Balkan cuisine is unfairly overlooked and definitely worth exploring. Much can be learned from Balkan cooking. With influences from Turkish cuisine and dishes from many other countries, the Balkans showcase a unique blend of many diverse cultures.
People from the Balkans have rich traditions and they have a wide variety of dishes for all occasions. Because of that, it can be challenging to decide what to try.
Therefore, with this ultimate Balkan food guide, we will explore the cuisine of this region to prepare you for your visit or give you some inspiration for your next meal.
So, let’s begin!
Table of Contents
What Is Balkan Food?
People in the Balkan countries firmly believe that life is about indulging in pleasure. And, in their case, the pleasure usually involves a lot of grilled meat and other delicious foods.
Turkish, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines have had a significant influence on Balkan cuisine, and this region includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Slovenia.
Balkan foods consist primarily of grilled juicy meats and vegetables, unique to the area. For example, in Macedonian cuisine, they enjoy eating kebapi, a type of grilled minced meat made from beef or pork, combined with a side dish named ajvar, made from roasted peppers, herbs, and oil.
Another widespread food in this region is yogurt. Yogurt is made by straining cow’s milk to eliminate all of the liquid content. Many people from the Balkan enjoy eating yogurt with honey or with burek—as the ultimate Balkan breakfast.
The foods are often a bit spicy and include many dishes not usually found in other cultures outside of the Balkans.
Ultimate Balkan Food Guide: Most Popular Balkan Recipes To Try
Balkan food is influenced by many cultures and has given birth to many dishes that have been a staple for the people in the region for many years. As a result, in the Balkans, you can find a wide range of dishes, from lamb with potatoes to burek and rakija.
Let’s take a look at the cuisine styles of each Balkan country, and then dive into the most popular dishes you can try (almost in any Balkan country you visit).
Macedonian recipes are rich, colorful and fresh, and the food there is affordable beyond belief.
Macedonian cuisine is made of fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as meat—they love eating meat with every meal, and fish, as the most common ingredients.
Pastry is also an essential part of Macedonian cuisine, as the people here eat bread with almost anything you can think of.
The locals enjoy eating salads before the main meal, and they drink great homemade rakija, a traditional alcoholic drink.
Another staple in the Macedonian food scene is a homemade stew, usually made from potatoes, beans, legumes, beef or different meats, onions and various herbs served in the colder days of the year.
North Macedonia is a landlocked country and lacks direct access to the sea. However, here you can find many lakes and rivers that provide a plethora of fish, the most popular of which is the Ohrid trout.
If you decide to visit Ohrid as a part of your tour in Macedonia, the Ohrid trout is a must-try. It is great to try this fish grilled or packed with spinach and cheese, and baked in the oven.
Serbian cuisine has a very long and rich history, with influences from neighboring countries. It places an emphasis on meat, the most popular ones being grilled meats and sausages.
Additionally, here you’ll find different pies and pastries, various types of salads along with many fresh vegetables and fruits.
The Ottoman Empire also had a significant impact on the Serbian food scene. As a result, many Turkish words have been adopted into the Serbian language to refer to certain foods. One example is “baklava,” made of layers of pastry, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with sugar syrup or honey, best served with coffee.
Croatian cuisine has absorbed numerous influences, from the highlights of the Mediterranean diet to the hearty fare of Eastern Europe. Traditional Croatian food is similar to Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish food.
Yet, Croatian dishes have their distinct interpretation and taste.
As a result of these influences, Croatian cuisine has an array of meat and seafood dishes, fresh vegetables, delicious bread and pastries, pasta, mouthwatering desserts and various dipping sauces unique to the Eastern Mediterranean region.
With many delicate types of meat, fresh seafood and grilled fish, and plenty of hearty stews and bean soups, there’s an excellent range of foods to try on your next visit to this great country!
Bosnia and Herzegovina Cuisine
Bosnian food is described as a balance between Western and Eastern influences and is closely related to Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines. Common ingredients used in Bosnian cooking include potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, eggplant, and mushrooms.
