By know, we are pretty sure you all know what Rakia is. A strong Serbian drink that can knock down even the strongest of drinkers. However, if you want to really enjoy this drink in the longer run, you need to know how to drink it and what to eat. Now, since Rakia carries a serious punch, not all food is compatible and most dishes will simply kill your thirst for this fire-water. But, Serbs have their few tricks to keep them up in the race for the one who can drink the most Rakia, because, you know, with Slavs, it’s about “There can be only One” in everything. Even when it comes to drinking Rakia, or Vodka, or Absynth. So, to help you out by keeping you on your feet the next time you drink with Serbs, here are the best Serbian dishes that go exquisitely well with Rakia.
1. Ajvar and Proja
Romeo and Juliette of an appetizer. Really, those two dishes are meant to be… until the Rakia hops in – between. Then we got the “holy trinity” on the table! For the people who still don’t know about those dishes, here is a little info. Ajvar is a roasted red pepper and eggplant condiment that is popular all over the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The best one is one that is homemade, by grandmas mostly. It is a spicy specialty of a very pleasant taste. Depending on the quality of red pepper and how much chili pepper you add it can be mild, medium chili or extra chili.
On the other side, we have Proja that is a simple dish made of cornmeal, oil, water, and salt. Many recipes also include baking powder, butter, eggs, and milk in order to make the resulting bread more appealing. Proja can be served as small, roll-shaped by a muffin pan, or from a flat pan and cut into circular/square pieces. So how to use this trinity: Drink one or two shots of Rakia. Then pick up some Ajvar with the spoon and spread it across the piece of Proja. Put it in the mouth and then repeat – drink, eat, drink. Simple enough, don’t you think?
Pihtije (Jellied Pork) is a traditional Serbian winter “starter pack” gear that originated from the need to make use of low-quality cuts of pork (hocks and meat from the head). These cuts are boiled in water with pepper, bay leaves, and salt. The meat is separated from the bone and the liquid is poured into shallow bowls. Garlic is then added to the taste and the bowls are left in a cold place. Aleva ( that is ground red paprika), is sprinkled on top and then pihtije are cut into cubes.
So how to use it with Rakia? First, make sure your Rakia is cold. Then ask your mother to bring you some Tursija (cold pickled vegetables – bell peppers, hot peppers, green tomatoes, cabbage, horseradish). Drink one or two shots of Rakia, eat Pihtije, eat Tursija, repeat. If your Rakia starts to get warm, just replace it with another bottle from the fridge.
3. Kiseli kupus
Kiseli kupus (Sauerkraut) is another piece of gear prepared for the winter days in almost every Serbian household. It is usually served as an appetizer and it’s great to combine with Rakia. Sauerkraut is so rich in vitamin C that the Serbs eat it as prevention in the fight against flu. Some people even drink the “rasol” (cabbage brine), which, by the way, is an excellent remedy for a massive hangover.
If you, somehow, manage to do DIY or buy it, here is the instruction on how to prepare it as a salad: Rince the cabbage with cold water (if it is too acidic), cut it as you want (smaller or bigger pieces) and then sprinkle with a little bit of sunflower oil and Aleva. One shot of Rakia, one fork of Sauerkraut. Repeat.
4. Kajmak and Prsuta
Another duo which goes great with Rakia. But you must know that those two dishes are good only if they are produced in the traditional way – in private households. So first, go visit a Serbian market and pick up the best Kajmak (Kaymak) and (Prosciutto) you can find. Or explore which kafana (tavern) serves the best traditional food in the city you are in. Go, check-in, start to order, eat, drink.
Of course, here are a few useful lines about those dishes. Kajmak is a Serbian native fresh dairy product with rich flavor, taste like skim milk. It is most expensive when fresh – only a day or two old. Furthermore, it can be kept for weeks in the fridge, but then it becomes hardened, with a different taste. The catch is that there is two types of kajmak – very young cream with a mild flavor and mature cream with sharper taste and yellowish color. The other one, Prsuta, is regular smoked meat. It is an inevitable part and an absolute star among the appetizer in Serbia. When it comes to geographical origin, the region of Uzice should be highlighted, as it is best known for the art of meat smoking.
Čvarci, or “pork crisps”, is a special homemade dish popular in Balkan cuisine, a variant of pork rinds. This is actually a rustic countryside specialty, mostly common to Serbian, Bosnia and Herzegovina and continental Croatian cuisine.
As the other traditional pork products, Čvarci is considered to be a winter food. The traditional time for pork processing in the Balkans is late autumn, and Čvarci are consumed throughout the winter. They can be eaten on their own as a snack or served with Rakia, or they can be used as an ingredient in other food recipes.