Food and Beverage in the Balkans

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1. Introduction

The cooking seems to have been almost the only thing in which the Balkan countries were united. In the whole area, many dishes are identical and many others are variations on a theme adapted to local foods, preferences, or religion. All Balkan’s people drink Turkish coffee, and all share a love of sweet things.

2. Balkan Countries

Countries on the Balkan Peninsula, a region in southeastern Europe, are bounded by the Adriatic and the Ionian seas in the west, the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas in the south, and the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea in the east. The peninsula includes Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and European Turkey.

3. Principal characteristics of the Balkan food and culture

The food culture of the Balkan Peninsula depended upon the historic, geographical, climatic, social, and religious elements. There are three main food culture areas: the Mediterranean, the Continental lowland, and the Continental Mountain areas.

The food culture of the Balkan Peninsula displays Asian as well as west European influences. Even though the Oriental influence has been very strong in the last several centuries, ethnic characteristics and traditions have been preserved.

Dishes consumed in these regions contain many similar elements, but may also greatly differ from each other. One of the most characteristics shared by most is the use of numerous spices, onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, paprika, and capers.

The food culture of the Balkan Peninsula displays Asian as well as west European influences. Even though the Oriental influence has been very strong in the last several centuries, ethnic characteristics and traditions have been preserved.

Dishes consumed in these regions contain many similar elements, but may also greatly differ from each other. One of the most characteristics shared by most is the use of numerous spices, onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, paprika, and capers.

People of the Balkans like meat dishes. However, in the past, the meat did not play a central role in the food culture of the Balkans. In those parts where there is a large Muslim concentration – mainly Albania, parts of Macedonia and Turkey – pork is not eaten; in other areas where Catholicism prevails fish is the Friday and Lenten dish.

Albania is the least interested in dishes and this may be because so much of its energy has been devoted to war, mountain banditry, guerrilla warfare, and family feuds.

4. Individual group of dishes

Soups are prepared from vegetables, meat, herbs, or different kinds of fish. Spring is the time for a thick lamb soup (mayiritsa). Also popular is potato soup, leek, corn, or beans soups, and also soup made of zucchini with milk or eggs. Along the Danube River, fishermen prepare thick soups, while in coastal areas, they make soup from sea fishes (the Greek khakhavia).

Meat can be prepared in a variety of ways. Grilling and spit roasting are characteristics of the Balkan region, and lambs, kids, or pigs are roasted on spits on the same occasions such as weddings and New Year’s Day. People grill seasoned minced meat shaped in different forms. Pleskavica, kabobs, lamb and veal cutlets, beefsteaks, or small pieces of meat with vegetables and mushrooms. Meatballs are also popular, with or without sauce. The pasha of turkey or the Greek kreftaidakiya. Minced meat is also used in meat pie. Meat can be served in a stew (goulash, paprika). Chicken is roasted with an addition of spices and vegetables, such as olives, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. Duck or goose is most often served roasted, sometimes with filling.

4.1 Goulash

In Balkan cuisine, vegetables are often prepared as a main or side dish. The vegetables are made into a ragout. Very popular dishes are those which are made from a mixture of vegetables, meat, and rice (sarma), or those prepared with vine leaves (balance dolmas). There are different casseroles in which meat is prepared together with vegetables: the Albanian shepherd’s pot and the Bosnian pot. The Turkish moussaka is prepared throughout the Balkan Peninsula.

Pastries, an oriental influence have always been an important part of festive meals in all Balkan countries. Most of the sweets contain walnuts and almonds. On Christmas and Easter, different kinds of cakes are served: pink from the Croatian coastal area, Greek melomakarona, and Kourabiethes. The basilica is prepared in Serbia and Bosnia. Tables filled with a great variety of Balkan cuisine and a strong attachment to the traditional culinary tradition.

The staple food in the Balkans is black bread, with cheese and olives, usually the black variety. In the summer the people eat enormous watermelons. For feast days they get together and roast whole lamb or sheep, or, in non – Muslim parts, whole pigs and piglets.

There is fish in plenty, both sea and river fish. Fruit and vegetables, all is there. Rice appears in many forms, so does cornmeal.

Corn – on – the – cob is a winter delicacy dried and kept over from the summer months.

Everywhere there seem to be nuts, including walnuts, pistachios, and pignolia (or pine nuts). These are used to chew, as well in many of the more famous dishes, in soups, stews, savories, and in many sweet cakes and pastries so beloved of the Balkans.

