Feasting in the Balkans: 10 Foods We Can’t Wait to Try

We were first introduced to Balkan cuisine in Sarajevo on a cold, wet, wintery day. That’s when we tasted Cevapcici – one of Bosnia’s favorite dishes.

It consisted of rolled, spiced meatballs (about the size and shape of your thumb) that were grilled, then placed inside the most delicious, fluffy flatbread. The meatballs were made from a blend of ground meats (beef, pork, and lamb) and the proper technique was to eat it with your hands by tearing off pieces of the bread and wrapping it around a meatball. Talk about finger-lickin’ good!

Cevapcici in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Since then we’ve been hooked on Balkan food and can’t wait to indulge in some new taste sensations. Here’s what we want to try:

1. Pasulj in Serbia – James was raised on beans; I was weaned on potatoes. So anything in that starchy food group is comfort food for us. This Serbian bean soup infused with smoked meat ticks all the boxes.

2. Baklava in Macedonia – Of course we’ve had baklava before – that honey-dripping-down-your-arms sweet treat. But we’ve learned that it’s the honey that makes all the difference – every region has a different flavor.

3. Katchamak in Bulgaria  – What do you get when you combine polenta, butter, and cheese? Katchamak! I just like saying the word, but I’m probably mispronouncing it.

4. Teleshko Vareno in Bulgaria – This long-simmered, traditional beef and vegetable soup is the epitome of slow food.

5. Byrek in Serbia – We first experienced this meat-filled pastry in Sarajevo, where it is called “burek” and sold like fast food. The lady in the market handed us a warm, foil wrapped packet; we sat down on the curb and inhaled it. James looked up sheepishly and said, “We forgot to take a photo!”

6. Caprese Salad from Montenegro – It’s hard to beat this simple salad made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. We first had it on its namesake Island of Capri (but made with arugula instead of basil) and fell in love with it.

7. Shopska Salad. Terri will love this … James, not so much! 🙂

7. Shopska Salad in Bulgaria – I love a good salad, and this national dish of Bulgaria has my name all over it. It’s made from tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, roasted peppers, sirene (white brine cheese) and topped with oil and vinegar. James won’t like it so he’ll have to get an extra helping of … baklava!

8. Ajvar in Serbia – Now this one really has me intrigued. It’s a relish made from roasted red peppers, garlic, and sometimes eggplant and chili peppers. It can be sweet, piquant, or hot, and is know as “Serbian Vegetable Caviar.” Sign me up!

9. Pastrmajlija in Macedonia – Probably all I have to say is this: Macedonian Pizza! This oval-shaped bread pie is topped with diced, smoked meat and eggs. James has already signed up for a double portion.

10. Plum Rakjia … Everywhere! – From what we’ve been told, no Balkan meal is complete without a little plum brandy. We wouldn’t want to break tradition.

Do you have any other tasty dishes to recommend?


I don’t know what this is … but I want it!

Photo Credits:
1. Ivana Sokolović via Wikimedia Commons
2. Kristijantopalov via Wikimedia Commons
3. Bin im Garten via Wikimedia Commons
4. 663highland via Wikimedia Commons
5. BlerimBalaj via Wikimedia Commons
6. Alcinoe
7. Zhelyazkov via Wikimedia Commons
8. Ivana Sokolović via Wikimedia Commons
9. Slavica Panova via Wikimedia Commons
10. Blue via Wikimedia Commons

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

55 thoughts

  1. You will find many varieties of rakija, it is the base for walnut or cherry liquor. There is also other versions of rajika, travavica (grass) for example which grows hair on your finger nails. The plum is well known, but the others are so much better especially walnut my favorite.

    1. We’re looking forward to the rakija. Thanks for the recommendation on the walnut, it sounds wonderful. If it’s like the rest of Eastern Europe, it’s a good, inexpensive happy hour experiment. ~Terri

    1. Honestly, for us as travelers, posts like this are a great reminder of what to watch out for, how to spell it, and what it is. I’m sure you’ll see a post on our favorites post-taste. ~Terri

  2. No food recommendation but The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor is the perfect accompaniment to a trip through the Balkans. It’s a memoir written as an old man of a journey he took in the 1930s, going from Holland to Turkey on foot.

    1. I enjoy these old memoirs Alastair. Everyone’s very mobile these days and we all complain about the rigors of travel. But traveling in this area in the 1930s must have been a incredible challenge and a huge commitment. Thanks for the recommendation. BTW, I’ve known a few Dutchmen in my time and they are intrepid spirits indeed. ~James

  3. Last one that you do not know what it is is bread kind of dough, but a bit more greasy = tasty, that is baked in the oven (those are many pieces of smaller dough rolled in those “flowers” and squeezed together). Today it’s mostly made for special lunches and festivities (because it’s easier to just buy bread, instead of making it).
    As for rakija, I prefer grape to plum, it’s called loza, lozovacha (loza is that grape bush, I don’t know the Eng word for it)

