Foodie’s Guide to Belgrade, Serbia
Greetings from Belgrade, the city I was born in and the one I call home most summers! Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, a landlocked Balkan country with a moderate climate–not the arctic region of Russia.
I’ve included a map for the geographically-challenged.
I won’t deny that Serbia has had a rocky political past, but I won’t get into it. Instead, I’m going to fill you in on the Belgrade food scene. Just remember that Nikola Tesla (who was far superior to Edison) and Novak Djokovic (one of the best tennis players in the world) are Serbs. You’re welcome, world.
Belgrade (as well as Serbia as a whole) is an ethnically homogenous place. Ninety percent of our population is Serbian, and the other 10 percent is made up of Slavs from neighboring countries. Because of Serbia’s homogeneity, most of the food available in Belgrade is traditional Serbian cuisine. However, over the years I’ve noticed restaurants from different ethnicities popping up. There’s a large Chinese neighborhood in Belgrade, so there have been Chinese restaurants here for at least the past 20 years. However, they’re neither owned nor operated by Chinese people, so it’s basically Serbian food with rice. I have noticed and heard about sushi and Asian restaurants that have gotten good reviews, so I’m looking forward to trying them out. Before I do that, I’ll explain what Serbian food is all about.
SERBIAN FOOD 101
1. We love our meat
We love our rostilj (grilled meats). This is the food you can’t leave Serbia without having. You can either get it in a restaurant, or at a little hole-in-the-wall stand on pretty much any street. There are two classic meats that you must try: cevapi (or cevapcici)–sausage-shaped minced meat (beef, pork, lamb or a combination) and pljeskavice–the hamburger form of the cevap. In restaurants, cevapi and pljeskavice are typically served with diced raw onions, fries and buns (lepinje) on the side.
As street food, the meat is served in a bun and topped with your choice of toppings–typically ketchup, cabbage and onions. A trip to Serbia is incomplete without a pljeskavica or cevapi.
2. We love our bread
We also love our baked goods. There are probably more bakeries in Belgrade than there are residents. Most of them are also hole-in-the-wall establishments meant for take out. One of my favorite Serbian baked goods is zu-zu, a snack made of flaky puff pastry that you can peel into a hundred layers. Another classic is gibanica, a savory pie made of cheese layered in between phyllo dough. I also really like stapici–breadsticks typically drizzled in a salt-water mixture that hardens into a tasty, stretchy treat.
3. We love our sweets
Some pekare (bakeries) sell sweets and pastries, but some don’t. That’s why we have poslaticarnice, cafes that almost exclusively serve homemade cakes, desserts and ice creams. American cakes and desserts do not compare to Serbian desserts. There are no vanilla or chocolate cakes here. The cakes come in complex flavors that require more than a box of Betty Crocker to make. Many cakes are made of hazelnuts and walnuts and filled with homemade whipped creams, layers of chocolate or fruit fillings. Serbia may not have chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, brownies, muffins and doughnuts (at least not in the form that Americans would recognize), but that’s because our desserts are much more sophisticated, complex and delicious. Once you see my posts from poslasticarnice around Belgrade, I guarantee your mouth will water.
4. Italy has nothing on our ice cream…
Our country across the sea from the big boot is better at some things than Italy. Serbia hasn’t been corrupted by tourists, so our gelato is cheap and the real deal. Belgrade’s streets are lined with ice cream and gelato shops and vendors selling the frozen treat in more flavors and for less money than you could get in Italy. Hazelnut is as standard a flavor here as chocolate and vanilla are in the US. Nutella ice cream needs to come to America!
5. …Or our pizza
You can grab a hot slice of pizza on every block in Belgrade. There’s no cheese or pepperoni pizza here; the standard option is ham and mushroom, which is delicious! Serbs like to top their pizza with ketchup, which has a milder and sweeter taste than Heinz does. The slices are large, cheap ($1 a slice) and not greasy like pizza in the US tends to be.
5. You can get food here any time of day
The thing with bakeries and fast food joints in general in Belgrade is that many of them stay open really late, if not 24/7. If you feel a pang of hunger while in Belgrade, you’re doing this city an injustice.
6. Farmers markets aren’t an expensive, hipster trend here
They’re how we get our produce, meat, cheese, eggs, etc. Getting your food at grocery stores and supermarkets isn’t as popular or of as good quality as getting it from a farmers market, or pijaca. Every morning, my grandma goes to the pijaca to get our fruits and veggies for the day. We eat it all on the same day and get more the next morning. Produce here is local and fresh. Going to a farmers market isn’t an expensive or Instagram-worthy event in Serbia, it’s a way of life.
7. We value our cafe time
Belgrade has tons of awesome cafes. I’ve been noticing really well decorated ones with interesting themes and cool names. In Serbia, as well as in the rest of Europe, you can go to a cafe, order a drink and sit and enjoy the world. You don’t have to get a meal (most cafes don’t offer more than dessert) and you shouldn’t bring your laptop and study materials. Cafes are meeting places for friends and family to catch up while watching the world go by.
8. The Food is very cheap
As a foreigner, your dollar, euro and pound will go very far. You can stuff yourself and get drunk for not a lot of money. The other night, I got a large calamari entree, a side salad, a roll and a non-water beverage for about $10. You can get a slice of pizza for $1. A scoop of homemade gelato will cost you $1 at most. You can eat and drink like a king here. I invite all of the foodies of the world to come to Belgrade and experience everything for themselves!
That’s my rundown of traditional Serbian food. This summer, I’m going to be sharing the best of what’s traditional, as well as what’s new in Belgrade. With the help of Trip Advisor’s list of the best restaurants in Belgrade, I hope to discover new restaurants to try out. If you’ve been to Belgrade and have any suggestions, let me know in the comments section below!