5. The cuisine of the regions

Croatian cuisine can be divided into a few regions and every region has its own distinct cooking traditions, characteristic for the area, and not necessarily well-known in other parts of Croatia.  Its modern roots date back to ancient periods and the differences in the selection of foodstuffs and forms of cooking are most notable between those on the mainland and those in coastal regions. Mainland cuisine is more characterized by the earlier Slavic and the more recent contacts with the more famous gastronomic orders of today – Hungarian, Viennese, and Turkish – while the coastal region bears the influences of the Greek, Roman, and Illyrian, as well as of the later Mediterranean cuisine – Italian and French. However, most dishes can be found all across the country. This is also why the varied cuisine of Croatia is called “cuisine of the regions”.

5.1 Some expressions from typical Croatian menus:

  • Specialties from the grill are called roštilja or ražnja
  • pečeno means roasted
  • prženo means fried
  • pod pekom means that the dish has been put into a stone oven under a metal cover. The cook puts hot coals on the cover so that the meal is cooked slowly.

5.2 Typical food delicacies

5.2.1 The meals are

  • Ražnjići (skewers)
  • Mesos table pork ham from Međimurje county
  • Janina – lamb garnished with Mediterranean herbs
  • Rojak – roast pork
  • Fresh game from Dalmatia
  • Visovačka begavica
  • Veal steaks stuffed with ham and cheese and grilled with breadcrumbs
  • Turkey with the clinic (flat, sour dumplings)
  • Kaninchenbraten
  • Leg of lamb à la Pašticada (rolled pieces of Pršut in white wine sauce)
  • Leg of venison the count’s way
  • Wild duck with the sauce
  • Roasted pheasant
  • Kotlovina from Samobor (kettle with the knuckle of pork and other meat and sausages)
  • Boiled fillet of beef haunch with Sauerkraut
  • Escalope à la Baron Trenk
  • Goose Međimurje (filled with buckwheat)
  • Goose Turopolje (corn semolina as a side dish)
  • Purgerica Turkey (Christmas dish from the bordering region to Zagreb, turkey filled with chestnuts, apples, bacon, lemons, etc.)
  • Bosnian ćevapćići, grilled little sausage-like meats served with onions, pita bread and possibly ajvar
  • Krvavice, or čurke, blood sausages, made of blood and kaša
  • Hladetina, a particular type of head cheese

For Christmas, Croats traditionally eat Bakalar (cod)

5.2.2 Some seafood and fish are eaten in Croatia

  • Squid – Croatian: ligne,
  • Octopus salad – Croatian: Salata od hobotnice
  • Cuttlefish risotto – Croatian: Crni rižot, Italian: Risotto Nero
  • Tuna
  • Shrimps – Croatian: škampi, Italian: scampi
  • Common mussels – Croatian: dangle
  • Cod with potatoes – Bakalar s krumpirom (Dalmatian specialty served at Christmas time)
  • Fish stew
  • Clam Buzara 

5.2.3 Some stews

Goulash is very popular in most parts of Croatia

  • Goulash (Croatian: gulaš, see also Hungarian gulyás)
  • Grah – beans (often done as ‘grah a zel em’ – with sauerkraut, or ‘grah a kiselom repo’ – with pickled turnip strings)
  • Mahone -green beans
  • Slavonska riblja čorba (fish stew from Slavonia)
  • Bruder (or Brodet) – fish stew
  • Chicken stew
  • Rabbit goulash
  • Istrian Stew (Jota)
  • Feines Venison goulash with prunes
  • Hunter’s Stew
  • Wine goulash

5.2.4 Pasta

  • Pašticada with Gnocchi (beef pot roast)
  • Istrian Fuži
  • Needle macaroni
  • strike
  • Price a zel em

5.2.5 Some soups are eaten in Croatia

  • maneštra
  • Veal soup with smoked meat
  • Vegeta seasoned broth

5.2.6 Side dishes

Žganci is a dish in Slovenian and Croatian cuisine

  • Sataraš (minced and roasted vegetables)
  • Mini (typical Croatian, roasted flatbread, similar to Caucasian flatbreads)
  • Đuved (cooked vegetables, similar to Ratatouille) 

5.2.7 Some other dishes

White Truffles from Istria

  • Punjena paprika – paprika/peppers filled with minced meat (Hungarian: töltött paprika)
  • Sarma – Sauerkraut rolls filled with minced pork meat and rice
  • Arambašići from Sinj – similar to Sarma, but with ground beef and with no rice
  • Mini – flat, sour dumplings
  • Lepinje -flatbread
  • Wild truffles with pasta
  • Croatian olive oil (Maslinovo ulje)
  • Paški baškotin – aromatic zwieback (rusk) from the Island of Pag
  • Potatoes from the region of Lika (Lički krumping) – high quality, large, red potatoes
  • Cabbage (Celje) from the region of Zagreb

cabbage (“Celje”),

  • Artichokes with peas
  • Frittata with asparagus
  • Žganci (with milk, Polenta)
  • Čvarci