Paprika is often used as a seasoning, while meat dishes are typically made with beef, lamb and poultry. Pork is not commonly found here, but people who do not follow Islam still consume this type of meat.
As you travel to Bosnian cities such as Sarajevo or Mostar, it’s hard not to be inspired by their beauty when walking through old cobblestone streets lined with Balkan food stores selling everything from fresh fruit to tasty meats.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is famous for delicious, traditional cuisine. Dishes like burek, a baked pastry with various fillings, or pljeskavica, a meat patty made of ground beef or pork, are common throughout Bosnia.
The capital city of Podgorica is full of traditional Balkan restaurants and international cuisine cafes. This has become a tourist destination for foodies who want to try the newest thing.
Traditionally, Montenegrin food varies across the country. An abundance of fresh fish and seafood can be found along the coast, while meat and cheese are more popular inland.
Traditional dishes feature a wide range of meat and fish, together with a wide variety of fresh vegetables. Lamb, pork, beef, and poultry are the most popular here.
In Montenegro, fish and seafood come primarily from lakes, rivers, and the sea. The most well-known lake in the country is Lake Skadar, from where the trout, carp, and bleak come from.
Sardines, mussels, monkfish, octopus, and various fish dishes reign supreme, straight from the Adriatic coastal area.
Travelers who come to Slovenia and venture outside the major cities will be surprised by the traditional Slovenian food.
The influence that the neighboring countries have on the food in Slovenia can be felt everywhere in the country. Flavors from Italy to the west, Hungary to the east, Austria to the north, and Croatia to the south make the Slovenian cuisine unique and delicious, full of tasty ingredients.
Most commonly used in Slovenian gastronomy are dairy products, mushrooms, sausages, various meats, seafood, many fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables, potatoes, beans, grapes, honey, herbs and olives.
One of their most popular foods is Kranjska klobasa, protected by a geographical mark and produced by certified manufacturers. Only the best pork meats are used to make the Carniolan sausage, to which salt, pepper, and garlic are added.
Different must-try recipes include potica, prežgana župa, gibanica, and jota.
There are many types of Slovenian food. This is a must-try cuisine, from tasty pastry to hearty soups and stews.
Albania has one of the most exciting food cultures. With influences from all around the world, Albanian cuisine is both inventive and delicious.
Meat dishes are one of the most ubiquitous meals you’ll find here. The most popular are veal stew, roast beef in fermented milk sauce and sheep pluck stuffed with meat and vegetables.
Almost every one of these dishes is served with bread or rice and some greens.
Although Albania is not a very large country, it has developed dishes that are often replicated elsewhere, including pasta, pizza and risotto. In addition, Albanian cuisine uses different spices, which leads to an eclectic blend of flavors.
As a result, this cuisine is excellent for exploring new tastes.
Greek food is a type of Mediterranean cuisine known for its rich flavors and use of herbs, spices, and olive oil. The cuisine typically includes a variety of seafood dishes and many vegetarian options.
Greek food is known for its rich and flavorful ingredients such as lemon, tomato, olive oil, and oregano. A staple in Greek cuisine is the pita bread which can be stuffed with meats and herbs to make a Gyro that always goes well with tzatziki, an appetizer made of yogurt, garlic, cucumber, olive oil, fresh dill, and sometimes a bit of lemon juice—for extra freshness.
In recent years, Greek food has been gaining popularity in America due to the positive health effects promoted by substituting meat with fresh vegetables instead.
Bulgaria is a country in Southeast Europe and the Balkans with approximately 7 million people and a land area of 110,000 square kilometers.
Bulgarian cuisine shares characteristics with other Balkan dishes and exhibits similar flavors to Greek and Turkish foods. But, of course, many Bulgarian dishes are also unique, being that the country has such a long history.
Bulgarian food is delicious, fresh and hearty. The country is recognized for its high-quality fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and variety of spices. Pork and chicken are the most commonly consumed meats, though seafood, fish and veal dishes are also popular.
Many delicious dishes such as moussaka, tarator, fried sprats, sarmi, and shopska salad are a must-try.
