Besides being a beautiful region, the Balkans are famed for the exquisite cuisine found around the countries there. Whether you want to try a delicious bowl of hearty goulash, feast on some mouth-watering cevapi, or purchase a jar of ajvar to take back home with you, there are plenty of gastronomic gems to discover when visiting the Balkans. If you need a place to start however, be sure to try out the following dishes while you're traveling in this fascinating region.
table of contents
Foods and Dishes to Eat Around Europe’s Balkan Region
Photo by Cesarz/Shutterstock
A breakfast dish that you can find in almost any bakery in the region, burek is one of the most popular foods in the Balkans. This flaky dough is usually filled with cheese, meat or potatoes and goes perfectly together with a cup of yogurt. When it comes to the shape of burek, it depends on the Balkan country you're visiting. At some places you'll see it shaped in a spiral, while in others it comes in a round pie-shape.
Photo by Veronika Kovalenko/Shutterstock
Often a favorite food for many in the Balkans, is the mouthwatering cevapi. You won’t have trouble finding them anywhere in the region, but many believe that the best cevapi are served in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These delicious bites are a kind of minced meatball made with beef, lamb, or pork. Cevapi are usually served in a flatbread with onions and a special type of sour cream called kajmak.
Photo by JGA/Shutterstock
The king of Bulgarian comfort foods, sach is a meat-based dish which is served on a hot iron plate. The dish is usually made from chicken or pork, but you'll also find a version with spicy sausages or octopus. It’s not all about the meat here since onions, potatoes, and peppers are cooked together with the chunks of meat. When in Bulgaria, sach is a Balkan dish that's well worth ordering.
Photo by Fanfo/Shutterstock
When visiting Balkan countries and regions in the north such as Northern Serbia and Eastern Croatia, it’s almost mandatory to try a bowl of goulash. A kind of meat stew cooked for at least two hours, apart from onions and peppers, you won’t usually find many vegetables in this hearty dish. Generous amounts of smoked paprika are then thrown in and the dish is often prepared to be as spicy as you can eat it. It's then served with bread or pasta. To some people from the region, adding potatoes to goulash is pure blasphemy, but you'll find it in some versions around there too.
Photo by Mila Drumeva/Shutterstock
While you're in the region, make sure to try some traditional Bulgarian donuts. Basically just deep-fried dough and yogurt. the procedure is simple and similar to its western counterpart, let the dough rise, then deep-fry it in oil for a minute and powder it with icing sugar. These are quite similar to Serbian mekike and Hungarian langos which are not sweet but topped with cheese or ketchup.
Photo by Daria Mladenovic/Shutterstock
Kajmak is a special type of sour cream that you might notice everyone in the Balkans is mildly obsessed with it. Incredibly rich and creamy, kajmak is a dairy product made from milk fat. It can be eaten as a starter with some bread or served on the side of a meat order. The locals also like to load kajmak onto pieces of bread and stuff meat inside.
Photo by Urek Meniashvili/Wikipedia
Stuffed bell peppers, or as the locals call them punjene paprika, are a real treat for any foodie visiting the Balkans. The peppers are stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and rice and later slow-cooked in a simple tomato broth. Once on the table in front of you, adding a little bit of sour cream is the best way to eat these delicious stuffed treats.
Photo by freeskyline/Shutterstock
Similar to stuffed peppers and the Greek dolmades, sarma is one of the most beloved dishes you'll find around the Balkan countries. Usually featuring a meat filling mixed together with rice, it's then wrapped in cabbage and boiled. Most people eat sarma with kajmak and yogurt, like many eats in the region. You'll also find another version of this dish where vine leaves are used instead of cabbage, it's just as tasty and well worth trying.
Photo by padu_foto/Shutterstock
If you're passing through Slovenia, make sure to order a portion of štruklji. These delicious rolled pastries can be either cooked or baked, usually depending on the filling inside. Štruklji can be prepared savory or sweet and they are often made at celebrations and family gatherings. Of course, every family in Slovenia has that special recipe for štruklji and will always claim their own family recipe is the best.
Photo by Igor Dutina/Shutterstock
An equivalent to the classic American burger, pljeskavica is a famous Balkan specialty that you can try in countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Made from a mixture of pork, veal, beef, or lamb, pljeskavica is grilled on both sides, served in bread and stuffed with various options including ketchup, cheese, mayonnaise and urnebes.
Photo by Melica/Shutterstock
The last but definitely not the least delicious item on our ultimate Balkan food menu is the addictive ajvar. Similar to a classic pesto, but in most cases made with roasted red peppers, garlic, chili peppers, and eggplant. When the season for peppers comes along, many families in the Balkans make it at home but you can also buy Ajvar at supermarkets and will find it served alongside meat dishes such as kebabs at restaurants in the area.
It's not just one of the most underrated destinations in Europe for beautiful scenery and fascinating cities, the Balkan region is also home to some delicious food, you won't find elsewhere around the continent. If you're planning to take a trip there, make sure to check out the regional fare and see what the locals are eating.