Things that connect all Slavs into one big happy family are food and drinks. Is there anything better than having your friends and family over for a nice, fat meal? You know there isn’t! Serbian food is just about that, gathering your people and having a delicious meal, with plenty of calories. Because diet is for weak! Serbian cuisine is best showed with the picture of a dinner. People are loud, friendly, everybody is eating, and no one is full. Food is heavy, with calories that no one can count.
That doesn’t matter, as long as it is tasty! All of the people are drinking a lot, giving the excuse that you can drink as long as you have a good base (read: eat heavy food before you drink).
Food is Love, Food is Life
Serbs love fast food, grilled meat and a lot of pastries. Veggies are present if the season is right. You can eat šopska salad (tomato, onion, cucumber and cow cheese) in the summer, but God forbid you to eat it during winter. Blasphemy! Winter is reserved for turšija (pickled veggies) and sauerkraut. In the summer, you drink beer or špricer (wine with soda), and in the winter, hot rakija (cooked rakija mixed with water and sugar) or mulled wine. When it comes to plain rakija, Serbs drink it anytime.
Serbian food has a lot of elements in common with other former-Yugoslavia countries. They all share mutual influences so it is hard to separate one cuisine from the other. It doesn’t matter, after all, each and every meal from Balkan is tasty. If you are wondering about meals you can find in the typical Serbian home or kafana (read: tavern), here are my top picks:
If you are a lover of heavy meals that will torture your stomach (in a good way), prebranac is a meal for you. This is actually baked beans in a sauce with a lot of onion, garlic, fat and Cayenne pepper. Mix all that together with few other spices, put it in the oven and you get a tasty dish that once you try, it will always be on your menu.
Sarma is love, sarma is life! Sarma is the first thing tourists need to try when they come to Serbia. This dish is basically a ground beef and rice rolled in cabbage (there are some fancy versions that are rolled in grapevine leaves). Serbia loves sarma and sarma loves Serbia. If you are invited to Slava, be sure there will be sarma on the menu.
Gibanica is a meal that you eat for breakfast. Best gibanica comes from the grandma and her Smederevac (google it). It is basically a cheese pie made out of thin layers of dough and cheese, with an egg poured over. You eat it with yogurt.
Burek is a bit opposite to gibanica because it is usually used as drunk food. You eat it early in the morning when you are returning home from a drunken evening. You can eat it with yogurt or even beer. Burek is also a pie that can be made with cheese or minced meat or a variety of other ingredients. If you want to have a perfect ending to a night out, eat burek before you go to sleep.
Pljeskavica and Ćevapi
Ćevapi are a small sausage-like portion of minced meat. They are grilled and served in 5-10 pieces. You eat them in a flatbread (somun) with chopped onion. Pljeskavica is grilled patty served in flatbread with onion, urnebes (spicy salad), kajmak or cabbage salad. These two are also drunk food.
Ajvar is a pretty hot topic right now because this is the time of the year when ajvar is made. This tasty relish is also called “Serbian vegetable caviar” and there is a good reason for that. Once you try it, you can never go back! You will fall in love with ajvar and never stop loving it. Ajvar is made out of paprika, garlic, eggplant and chili peppers. You consume it on a bread, as a side dish or even like a salad. It goes with everything, just like rakija.
Besides the meals from the above, let’s not forget punjene paprike (paprika stuffed with ground meat and rice), proja (dish made out of cornflower), popara (dish made out of bread, hard cheese, kajmak and milk), pečenje (roasted pork or lamb) and đuveč (stewed veggies and pork).
There are many more meals that are typical for Serbian cuisine, but you will have to discover them on your own. The author of this article is very hungry and went to the fridge for some Russian (Olivier) salad. Prijatno!