5.2.8 Sausages and ham

  • Kulen (Kulin) – spicy pork sausage from Slovenia
  • Češnovka – spicy pork sausage with a harmonious garlic taste from Turopolje
  • Salami from Samobor
  • Švargl from Slovenia
  • Suđuk from inland Dalmatia
  • Istrian and Dalmatian Pršut – double-smoked ham (similar to Italian prosciutto)
  • Ćevapčići
  • Pancetta from Dalmatia
  • Špek from continental Croatia
  • Kaštradina

5.2.9 Cheese

Cheese Skripavac

  • Paški sir- famous sheep’s milk cheese and goat’s cheese from Pag
  • Farmers’ cheese and curd cheese from the regions of Kordun and Lika
  • Cheese from the Cetina region Cetinski sir
  • Cheese from the Island of Krk Krčki sir
  • Cheese from Međimurje Turoš
  • Cheese from Podravina Praga
  • Cottage cheese from Zagorje

5.2.10 Pastry

  • Pita
  • Pogača (farmers’ bread)
  • Husiljevača
  • Povitica
  • Bučnica (pumpkin can)

5.2.11 Sweets and desserts

Game Čobanac (Shepherd’s Stew)

Savijača or Štrudla with apple

Orehnjača variation of Nut Roll

Crêpes, in Croatia also known as Palačinke

  • Palačinke with sweet filling (Hungarian: palacsinta)
  • Baklava
  • Danske Valve
  • Krem Pita – cream slice
  • Šam Pita- meringue cream slice
  • Zagorski štrukli – sweet pastry from northern Croatia
  • Uštipci
  • Strudel (Croatian: savijača or štrudla) with apple or curd cheese fillings
  • Orahnjača – sweet bread with walnuts
  • Makovnjača – sweet bread with poppy seeds
  • Croatian honey
  • Bear’s paw
  • Farmer’s cheese (quark) cakes (cream cake)
  • Krane, pokladnice – a type of Donut
  • Croatian pancakes (with cream with wine sauce)
  • ušljivac, dean, badavdžija (long plaited bun)
  • Šnenokli (eggwhites in a vanilla cream)

5.2.12 Cakes

  • Čupavci
  • Rožata (rose cake)
  • Easter pastry Pinca
  • Kroštule (crunchy deep-fried pastry)
  • Fortune, a festive pastry, particularly for Christmas
  • Bishop’s bread
  • Guglhupf (ring cake) (in Croatian kugel of)

5.2.13 Dessert Wines

  • Sweet Malvazija
  • Muškat Ottonel
  • Prošek

There are other drinks, some very strong, such as Slivovitz which is made from plums and is the national drink of Yugoslavia, also drunk elsewhere. The Serbs have an aged plum brandy which is more expensive. In Turkey, there is Raki, an aniseed drink usually diluted with water and extremely popular. In Greek, there is Ouzo, similar to Raki.

6. Basic ingredients in the Bulgarian kitchen

– Meats such as pork, beef, lamb, and chicken

– Plain yogurt and cheese such as feta and yellow cheese

Rice, corn, beans, and lentils

– Many sorts of vegetables such as green and red cabbage, turnip, yellow and green onions turnip

– Olives, mushrooms, and garlic are very important in Bulgarian cuisine

– Spices such as paprika and mint

– Nuts and

– Herbs

All these ingredients, the fruit, and vegetables are grown in Bulgaria

Home cooking depends on many factors such as cooking traditions. Also, there is a difference between its North and South parts even though Bulgaria is a small country.

Today many Bulgarian women prefer quick dishes instead of slow cooking.

Yogurt is typical of Bulgaria.

7. Beers, known as “pivo” in Croatia

Most parts produce their own beer.

Apart from the great abundance of imported international beers (Heineken, Tuborg, Gösser, Stella Artois, etc.), we can find some tasty home-brews beers in Croatia. (Real fans need to know that the brewery in Split produces Bavarian Kaltenberg beer by the license of the original brewery in Germany).