    1. Thank you SO much. I looked all over to try to find out what the bread was. In the southern USA we have a pastry that looks similar, but it’s baked upside down. When you turn it over on a plate there are pecans and a syrup – it’s called “Pecan Sticky Rolls.” And it’s delicious! 🙂 As for the rakija, I love the loza, but I haven’t had the plum version yet. It’s always fun to try new things. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

    1. Laura, we were just in London. On our evening menu (in our hotel room – totally jet lagged) was stilton cheese, oat cakes, Hob-Nobs and then a quick sink into jet lag oblivion. Then, it’s on to burek. ~Terri

  4. Great photography. The food looks wonderful. I think that last item is like a chelsea bun without all the brown sugar etc. (Rolled and cut and placed together)

    1. Thanks so much, Rusha. James says his only objection to the salad is that he doesn’t like cucumbers … and they don’t like him! 🙂 So he’s agreed to try it … if I east all the cucumbers. Hmmm. ~Terri

    1. Anita, I think you’r right about the non-diet friendly fare – I understand it’s pretty “hearty.” That’s why we’ll be trying to fit in as many salads as possible! 🙂 ~Terri

  5. I like the look of all these yummy dishes and in particular the katchamack from Bulgaria since I love polenta and cheese, it reminds me of my childhood when my Italian Nonna used to often cook the most delicious polenta for us. Enjoy all of these culinary delights and have a great time in the Balkans.

  6. You have sold me on the Balkans as each and every one of these foods sounds divine! Or it could be that I am just hungry as I read this. 🙂

    1. LuAnn, when we first came to the Balkans a fews back we had no idea what to anticipate food-wise, but with that first taste of cevapcici we were thrilled. Next came a burek and we were over-the-moon sold. 🙂 I’m really excited about all the pickled vegetable (torshi) that are so popular this time of year. Are you and Terry still in Washington? ~Terri

    1. Hello Ina, It’s always so good to hear from you. So far we’ve only had the “grape” rakija/brandy from Dalmatia and truly loved it. The plum brandy will be totally new to us, and Carol (commenter above) told us there’s also a walnut version. What about you, do you prefer the “grape” rakija/brandy from Dalmatia ot the plum version? ~Terri

    1. Oh yeah, Liz! We just overnighted in London (our former stomping grounds) on our way to Belgrade, and we’re just giddy as a couple of kids. Last night we ate our favorite stilton cheese, oat cakes, and a couple of Hobnobs – Nirvana! So great to talk to you. When is your next trip? ~Terri

      1. Sounds fantastic!! Food really can be such a nostalgic, sensory experience. 🙂 I actually don’t have any trips planned right now. I’ve applied for Swedish citizenship, so I am waiting to hear from immigration – and there is a long waiting period right now. Plus, it feels good to just continue to get re-settled back in Sweden. Of course, I’m always dreaming and planning. Hopefully there will be a trip in the spring!

  7. If you want recommendations for Belgrade, ask me.
    On walnut rakija – as it’s made from very early walnuts that are still green, they are full of iodine so even doctors recommend it, a sip a day for people that have problems with thyroid gland (no joke)

      1. Thanks so much! We were in Belgrade for a week and just moved on -certainly not long enough! What a cool city you live in. Thanks so much for your very kind offer. All the best, Terri

    1. Thanks Pit! I understand that some of the peppers can be pretty fiery – but since you live in Texas you know fiery! 🙂 So far we haven’t run into hot food, but lots of delicious smoked dishes. We’ll see what’s to come. ~Terri

    1. Hi Jen, we just arrived in Serbia and while walking around the neighborhood we spied a place that advertised cevappi – the picture looks similar to ćevapčići, so I think we’ll give it a try tomorrow. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

  8. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to read this post so soon before dinner. I’m hungry … now made hungrier!

    Caprese salad is a favourite, baklava is additive, but the ajvar is totally intriguing. It hits all the right buttons … looking forward to the followup! 🙂

    1. Too funny, Joanne! I felt the same way when I was researching it. I’d find all these great sounding foods, and after that my good old American ham sandwich just didn’t sound all that interesting. We’ve been in Serbia for a week now and I can assure you it’s living up to its food expectations. Still waiting to find the ajvar! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Sorry for the late response Chris. We try our best to keep up, but as you know, wifi can be OK or dicey. Anyway, we’ve moved around a bit and have started to discover lots of similarities in foods around the Balkans. One thing they love and seem to put in everything peppers – off all varieties. I’ve never been a big fan of stuffed peppers but after a meal in Podgorica, Montenegro I’m a convert. ~James

    1. Ruth, we’ve fallen totally in love with ajvar (pronounced eye-var). Honestly, we have it every single day, and we know we’re going to miss it when we return to the US. We’ve had lots of versions, but the one we enjoyed most was made in Skopje, Macedonia. Like salsa, it comes in mild, medium, and hot. The smokey flavor of the grilled peppers and eggplant is wonderful. I’m sure the locals would cringe, but I prefer it slathered on crusty, brown bread for breakfast. Luckily, we have a jar in the fridge. 😉 ~James

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s