Nikola Tesla and interesting architecture might be two things that come to mind when you think of Serbia—a small Balkan country of 7 million people that borders Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro—but you might not know that Serbia also happens to be a country of wholesome, hearty food that’s a total haven for carnivores. You’ll find loads of grilled and roasted meats served in all shapes and sizes, zesty stews, and plenty of brandy to wash it all down. Read on for the 10 best foods to try on your next trip to Serbia.
Sarma, also called “cabbage rolls,” is sour cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, though variations can include fish meat or vine leaves. Juicy, delicious, and filling, Sarma is one of Serbia's most beloved dishes and dates back to the days when the Ottoman Empire ruled. Try Manufaktura for a trendy restaurant with reasonable prices and interesting takes on this classic staple.
Have you ever wanted to turn a burger into a sausage? These logs of grilled minced meat are one of the most typical dishes you’ll find in Serbia. Usually served as a portion of 10 ćevapi with flatbread, chopped onions, and sometimes french fries, you can find this traditional dish at nearly every restaurant or street corner. Try Drama Ćevapi for great ćevapi you can get by the piece.
A Serbian hamburger made of beef, lamb, or pork, pljeksavica definitely isn’t like your Big Mac patty. The meat mixture is the same as ćevapi, only in super-sized hockey puck form. Spiced with garlic, onions, hot paprika, and salt, you can prepare pljeksavica baked or pan-fried, though grilled is the most typical. Serve it with Serbian potato salad, French fries, or coleslaw, and you’ve got a juicy hamburger that feels like home. These are best at fast food joints, so head to Prava Pljeskavica or Mara for some good cheap eats.
No, we’re not referring to the Serbian and Yugoslav rock band. The band actually got their name from a traditional Serbian dish: a bright red, paprika-spiced fish soup that originated in Hungary and includes carp, catfish, perch, pike, or a mixture. It’s probably one of the spiciest foods you’ll try in Serbia, so be warned. Try Paša in the historic Zemun if you feel like looking at a river while eating river fish.
While it’s hard to compete with American southern BBQ, this Serbian stew made of barbecued meat and vegetables certainly gives the deep south a run for its money. It’s a bit of a mish-mosh of meats; it actually gets its name from mućkati, meaning “to mix.” You’ll find lots of different cuts of the same animal or even a mixture of different animal parts. Fill your belly with this stew at Kod Dače!
This savory Serbian cheese pie is a great on-the-go snack any time of day. A pastry made of thin layers of dough stuffed with cheese and glazed with egg, you can find this pie in any restaurant as an appetizer, side dish, main course, dessert, or even served with yogurt for breakfast. Head to the super charming and cozy Dokolica Bistro Vracar to add a little romance to this layered pile of cheesy goodness.
Krofne is like a Serbian jelly donut but can also be filled with chocolate, cream, cinnamon, butter, or custard. They’re similar to beignets, with an airy interior and a fluffy exterior, and are a popular New Year’s Day treat to symbolize good fortune. Try Slatkoteka for a yummy Serbian sugar rush.
Pečenje is a term that essentially translates to “roasted meat.” This encompasses meats like roasted pork, whole lamb joint, or goat and is typically found in big celebrations like weddings or birthdays. Try the roasted lamb at Zavicaj, which also offers a wide variety of meats, desserts, and salads.
Karađorđeva šnicla is a thick steak of rolled pork or veal, resembling a schnitzel but stuffed with kajmak (cream), breaded, and fried. It’s usually served with potatoes and tartar sauce. Get a taste of this meaty dish at Dva Jelena, located on the lively Skadarska Street in the bohemian quarter, for some live music to go with your meat.
Rakija is not technically a food, but this overproof fruit brandy is way too foundational to Serbian imbibing not to include. The national drink of Serbia, it can be made from any number of fruits like apricot, plum, grape, peach, and fig. One Serbian woman explained that Rakija is not only alcohol but also a key cultural element used in pretty much every celebration, ritual, meal, and occasion—even taken as a shot in the morning with breakfast. You can find it literally everywhere in Serbia, but head to the Rakija Fest if you happen to be there in September!