  • Karlovačko: brewed in Karlovac
  • Ožujsko: brewed in Zagreb (the name refers to the month of march)
  • Pan
  • Favorit: from Buzet, Istria
  • Osječko: from Osijek
  • Star Češko: Czech beer from Daruvar a Czech minority is living there), brewed in Croatia
  • Riječko pivo: from the large seaport city of Rijeka on the northern Adriatic coast

Velebitsko Pivo: brewed near Gospić on the Velebit mountain, small but high-quality brewery, the dark beer has been voted best beer by an English beer fan website.

8. Liqueurs and spirits produced in Croatia

  • Maraschino
  • Rakija (Croatian name for spirits) made from:
    • Lozovača / Loza – grapes (it.: Grappa)
    • Travarica – Loza with herbs
    • Šljivovica – plum
    • Kruškovac – pears
    • Drenovac – cherries
  • Pelinkovac
  • Orahovac (walnut liqueur)
  • Glembaj
  • Medina (with honey)
  • Girl (as Medovina, only more alcohol)

9. Coffee

Croatia is a country of coffee drinkers (on average 5kg per person annually), not only because it was formerly part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but also because it bordered the former Ottoman Empire. Traditional coffee houses similar to those in Vienna are located throughout Croatia.

10. Mineral water

Regarding its water resources, Croatia has a leading position in Europe. Concerning water quality, Croatian water is greatly appreciated all over the world. Due to a lack of established industries, there have also been no major incidents of water pollution. Water – here one thinks of Turkey and Greece, where water is appraised like wine. Albania too has crystal clear and lovely water. In Istanbul and other Turkish cities, no one drinks water from the tap. Not because it is unhealthy or contaminated, but simply because it has not the right taste.

  • Jamaica – Winner of the Paris AquaExpo for best mineral water of 2003
  • Lipički students
  • Jana – also belongs to Jamnica, best-aromatized mineral water (Eauscar 2004)
  • Cetina – water from the river Cetina which flows through the Dalmatian hinterland 
  • Bistra – produced by Coca Cola

11. Juices and syrups

  • Badel
  • Jamaica
  • Maraska
  • Dona
  • Vindija juices – Vindi sokovi
  • Cedevita – sherbet

12. Turkey

The Turks have always been gourmets – at least since their conquest of Byzantium. Many of their dishes have attained international fame, as well as being the inspiration of other Balkan food. (Incidentally in the Balkans not only do the people cook ‘after the Turkish fashion’ but also use the same kind of kitchen utensils, calling them by Turkish names.)

The Turks have always spent much time and thought on their culinary efforts.

There is immense variety in both fruit and vegetables, and markets area joy of color, quality, and quantity. People live by the seasons, eating fruit and vegetables as the season brings them.

Oil plays a large part in Balkan cooking. In Turkey and Greece, with their large concentration of olives, it is olive oil which is the main cooking ingredient. Of course, they all use plenty of butter, as well as oil.

One connects yogurt with the Bulgarians but is eaten throughout the Balkans.

13. Bulgaria 

Bulgaria developed their own cuisine in the 19th century. Until then Bulgarian people used to eat the usual for European food such as meats, fish, bread, fruits, and vegetables.

14. Greece

The magnificent food in Greece is world-famous. People in many countries enjoy the succulent lamb, spicy appetizers, delicious fish dishes, savory pies, and sweet, sticky pastries that mean Greek cooking to most.

Greek favorite dishes are mousaka, dolmades, egg and lemon soup, taramosalata, baklava, just to mention some.

Greece is a country with a long and spectacular history and the history of its cuisine is equally colorful and varied.

The pleasant climate encourages outdoor eating.

Oregano, lemon, and olive oil are very commonly used in Greek recipes.

15. Slovenia

The food and cuisine in Slovenia are special because its gastronomic and culinary image has been created at the hub of European Alpine, Mediterranean, and Pannonia lowland worlds; where cultures have been meeting for millennia, where centuries of social-historical development have conditioned the specific cultural forms and lifestyles on the territory now represented by the Republic of Slovenia. The diversity of the population also contributed to the diversity of images. This is reflected in habits and customs, forms of economic endeavor, interrelations, and spiritual creativity.

When the Slavic immigrants settled in the 6th century, there was already an aboriginal population, people who had an important impact on economic life, and indirectly on food habits. This applies especially to processing the milk into milk products and cheese making.

However, the major shortage of wheat, and this bread, meant that the basic foods were groats (“kaše”) (especially barley and millet) and broad bean (“bob”) and other legumes.

People also ate peas (“grah”) and made oil from poppy (“mak”), flax (“lan”), and pumpkin (“bučnica”).

