeries throughout the Balkans. It is a flaky pastry that is filled with nuts and then drench in sugar syrup or honey. I like the sugar syrup, obviously.
3. Gyro. This is common in alot of different areas and is definitely very popular in the Balkans as they are very much influenced by the Turkish and Middle-Eastern culture and hence, cuisine. It typically consists of various meats mixed together with tzatziki and wrapped in a pita bread.
4. Goulash. Even though this is more native to Hungary than it is to the Balkans, it is still very popular throughout this area and, in my personal experience, I ate better goulash in Croatia than I did in Hungary. The Goulash that you are likely to find in the Balkans will be similar to the goulash found in Hungary that consists of meat and vegetables all stewed together with paprika and other spices to make a deep orange or red colour. Again, very delicious.
5. Coffee. I know this isn’t a food and probably doesn’t really have a place on this list, but I figured it deserved at least a little mention. The coffee that you will find in this corner of the world is not like Starbucks or Tim Hortons, it is “real coffee.” Maybe not to Italian standards, but at least to Middle Eastern standards. It is almost like a ritual in these countries, especially the ones under strong Turkish influence (like Sarajevo, Bosnia) to drink “Turkish coffee.” The only experience I had drinking this style of coffee was in Sarajevo on a rainy day when all my energy was drained, and this definitely perked me up! This coffee is roasted then finely ground before being boiled in a pot or “cezve” and served in a cup, where the grounds are given time to settle. I usually added sugar to the mix just because it is very bitter, especially for my tongue that has spent years drinking double-doubles. When it was served at our table we were also given a local little pastry with the coffee and it made for a very lovely treat. I ended up ordering a second pot of coffee, and even though my caffeine levels were spiked, I really enjoyed this style of strong, bitter coffee.
I personally believe, after traveling this area for a couple of weeks, that it is absolutely imperative to try each of the menu items listed above at least once. But, nonetheless, even if you aren’t able to or choose not to, you will still find so many unbelievably tasty foods while you’re traveling the Balkans. There is an abundance of varieties of pastries, meats, breads, salads, spreads and teas that will make it impossible for any one person to not fall in love. Tasting these brilliant items are all apart of immersing yourself in the beautiful and unique culture that makes up the Balkans.
Enjoy, and Bon Appetite!