The main characteristic of Romanian cuisine is its great variety. It is a cuisine influenced by repeated waves of different cultures.
The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Saxons and the Turks dominated Romania for centuries. All these influences gradually blended and had a great effect on the Romanian culinary tradition.
The mouth-watering, satisfying dishes of Romania are a true delight, from tasty worm soups like beef tripe soup, to roasted eggplant salad and a broad selection of appetizing cheeses. Romanian food stands out in taste and flavor. Popular favorites include pork chops, lamb shanks, fish, vegetables, dairy products and fruits.
Best Balkan Meat Dishes
Balkan people love meat!
As a result, there are many delicious recipes to choose from, including different sausages and pates, bbq plates, cevapcici, and many other recipes made with ground beef and pork.
Let’s look at the most recognized and mouthwatering meat dishes popular in this region.
If you plan to visit the Balkans and try some cevapi, don’t worry about finding it, because it will surely find you.
Although there are numerous different interpretations of this dish, depending on what Balkan country you visit, it’s usually made with a mix of beef and pork, along with onion, garlic, paprika, salt, and parsley.
This is often served in a piece of bread, fresh onion, and sometimes ajvar. It’s famous street food in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. It’s also considered a national dish in many of these countries.
In other places, like Albania, it’s usually served as a dinner with bread and salad on the side.
Stuffed Peppers (punjene paprike)
Usually loaded to the brim with a few simple ingredients, stuffed peppers are sure to have you craving more and more, every time you eat them.
Some ingredients include meats, rice, paprika, tomato sauce, onions, and garlic. They are not usually found in restaurants and are much better if homemade.
Check our Punjene Paprike recipe.
Goulash originally comes from 9th century Hungary. Still, it is enjoyed a lot throughout the Balkans, in Albania, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia, where each region prepares it uniquely.
However, wherever you decide to go and try this recipe, you’ll find it is a stew made with meat, usually beef, veal or pork, potatoes, vegetables and herbs, and in the Balkans, it is commonly cooked over a wood fire.
Other ingredients can include bacon, onions, paprika, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, parsley, tomatoes, and whatever else chefs wish to add!
Goulash is served with bread, pasta, polenta in Croatia, and macaroni or mashed potato in Serbia.
Check our Goulash Recipe!
Well-known in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, and Albania, this risotto is a black risotto with cuttlefish and black cuttlefish ink, giving the dish its creamy texture and, of course, color.
This flavorful Balkan dish is then topped with parsley and sometimes with parmesan cheese.
You are going to see Burek in nearly every Balkan country you visit. This is the most popular and common Balkan food you can find throughout the entire region.
It is a filo pastry usually filled with minced meat or white cheese as the most common fillings.
Burek is an excellent choice for breakfast and goes great with yogurt.
Check out our Burek recipe!
For more carnivore stuff, check out our balkan meats guide!
Best Balkan Vegetarian Dishes
Worried about being a vegan or vegetarian in the Balkans?
Rest assured, this region isn’t just all meat. There are plenty of vegetable options here. Risotto with veggies, fresh salad, pasta with tomato sauce, and grilled vegetables are some of the many choices you’ll find here.
Grilled vegetables are usually considered a side dish in the Balkan countries, though it often goes by “vegetarian platter.”
Many of these vegetables are locally produced and packed with natural flavor. They are served with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs, making this dish extra fresh and tasty.
Tavce gravce is a dish made from traditional baked beans cooked and served in an earthenware pot. This dish is made by cooking beans in a sauce flavored with onion, salt and pepper, red paprika, and bay leaves.
One of North Macedonia’s staple dishes, tavce gravce, is typically found in Serbia and Bosnia, as well.
Check out our Tavce gravce recipe!
This is a traditional Bulgarian meal made from eggs, yogurt and crushed white cheese. It can also be found in Serbia and Macedonia.
Famous as a breakfast food, there are multiple alternatives to the usual filling, including spinach, pumpkin, or not that often, minced meat.
Usually, it would be served with Ayran, a savory yogurt drink for breakfast.
Check out our Balkan pita recipe!
