The best Balkan Food: pljeskavica, french fries, bread, chevapi, and schopska salad

Balkan Food: 10 Best Dishes for Backpackers

Once I came to my first Balkan country – Serbia, I definitely fell in love with Balkan culture. It is just..different. Easy-going lifestyle, powerful history, welcoming people with big hearts and souls. Many people are underestimating all the assets and beauty of these countries. But for me, they are on the top list of places to visit. With one very important aspect of it – Balkan food.

What is Balkan food and which one is our favorite?

Every time we are in some Balkan country, we have a standard lunch order. I’ve already mentioned it in my article about Lessons learned while traveling in Macedonia earlier. Cevapcici, pljeskavica, fries, and schopska salat. This combination feels right at the moments we are there. Balkan food is very heavy, meatish, yet still very cheap and delicious. In other countries, you are trying to eat fast food to save some money. On Balkans, you might go to some fancy restaurant and have a huge portion for a few dollars. And that will be a winning decision in comparison with eating in McDonald’s.

So I prepared for you a small Balkan food tour of what you might try on Balkans. But remember, that I warn you: this food is not for a healthy day, ok?

1.Baklava – Balkan sweets

Starting with something sweet. Unlogical, but nevermind. This typical Balkan food is pretty popular in many other countries, so you may find it even without traveling to Balkans. Baklava is a pastry made from layers of phyllo filled with nuts and put together with a lot of honey or some other syrup. And by a lot, I mean really A LOT.

Many sweets there are made that sweet to eat them with a special Balkan coffee. I would say that in many Balkan countries they serve Turkish coffee, which they cook in a special vessel (you see on the picture). Yet Bosnians say that they have their own Bosnian coffee. There are some differences in the preparation and the coffee itself. You can check the BBC article, where they nicely explain the differences.

Sweet baklava with traditional Bosnian coffee
Sweet baklava with traditional Bosnian coffee

2. Cevapcici (cevapi or chevapi)

This Balkan food is one of our favorites. You see those cutie “fingers” on the picture? These are cevapcici or cevapi or chevapi. Plenty of variations of how people used to call it. That doesn’t change their incredible juicy taste of fried minced meat. Traditionally, the cevapcici mixture is composed of ground lamb, pork, and beef. But you might not realize the difference if there will be one of them missing. They also add paprika to spice it up a bit.

You may find different serving variations. Since cevapi considered as street food, sometimes they put cevapcici in a flatbread. Or, as on this picture, they serve cevapi with onion and serve bread as a side dish to it.

Balkan Cevapcici with french fries, bread, schopska salad and Balkan beer
Balkan Cevapcici with french fries, bread, schopska salad and Balkan beer

3. Ajvar

When we are talking about the Balkan cuisine and Balkan food, nothing tastes better than fresh bread with spread homemade ajvar on it. Basically, ajvar means roasted red bell peppers mixed with some condiments and oil. Ajvar is more of a “winter food” because you are preserving it in jars before the winter. Yet it doesn’t mean that you cannot find ajvar in summer. Ajvar can be served also with cevapcici or pleskavica.

4. Burek – Balkan heaven

As one of our free walking tour guides in Sarajevo told us, Burek is the best thing before and after getting drunk. It can fill you that much, so you won’t be able to drink more. Or it can sober you up.

Burek is a pastry made out of phyllo dough that has previously been tossed, shaped, and filled. Burek is definitely one of the best Balkan foods that everybody should try. The most common variation of filling is minced meat. Yet you may find also options with cheese, potatoes, spinach and etc. In different languages, they already don’t call burek those pieces, which doesn’t have meat inside. But you should still know that even vegetarians will find food in the Balkans.

The combination of a hot fresh burek with plain cold yogurt just feels right at this moment. In Sarajevo, we’ve had burek for 80 cents per 100 grams! Insane for such heaven!

Burek stuffed with meat, veggies and cheese, topped with white yogurt
Burek stuffed with meat, veggies and cheese, topped with white yogurt

5. Sarma and Dolma

Dolma means ‘stuffed’ and sarma means ‘wrapped’. These are general terms used for many varieties of vegetables and leaves stuffed with meat and rice fillings. But mostly you will find cabbage or vine leaves stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice. There are also variations of sarma and dolma just with the rice mixture.

6. Pljeskavica (pleskavica) – our favorite Balkan food

If you take the same mixture of meat for cevapcici and make a patty from it, you will get pljeskavica. It can be again served inside of a flatbread which is basically a Balkan burger. Add there ajvar, kajmak, and some veggies and enjoy. So far we were almost in all the Balkan countries and never had a bad pljeskavica. As I mentioned, pljeskavica is for us the number one between the Balkan foods!

Pljeskavica (pleskavica) with onion, burek, bread, fried potatoes, shopska salad and coffee
Pljeskavica (pleskavica) with onion, burek, bread, fried potatoes, shopska salad and coffee

7. Rakija (rakia)

I know, my friend, it’s not a food. But Balkans are not Balkans without their famous alcohol drink – Rakija. Rakija has around 40% of alcohol, but a homemade can contain even more. Rakija can be made out of almost any fruit.

I personally don’t like strong alcohol, but for the sake of experience, I am happy to try. In Belgrad, rakija is like a tourist attraction. We were able to find some stands with rakija on the main streets. In Skopje, it was very rewarding after long hiking on Matka Canyon.

8. Kajmak (Kaymak)

It is hard to give it a concrete definition. Somebody call kajmak a cheese, others – clotted cream. But one thing is sure. Kajmak is definitely tasty. Some people eat kajmak with pljeskavica or cevapcici (like in the picture). Some just spread kajmak on bread, sometimes together with ajvar. In Turkey, we tried a combination of kajmak with honey on a typical Turkish breakfast. Anything you choose, trust me, kajmak will be a good decision to try in the Balkans.

Pleskavica with shopska salad, onion, fried potatoes and kaymak (kajmak)
Pleskavica with shopska salad, onion, fried potatoes and kaymak (kajmak)

9. Schopska salat (shopska salad)

Shopska salad is super simple and easy to make, but so good to be a side dish for any Balkan food. Shopska salad can be also called as “summer salad” for its lightness and freshness. Ingredients are so simple, that you all can prepare shopska salad at home right now. Tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onion, red wine vinaigrette or olive oil, and feta cheese. A lot of feta cheese. Actually, I have a feeling that Balkan cuisine contains a lot of cheese. They try to put it everywhere possible.

Shopska salad is a very good combination with pretty heavy pljeskavica or cevapcici.

Shopska salad with french fries and balkan bread
Shopska salad with french fries and balkan bread

10. Tavče gravče

You may find Tavče gravče mostly in the Macedonian cuisine. Tavče gravče is baked in special pot beans with some onion and spices. Also a great side dish to our meatish friends. Tavče gravče is recommended for those who like beans and different veggie stews. It is also probably one of the healthiest Balkan foods.

Tavče gravče with shopska salad and a lot of cheese
Tavče gravče with shopska salad and a lot of cheese

What about other Balkan foods?

These are 10 touched my heart Balkan foods, but of course, there are much more than that. I didn’t include here stuffed peppers or goulash, which you may also find there. Because it became so international, so there is no chance you can come up to one conclusion on whole origins it was. There are some more Balkan foods to try for us as well. For example, Greek musaka or saganaki. It’s also important to mention that so far we’ve visited 8 Balkan countries (Slovenia, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Croatia, and Serbia). So there could be still some cool Balkan dishes in the rest of the Balkan countries!

In case you know more Bakan foods I didn’t mention – write them in a comment. Let’s share our food experiences!

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