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If you’re eager to try North Macedonian food and learn more about Macedonian cuisine, you’ve most certainly come to the right place.
Our guide to the top 15 Macedonian dishes, expertly described by Milena, a food expert and writer from North Macedonia, will have your mouth watering and your tastebuds tingling in no time at all!
Introduction to Macedonian Food
North Macedonia, a hidden gem of a country, located in the center of the Balkan peninsula, is a small and colorful nation; definitely not your typical travel destination.
If you visit North Macedonia, you’ll be captivated by the numerous archaic monastery landmarks, picturesque lakes, and the alluring cuisine.
The rich and vibrant traditional recipes, some dating back centuries, will conjure up food that’s some of the most delicious you’ll ever try in your life.
Most Macedonian dishes are a perfect combination of organic produce, quality meat, and dairy. The climate allows you to eat a raw tomato as it is, and you’ll be blown away by the taste.
But pastry is also a key staple in Macedonian cuisine. In fact, Macedonians eat bread with almost everything you can think of.
The locals enjoy salads before meals, along with homemade rakija. This is a traditional alcoholic drink, that’s described on the list.
Other Macedonian favorites include juicy meat mixed with fresh organic vegetables and served with different varieties of pastry and bread.
Macedonians are known for their hospitality, so you can often see neighbors and friends inviting each other over for a glass of rakija.
Wherever you go in North Macedonia, great food will not be too far away. To get you excited, here are the most popular Macedonian food and Macedonian dishes you must try when you visit this beautiful country.
The Most Delicious Macedonian Food and Macedonian Dishes
1. Sarma – Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage rolls with meat and rice, or as Macedonians call it: sarma, is one of the country’s most popular foods.
It is a winter dish made of fermented cabbage leaves, rice, and ground beef. However, it can be eaten all year round.
The stuffed cabbage rolls are baked in the oven and can be eaten with sides, sauces, or on their own.
Sarma is the ultimate comfort food. It is wholesome and hearty, and it soothes the stomach on a cold winter’s evening.
The vegetarian version of sarma removes the ground meat and instead includes rice and leek.
There’s also a summer version of this typical winter dish. However, instead of fermented cabbage rolls, it is made of vine leaves. The summer version is usually served with sour cream.
Sarma is a wholesome and filling Macedonian food. It is an important part of the country’s history and heritage, and a delicious food you should definitely try.
Related: Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe
2. Tavce Gravce – Baked Beans
This is probably one of the most traditional dishes in Macedonia. Tavce gravce has an incredibly rich flavor and is eaten by families across the country.
It is made of boiled beans, seasoned with a roux that includes dry red pepper. The mixture is baked in a pan or skillet.
Macedonians like to combine it with sausages or ribs and fresh paprika. It is commonly eaten with bread.
According to tradition, tavce gravce is usually prepared as a Friday lunch. It is a dish of Macedonia you simply must try.
3. Musaka – Moussaka
Musaka is the perfect dish when you crave meat and potatoes. Rich, filling, and with plenty of heat, it is best eaten and served right out of the oven.
Macedonian musaka is made of ground beef meat and fried onion spread on layers of potato slices. It is seasoned with salt, red pepper spice, black pepper, and topped with an egg crust that gives it a crispy texture and golden color.
Once baked in the oven, musaka is a true firework of flavors. This famous Ottomon dish has become one of the country’s most beloved foods.
Essentially, musaka takes the traditional recipe and puts a Macedonian spin on it.
4. Pastrmajlija – Macedonian Pizza
You can hardly find a Macedonian that doesn’t love pastrmajlija. This Macedonian delight is essentially a baked dough pie. It is oval in shape, with a crust that is neither too thick nor too thin.
Pastrmajlija is topped with small chunks of salted diced pork or chicken meat and, believe it or not, Macedonians also top it with pork fat.
The reason why Macedonians love to make their pastrmajlijas with pork fat is that it makes the dough soft and tender, at the same time giving it an amazing aroma.
In some parts of the country, it’s topped with eggs as well. Pastrmajlija is usually served with green fermented hot peppers called feferonki.
Ajvar is a legendary food for many Macedonians. So much so that many are keeping the tradition of preparing it alive, no matter how long it takes to prepare it.
Ajvar is a pepper spread made of roasted red pepper, paprika, and eggplant. These ingredients are mixed, mashed, and slowly fried with salt and oil for several hours.
To prepare homemade ajvar, you need an entire day’s worth of time. But, the moment you try it with some cheese and bread, you realize it’s worth the effort.
Macedonians eat it for breakfast or as a spread or dip. Many people that try this traditional pepper spread are often stunned by its extraordinary taste and creamy texture.
Macedonian families gather to make tens of kilos of ajvar and store it in jars for the winter period.
If you only try one dish during your visit to Macedonia, make sure it’s ajvar! It is a Macedonian food you simply have to try!
Read more: Ajvar Recipe
6. Polneti Piperki – Stuffed Bell Peppers
Polneti piperki is a filling and flavorful main dish. It is made of red or green bell peppers, stuffed with ground meat and rice.
After removing the top of the bell pepper, the body of the pepper is filled with a mixture of ground meat and rice. It is then baked in the oven. Sometimes it’s also prepared with regular paprika.
Macedonians often use a slice of potato to cover the open pepper. Stuffed bell peppers are usually served right out of the oven with plenty of slices of bread.
