Serbian Food – 14 Traditional Dishes as Recommended by a Local

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Are you planning a visit to Serbia in the future, and want to learn as much as you can about Serbian food?

Or maybe you’ve heard plenty of good things about Serbian food and want to try cooking some of the recipes at home.

If so, our guide to Serbian food, covering 14 traditional dishes and recipes, will have even the most casual of foodies licking their lips in anticipation.

We’ve compiled this list under the expert guise of a local Serbian foodie and writer. The following dishes and recipes cover foods for meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, and those of us who have a sweet tooth.

No matter what your palate, there’s something for everyone on this mouth-watering list of Serbian foods you simply have to try when you visit this beautiful country.

Introduction to Serbian Food

Serbian national cuisine is one of the lesser-known cuisines in the world. And that is a real shame for travel foodies, as Serbian dishes are wholesome and delicious.

The country’s cuisine is influenced by many nations from Europe and the Balkan region. Serbian food is an exciting mixture of native, Greek cuisine, Bulgarian cuisine, Turkish cuisine, and Hungarian cuisine.

This cultural fusion has helped develop original and delicious flavors, truly unique to Serbia.

Serbian cuisine includes diverse, bold, and sometimes spicy dishes. Most of the ingredients used are fresh, simple, and inexpensive.

Serbians love their meat and dairy, and these foods are common throughout native foods. However, you’ll also find plenty of grains, bread, and delicious vegetables in various dishes.

But all this talk of food is making me hungry. So let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular and traditional dishes in Serbian cuisine.

1 – Ajvar

Ajvar - Serbian Food

Ajvar is a roasted red pepper spread. It’s commonly enjoyed spread on a slice of thick, crusty bread.

Ajvar is eaten as a side dish or appetizer. Some Serbians also eat it at breakfast, due to its quick preparation time and various nutrients.

It is also a must-have condiment with barbecue meats, cabbage, and many other dishes.

Homemade ajvar is a popular sight in many Serbian homes. Many families still make multiple jars of it at home and store it for the winter months.

Ajvar has a spicy taste, due to the peppers used, dashed with a hint of sweetness. Roasted tomato or eggplant can also be added, to add richness or sweetness to the taste.

Serbians refer to it as ‘vegetable caviar’ because of its rich, delicious taste. Ajvar is one of Serbia’s most popular and traditionally important foods.

2 – Kajmak

Kajmak - Serbian Food

Another popular spread from Serbia is kajmak. Unlike ajvar, which is made from vegetables, kajmak is a dairy product.

Kajmak is made by simmering cow’s milk over heat for many hours. The cream that collects on the surface is then scooped up, and cooled to form kajmak.

How long it cools for depends on the type of kajmak you’ll have. Kajmak that cools for only a few hours, with a lighter, fresher taste, is known as young kajmak.

But kajmak that is let to mature for several days or longer becomes harder. Its taste strengthens and intensifies, and is instead known as old kajmak.

Kajmak has a thick, creamy texture. High in fat and with a deep, rich taste, kajmak has been stored and enjoyed by Serbians for generations.

The most common way to eat kaimak is by spreading it on thick, delicious slices of bread. As with ajvar, kajmak is eaten at breakfast, or as an appetizer or side dish to the main course.

It’s also enjoyed spread on barbecue meats, potatoes, and even added to polenta to enhance and enrich the flavor. Beef shanks simmered very slowly with kajmak are particularly tasty.

All-in-all, this is a must-try Serbian food and a true national delicacy.

3 – Burek

Burek - Serbian Food

Burek is perhaps the most popular breakfast in Serbia. You can buy it in every bakery.

Throughout Serbia, you can find special stores called Burekdzinice, which exclusively sell different types of burek.

Burek is a rich, packed pastry dish, made with a dough similar to filo pastry. Traditionally, the layers in between the dough are filled with minced meat, cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, and spinach.

Today, the burek comes with a wide range of fillings. Versions with pizza toppings, such as ham, cheese, and tomato sauce, are becoming more and more popular, especially amongst the younger generation. There are even some sweet versions.

Believe it or not, some Serbians will even eat burek with no filling at all. It’s best eaten heated, and fit to eat at all times of the day.

Burek is hearty, rich, and filling. It is commonly eaten by children at school for lunch to give them strength throughout the day.

Many Serbians also believe a slice of burek after a night of drinking and partying helps cure a bad hangover.

Served with a dollop of yogurt, few foods in Serbian cuisine can complete with the warmth, love, and heartiness of burek. It’s one of the country’s most beloved foods.

4 – Sarma

Sarma - Serbian Food

Sarma is a hearty, soothing winter dish. If you are lucky enough to stay with a host family in Serbia, there’s a high chance that sarma will be on the menu.

This filling and hearty meal that is commonly served when the cold weather arrives in the fall and winter.

