To learn more about Balkan foods we need to know where the Balkan countries are. There is no consensus as to which countries are considered the Balkans. Generally, according to ThoughtCo, the Balkans or Balkan states consist of 12 countries. Namely, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. These are countries bordering Hungary and Ukraine in the north, Greece, and Turkey in the south, the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea in the west and the Black Sea to the east.
The Balkans is where you’ll find European and Ottoman influences, a region where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together for hundreds of years. So, Balkan foods are diverse, and they show the different cultures, geography, and climate of the region. When you’re there, you get to sample a wide range of dishes that tell the stories of the past and present. Here are 10 foods to try:
Cevapi is popular in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, and Albania. It is finger-sized lamb or a mix of lamb and beef sausages without casings served with flatbread. This Turkish-influenced dish is affordable, fast and delicious. In Sarajevo, the sausages are placed inside the pita pocket. But in Prizren, Kosovo cevapi come with salad and bread on the side. Cevapi is also known as cevapcici in Sarajevo.
Burek is one of the most common and popular Balkan dishes. It is a savory and flaky pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach.
Every country has its version of burek. In Bosnia, burek is also called pita. Bosnians use thin layers of phyllo filled with meat, cheese or spinach, rolled and baked in a round pan. To serve, they cut it like slices of pizza.
3. Parjeni filiiki (fried bread)
Besides dumplings, meat stews, grilled meat, and goulash, in Bulgaria, you’ll find fried bread or parjeni filiiki. This French toast-like bread is a traditional Bulgarian breakfast food and happens to be my favorite. I had it with cheese and jam every morning. Bulgarians usually have parjeni filiiki on the weekends. This fried bread is made up of slices of bread dipped in a batter of flour, eggs, and milk, and fried until golden brown.
4. Grilled octopus
The pristine waters of the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea are not only beautiful, warm and great for fishing and recreation; they also provide coastal and Mediterranean cuisine for Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.
Seafood reigns supreme in Croatia and Montenegro. Try whole grilled octopus, octopus salad or anything with octopus when visiting Montenegro’s coastal towns like Kotor and Perast. You’ll find the freshest and delicious grilled octopus soaked in olive oil and garlic. Grilled octopus is best accompanied by blitva, a type of green leafy vegetable common in Dalmatia (Croatia and Montenegro’s coasts).
5. Girice fish
Girice fish is not for the faint-hearted. These tiny fish like whitebait are deep fried Balkan-style and eaten whole. They are widely available in Dubrovnik. Have it with local beer (Karlovačko, a favorite beer) or dry white wine (Vrbnička žlahtina).
6. Black risotto
Black risotto is one of the must eat dishes in Dubrovnik. It’s rice boiled in squid ink with pieces of squid, crab, oysters, lobster, and mussels. The cheaper version will have a few pieces of squid.
This Greek and Turkish influenced dish is widely served in Albania and Macedonia. It is a dish made of eggplant, ground meat and cheese served during lunch and dinner. Musaka or moussaka are also made with potatoes in North Macedonia and Serbia.
8. Albanian pickled cabbage
Turshi is pickled vegetables commonly found in Albania. The Albanians serve turshi with meat and bread. The most common are pickled cucumbers and tomatoes and pickled cabbage (turshi lekure). Pickled cabbage is served on the side with a meat dish. Tomato, cucumber, and cabbage are widely grown in Albania.
Vegetarians won’t go hungry in Albania. Albanian salad, like Greek salad, consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, lettuce, onions, and cheese.
9. Turkish delight
You’ll find Turkish delight, the jelly-like sweets with nuts in Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik, Prizren, and Tirana. Some coffee shops serve coffee with Turkish delight.
Though not a food, coffee is worth mentioning here. In the Balkans, coffee is part of the culture. It’s the drink of choice during breakfast and when meeting up with friends and colleagues.
Coffee is the best-kept secret of the Balkan countries. The traditional Balkan-style coffee is brewed with grounds and sugar just like Turkish coffee. Most of the coffee shops in the Balkans are in a casual environment with outdoor seating. High-quality coffee is served with a glass of mineral water and a small cube sugar or Turkish delight.