7. Turlitava – Vegetable and Meat Stew
Turlitava is one colorful, tasty, filling, and comforting dish. It is made of plenty of different organic vegetables and pieces of pork or beef.
The dish consists of chunks and slices of potatoes, paprika, eggplants, peppers, okras, tomatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, and courgette. These ingredients are first fried together and then baked in the oven.
If you want a vegetarian version, just exclude the meat. Either way, you will get a nice and filling turlitava that is highly nutritious.
8. Pindjur – Tomato and Red Pepper Spread
Pindjur is a very popular relish, enjoyed in Macedonia during the summer period. It’s made of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
People here enjoy it while warm with some cheese and bread for lunch or dinner. It’s a truly delicious dip or sauce for a variety of other foods.
9. Zelnik – Filo / Phyllo Stuffed Pie
Does the thought of a pie stuffed with chopped fried leeks that’s semi-crispy on the outside but soft and tender on the inside get your taste-buds tingling?
If so, zelnik is a dish you simply must try! Some Macedonians stuff it with chopped meat, spinach, cabbage, or cheese instead of leeks, and even add a scrambled egg between the layers of dough to make it even tastier.
It’s usually served with sour cream. Whatever variety of zelnik you order, you won’t regret it.
10. Mekici – Macedonian Fried Dough
Mekici is a typical Macedonian breakfast served with cheese or sour cream. Mekici are similar to pancakes, and they’re utterly delicious.
Mekici are made from a rich and filling fried dough that includes yogurt in its ingredients – the secret to the irresistible and fluffy texture. Many Macedonians also enjoy this delicious breakfast or snack with jam.
11. Kebapi – Grilled Minced Meat Sausages
Cevapi, or as locals like to call is, kebapi, is grilled minced meat mixed with onions, salt, and pepper. Cevapi are rolled into sausage shapes, but resemble chipolatas more-so, due to their longer, thinner girth.
You can find them in almost every restaurant in Macedonia. In the summer, Macedonians like to cook them on the barbeque at home or at picnics with their friends and family.
12. Selsko Meso – Pork and Mushroom Stew
Selsko meso is a beef or pork dish. It has a rich, filling, and tasty flavor, and is traditionally prepared in an earthenware clay pot.
It’s made of smoked meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and spices. Order selsko meso with nafora and Shopska salad, and you’ll have a meal to remember.
This is a simple but delicious and filling Macedonian food you have to try.
Shopska salad is the prelude to every Macedonian dish. As a salad, it brings together the finest cheese and the best produce in the country.
It consists of chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and some olive oil and salt. It’s a really refreshing and nutritious salad that’s ideal for the hot summer days.
Shopska salad is common throughout the Balkans, Russian, and former Soviet countries. It is light, flavorsome, and the ideal light lunch or snack.
Related: Shopska Salad Recipe
Burek is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Macedonia. It is a remnant from the Ottoman era, dating back many centuries.
This crispy thin and layered pastry traditionally contains either cheese or meat. However, nowadays, you can find pizza burek as well, containing the toppings of a regular pizza, like mozzarella and tomatoes.
It’s usually served with yogurt and is an ideal grab-and-go takeaway food for commuters and people looking for a quick and filling lunch.
Read more: Burek Recipe
15. Rakija – Fruit Spirit / Brandy
Last but not least, we come to the country’s favorite beverage. Rakija is the traditional alcoholic drink in Macedonia, also drank in other countries of the Balkans region.
It’s also known as the Macedonian brandy, but it has many more uses than regular brandy.
Macedonians prepare hundreds of liters of rakija in their homes. They drink it not only for pleasure and special occasions, but also for alleviating the symptoms of a sore throat, cold, and muscle pain.
Many Macedonians believe rakija can kill bacteria and viruses. Hence, they use it to disinfect wounds as well as clean their homes.
Macedonians enjoy rakija before or after lunch and dinner. Sometimes, they warm it up with some sugar and then drink it.
Rakija is a rich, warm, and beloved beverage. It is an ideal drink during the cold winter days.
Macedonian Foods Summary
Macedonian cuisine may be influenced by many different cultures, but it’s truly one of a kind in terms of diversity and flavor.
Every dish has something unique, and all are tasty enough to impress you with each bite you take.
When you visit Macedonia, I strongly recommend you try as many Macedonian foods as you can. Food is an integral part of the country’s culture.
It is prepared with plenty of love and care, and it is a true reflection of the community and family values held dear across North Macedonia.
So, one final time, here’s the list of Macedonian foods covered in this article for reference.
- Sarma – Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Tavce Gravce – Baked Beans
- Musaka – Moussaka
- Pastrmajlija – Macedonian Pizza
- Ajvar – Roasted Pepper Spread
- Polneti Piperki – Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Turlitava – Vegetable and Meat Stew
- Pindjur – Tomato and Red Pepper Spread
- Zelnik – Filo / Phyllo Stuffed Pie
- Mekici – Macedonian Fried Dough
- Kebapi – Grilled Minced Meat Sausages
- Selsko Meso – Pork and Mushroom Stew
- Shopska Salad – Macedonian Chopped Salad
- Burek – Baked Filled Pastry
- Rakija – Fruit Spirit / Brandy
Be sure to have this list of North Macedonian food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
In fact, the food alone is reason enough to visit Macedonia. Bon appetite!
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Contributor: Milena Lazova is a foodie, content writer, and editor from Vales, North Macedonia. She is passionate about her home culture and cuisine and enjoys sharing recipes and insight through her writing.
Images licensed from Shutterstock