The basic ingredients of this dish from Serbia are sauerkraut leaves and minced meat. Home cooks also add bacon, sausage, carrots, rice, and onions.

You can also add paprika, garlic, horseradish, and many other things to add a little spice and kick to the flavor.

Sarma is made by wrapping the filling up inside the sauerkraut leaves to make a little tight sealed package. Once sealed, the packages are placed in a big pot of hot water, to simmer away for a few hours.

Often, Serbian cooks will add some dry sausage or pancetta while sarma is cooking. This helps add more depth to the sauce.

For many Serbians, sarma is the ultimate comfort food. Some happily admit to eating it several times a week.

Granted, you rarely make a small batch when you prepare sarma. I’m confident in stating that claim has been put to the test more than once in many Serbian households!

5 – Barbecue meats

Barbecue meats - Serbian Food

There is no hiding the fact that Serbians are wild about barbecue and grilled meats. The most popular barbecue meats eaten in Serbia are cevapi, followed by pljeskavica and raznjici.

Cevapcici, as they are affectionately called, are made of a mixture of delicious pork and beef minced meat. The meat is rolled into sausages or patties, then grilled to personal preference.

Cavapcici is commonly served in a lepinja, which is a hearty and delicious type of flatbread. You’ll often see several patties or sausages served in one flatbread. Raw onions are an absolute must-have with it.

Ajvar and kajmak spread, as we looked at earlier, pair well with barbecued meat. The sweetness and richness of the sauce with the smokiness of the meat is quite the combination.

Eaten with a glass of cold beer, you’re in for a true Serbian food treat!

6 – Muckalica

Muckalica - Serbian Food

Whenever there is any leftover barbecue meat, muckalica is the order of the day.

Muckalica is made by mixing barbecued meats with many delicious vegetables. The mixture is commonly baked in a clay pot for a deep, intense flavor.

The word ‘muckalica’ literally means to stir or to mix in Serbian. So I think it’s fair to say that this dish is appropriately named.

There are variations of this dish across Serbia. However, the most famous muckalica dish hails from the town of Leskovac.

There, muckalica is made with onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. Chilli flakes and peppers are added to the juices to take the level of heat up a couple of notches.

Considering this is a dish of simple vegetables and leftover meat, the taste is truly divine. This is a Serbian food loved by the masses.

7 – Karadjordjeva Snicla

Karadjordjeva snicla - Serbian Food

If you are in the mood for wholesome, fried food, then this dish will no doubt be right up your alley.

Karadjordjeva snicla is a delicious and simple dish. It consists of veal or pork cutlet, dipped and covered with one of Serbia’s favorite spreads, kajmak.

Once the cutlets are covered, they are then rolled in breadcrumbs. Finally, the cutlet is fried in oil until the color is deep and the exterior is crispy.

Each bite of this mouthwatering Serbian dish is divine. Each crunch of the breaded cutlet is followed by some thick and creamy kajmak.

This rich and savory sauce is already a great dipping sauce for meat. But layered between a coating of breadcrumbs, the fusion of the flavor is a true taste sensation.

This is a must-try Serbian food if you’re a big fan of hearty, meat-based dishes.

8 – Djuvec

Djuvec - Serbian Food

Let’s skip from fried Serbian food to something a little healthier. Djuvec is a meat and vegetable casserole, rich in flavor and very filling.

This glorious and beloved Serbian food is at first cooked on the stove. The meat and vegetable casserole is then put in the oven in an earthenware pot to finish.

Many Serbians add rice to the casserole, to really make it a comfort food. You can use different types of meat and vegetables, depending on how light or hearty you want it to be.

But no matter what the combination, when flavored with a little paprika and some herbs, it makes for a fantastic dish for lunch or dinner.

This is a Serbian food you simply must try, as it’s so delicious.

9 – Prebranac

Prebranac - Serbian Food

Prebranac is a very simple Serbian meal, made of only a few ingredients.

White beans are prebranac’s primary ingredient. First, the beans are cooked. They are then baked in a tray or dish with onions, bay leaves, and paprika.

Prebranac is ideal for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone who is looking for a dish not so heavy on the meat.

So much so, prebranac is often served during ‘posna slava’, a Serbian family feast where no meat dishes are served.

If you are vegan and visiting Serbia, this is a great Serbian food for you to try. It’s simple, filling, and utterly delicious.

10 – Gibanica

Gibanica - Serbian Food

Gibanica is popular throughout the Balkans and in Mediterranean cuisine. It is a beloved dish, and it is made for a wide range of Serbian holidays and celebrations.

Gibanica is essentially a cheese pie. It is made of layers of thin dough and a filling of cheese, eggs, yogurt, and oil.

In the Serbian version, the cheese helps make the dish so unique. It is a soft cow milk cheese, native to Serbia.