Ajvar is one of the most favored condiments in the Balkans, and there is even a period of the year called the ajvar season! It’s a sauce or a dip made with roasted red bell peppers, olive oil and spices.
Depending on your preference, ajvar can be sweet or spicy, and can be spread on bread, enjoyed with grilled meats, or you can simply eat it as it comes!
Here’s the simples Ajvar recipe you can use today!
Best Balkan Desserts
If you’re someone who likes desserts and often has sweet cravings, it’s safe to guess that you’ll fall in love with Balkan desserts. They have everything from cookies and pastries to sophisticated tarts and cakes.
So, whether you’re preparing to visit the countries in the Balkans or just want to try to bring these flavors to your kitchen and learn some Balkan food recipes, here are some of the best desserts to try.
Technically, baklava is a Turkish dessert, but it’s just as popular in the Balkans. The dessert became very popular when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans.
Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry consisting of several thin dough layers covered in sherbet and ground pistachios that give a nice crunchy texture.
Sutlijas is another one of the famous Balkan desserts that originate from Turkey. Another name for this sweet treat is rice pudding.
It’s very easy to prepare this dessert made of rice, milk, sugar, vanilla, and rice flour. It’s often topped with hazelnuts or pistachios, and sometimes with fresh fruits and cinnamon.
Kozinjak is a sweet bread made with dried grapes and topped with powdered sugar that originates from Macedonia, and is very popular in the Balkans.
This is considered festive food traditionally prepared for Easter, Christmas and other significant occasions.
As you can probably tell from the name, vanilice are small, delicious vanilla cookies that taste much more complex than plain vanilla.
The cookies are usually loaded with chopped walnuts and sometimes apricot jam.
They originate from Serbia but are also very popular in other countries like Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria.
Madjarica is a famous Croatian dessert with a relatively uncommon name, meaning Hungarian girl in Croatian.
This cake is a chocolate-filled, layered delight that will probably leave you craving more for days. It’s a definite must-try!
Few note worthy Balkan dessert recipes:
Best Balkan Drinks
If there’s one thing all countries in the Balkan share, it’s their love for good food and drinks!
Of course, the Balkans have many famous drinks like rakia, wine and ouzo, but there are also some lesser-known delicious ones that you should try, as well.
Here are the best five Balkan drinks to try and learn about the culture and flavors of the Balkans.
Rakija is a universal term used for various fruit brandies produced in these countries. This spirit is distilled from different fruit, and sometimes also flavored or used as a liqueur base.
The most common versions are plums, pears, quinces, apricots, apples, and grapes.
These drinks are mainly associated with Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Montenegro.
The Balkan region is one of the most ancient wine regions in the world.
Despite the climate and the perfect grape-growing conditions, wine-making in the Balkan has had a turbulent history. Nowadays, there is a renewed focus on high-quality wines, with smaller wineries leading the charge.
Boza is one of the most unexpected traditional drinks found in the Balkan region. It is a fermented non-alcoholic beverage originating from the Ottoman Empire.
Depending on the country, the ingredients vary. It can be produced from corn, wheat, fermented wheat, or millet.
This traditional drink holds a special place in the hearts of the Balkan people, and it should be tried at least once on your Balkan tour.
This Turkish delight is famous all around the world, but the Turkish way of preparing coffee has been a tradition for a long time in this region.
You can get a cup of Turkish coffee in restaurants and even on the streets quite easily.
In conclusion, this article has presented to you a quick and easy guide to some of the best foods and drinks to try in the Balkans.
Some of the dishes may be unconventional, but the cuisine is one of the most enjoyable and tastiest in the world!
Thanks for reading, and tell us about your favorite Balkan recipes in the comment section below!
If you’re looking for some more delicious food guides, check these out:
You’re probably going to travel around the Balkans, so if you’re interested, check out some of our nature guides below:
- Slovenian Nature Guide
- Bosnian Nature Guide
- Croatian Nature Guide
- Bulgarian Nature Guide
- Albanian Nature Guide
Looking for specific things to do?
- Via Dinarica Hiking Guide
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