Only on festive occasions did they enjoy various cakes and pork and meat products made at online”, i.e., the slaughter of the pig and processing the carcass.

Honey and milk products also had an important role in the diet. Buckwheat (“ajda”) began to appear in the Slovene space from the 15th century, which greatly changed the structure of food customs. 

Corn (koruna”) began to spread in the 17th century.

In that century, they began to cultivate beans (“fižol”), and in the second half of the18th-century potato (romper”), which became one of the most popular dishes in Slovenia in the 19th century.

The monasteries also had an important role in mediating certain eating habits and in the ways of preparing food.

In the second half of the 18th and in the 19th century, Slovenia adopted a number of innovations in the culinary field (a range of farinaceous dishes, doughnuts), and in the same way,y some typical Slovene dishes began to obtain international recognition (e.g., “potica” – a cake roll with various filling, “kranjskakilobasea” – Kransky sausage, “štruklji” – dumplings with very varied fillings). 

The impact of innovation was felt even more after the revolutions of 1848, bringing numerous changes in the culinary culture and enriching the wide palette of regional diversity.

A new era in the development of culinary and gastronomic culture opened in Slovenia with the period of being linked to the Balkans, after 1918 in a kingdom and from 1945 to 1991 in socialist Yugoslavia.

Along with major social changes and changes in the population structure, various Balkan dishes entered the menu in Slovenia, in which barbecued dishes stand out. (e.g., “čevapčiči” – minced meat rolls and “ražnjiči” – meat on a spit, to name but two). The use of paprika became widespread. At the end of the sixties of the 20th century, the culture of the Italian pizza began to take hold as a counterbalance to Balkan dishes.

Punjenapaprika and potatoes

Slovene cuisine, until recently relatively unknown internationally is today among the most interesting culinary gastronomic environments in Europe.

Slovenes most enjoy talking about food at the table. The preparation and enjoyment of foods once again becoming a ritual. Holidays, which, e.g., were forbidden on a public level (Christmas, Easter) were an exception. And this is precisely where the most recognizable regional festive culinary heritage was preserved and developed.

Slovenian people as well as more and more numerous tourists began to discover a new delight in Slovene food after Slovenia’s independence in 1991. For example, the Society for the Recognition of the Sautéed Potato as an Independent Dish (“Društvo za priznanje praženega krompirjanott samostojneJedii”) was founded in 2002 in Ljubljana.

The slow food movement is rather similar, having developed from neighboring Italy and already having a number of regional gatherings. Also important in the culinary and gastronomic field consists of numerous wine societies and informal groups that have chosen to focus their activities on improving the wine and beer culture and linking the wide palette of Slovene wines with food.


Angeline Kapsaskis (1977) The commonsense Greek cookery book Angus & Robertson Publishers

Todorova, Maria (1995) ‘Imagining The Balkans’ Oxford University Press, Inc. New York

Maria Kaneva-Johnson, (1995) ‘The Melting Pot: Balkan Food & Cookery’ Prospect Books (UK)

Callec, C. (2003), written at The Netherlands, Wine: A Comprehensive Look at the World’s Best Wine, New York: Random House (published 2002), text by Mr. Janez Bogataj, Ph.D., Professor of Ethnology at University of Ljubljana

Robin Howe (1965) Balkan Cooking. Andre Deutsch

Trish Davies, Atkinson C., Chamberlain L., ( 2000) ‘The Balkan Cookbook: traditional cooking from Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkan countries’ Southwater

Vladimir Mirodan (1987) The Balkan Cookbook Lennard Publishing (UK)

Bulgarian Cooking

FAQ server: Bulgaria Bulgarian cuisine by Rumi Radenska!topic/soc.culture.bulgaria/KUIDSFsbwgo

Journal article by Lakovos D. Michailidis, (1998) East European Quarterly, Vol. 32

Journal article by Lakovos D. Michailidis, (1998) East European Quarterly, Vol. 32

The Balkan Countries

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Ana Santos, Portugal 🇵🇹 & United Kingdom 🇬🇧

I'm a seek learner and curious teacher in constant self - improvement mode. Currently celebrating diversity, multilingualism, people, and their culture. After three years of living in Southeast Asia, and China, I'm moving to the UK to take care of my lifelong project on education: leadership and management! I dedicate this website to my boyfriend and mentor, who taught me about courage, to my 11 years old Thai student, June, from whom I learned what teaching is about, and to all my Chinese students from the Han majority and all 55 minority groups across China. May God bless your ways, in safety. A foreign language curious, human and woman, a traveler. A daydreamer!