To make it, you simply layer the gibanica in a big pan or tray, as you would a lasagna. Or you can roll it into sheets of dough or make it into little triangles for individual servings, depending on your preference.

However you make gibanica, the taste is nearly always divine. It always comes out of the oven hot, crispy, and delicious.

If you ask Serbians about this dish, many will tell you they could eat this pie at any time of the day. From family feasts to Serbian celebrations, this pie is made at all times of the year.

You’ll also be able to find it in many bakeries throughout Serbia. It is decadent, filling, and so delicious.

11 – Cvarci

Cvarci - Serbian Food

Cvarci is an incredibly tasty Serbian food. It consists of bacon that has been cut into thick chunks, then fried in its fat and juices in a pan.

Once the bacon has cooked, the crispy and salty pork rinds can be eaten with a range of foods.

Some Serbians love to eat cvarci as a filling in various pastries. It can also be used as a topping on salad, eaten with vegetables and dips, or just eaten on its own.

12 – Proja

Proja - Serbian Food

Proja is essentially a Serbian cornbread. Many countries, particularly in the Balkans region, boast this hearty dish in their cuisine.

Just like many other dishes before, this one is made with very few ingredients.

Corn flour, oil, salt, water, and baking powder are all that’s needed to make this simple but delicious Serbian bread.

It can be served as an appetizer or a snack, either hot or cold. Some people like to enhance the flavor by adding cheese, cvarci, kajmak, yogurt, and many other ingredients.

You will easily find proja most bakeries. It’s one of Serbia’s simplest, but most loved foods.

13 – Baklava

Baklava - Serbian Food

Now, let’s take a look at a classic Serbian dessert. Baklava originates from the Ottoman era, and for over 500 years, Serbia was under the Ottoman rule.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Turkish cuisine has heavily influenced Serbian food. Despite centuries passing, baklava still remains one of Serbia’s most popular desserts.

This incredibly rich dish is made with very thin filo pastry, walnuts, and a sherbet of sugar and water syrup).

It is a staple recipe in Serbia, particularly around the holiday period.

Through the years, the recipe has been modified to include versions with different types of fruit and poppy seeds.

There’s no doubt that these recipes are tasty. However, in my humble opinion, if you are going to try baklava, you should definitely try the traditional recipe.

For a sweet and tasty Serbian food, look no further.

Greek-Cypriot Baklava Recipe

14 – Rakija

Rakija - Serbian Food

Rakija is a rich and sweet alcoholic drink, commonly drank on special occasions and following large meals. It is the national drink of Serbia.

It is made by distilling fermented fruit, but it is always clear in color, like water. Rakija has a high alcohol content, ranging from 40% to 65%.

There are many different versions of rakija, without different names depending on the fruit. Sljivovica is made from plum, kajsijevaca from apricot, viljamovka from pear, dunjevaca from quince, and loza from grapes.

It is a tradition in Serbia to drink it neat from a small 30-50ml glass, with no ice or additional garnishings.

Many Serbians often make their own rakija it for families and friends. It is considered a very special gift to receive.

Grandparents often use rakija to treat a sore throat and a cold. The old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ has been modified in Serbia to ‘a glass of rakija a day keeps the doctor away!’

Serbian Food Summary

Depending on the fruit, it will have a different name.

Whether you’re a passionate foodie, or just enjoy good, hearty local cuisine, Serbian food offers something for everyone!

Fusing Greek, Turkish, and Balkans staples together, there are some wholesome and enjoyable foods throughout Serbian cuisine.

Cheeses and dairy are prominent throughout the foods of this wonderful country, and you’ll find plenty of these delicious cheeses and meats between the layers of thick pastries and soft pies.

There’s also plenty of grilled meat and fresh produce to enjoy in a number of different recipes.

Wash all of these tasty Serbian dishes down with a glass of rakija, and you’ll still feel satisfied hours after eating.

Serbian food is hearty, rich, and honest. It beautifully demonstrates the passion, love, and resourcefulness of the Serbian people. In Serbia, food is far more than just for filling your stomach; it’s about love, friendship, and family.

So, one final time, here is a reminder of all the Serbian foods covered in this list. Be sure to have this list handy when you visit Serbia and are ready to order food.

1 – Ajvar
2 – Kajmak
3 – Burek
4 – Sarma
5 – Barbecue meats
6 – Muckalica
7 – Karadjordjeva Snicla
8 – Djuvec
9 – Prebranac
10 – Gibanica
11 – Cvarci
12 – Proja
13 – Baklava
14 – Rakija

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Contributor: Sara Pejakovic is a researcher and writer from Belgrade. She specializes in a number of topics, including medicine and health, and is passionate about sharing Serbian culture and heritage with the world through her writing.

Images licensed from Shutterstock

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