Serbian cuisine is a product of its history and is thereby an integral element of the country’s culture. Gastronomy combines fresh Mediterranean flavours with rich dishes rooted in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East, a characteristic shared by all of the former countries of Yugoslavia. Food serves to highlight one of the most admirable qualities of the Serbian people: their hospitable nature. They are renowned for their dedication to sharing of food amongst family and friends; meals are plentiful and every dish must be sampled. This essay shall describe some of their most celebrated dishes which can be found on every Serb’s dinner table.
Ćevapi, also known as ćevapčići, is a beloved dish of the entire Balkan region. Derived from the Persian word kebab, the dish comprises of small, grilled skinless sausages of minced meat, usually served in portions of five to ten pieces on a plate, or in a flatbread called lepinje. In Serbia, ćevapi is made out of either beef, lamb, pork or mixed meats. This is usually accompanied by chopped onions, kajmak (cream), ajvar (minced red pepper), feta cheese and salt.
Pljeskavica is another national meat dish of Serbia. Leskovačka pljeskavica is one of the most popular variations and consists of a beef or pork patty. On the other hand, šarska pljeskavica is made from beef, pork or lamb and is stuffed with kashkaval cheese, and hajdučka pljeskavica is made from a combination of beef and smoked pork. In all versions, the meat is usually served alongside urnebes (spicy cheese salad), kajmak, fried onions and ajvar. Lepinje can be served with the meat or on a side plate.
Burek is a baked, filled pastry which can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. The recipe for round burek, however, is thought to have been developed in the Serbian town of Niš. Considered a ‘fast food,’ it can be bought at most bakeries for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but is considered best when prepared at home. It is prepared in a circular baking pan, formed in layers of dough which are filled with alternating layers of cheese, mincemeat or vegetables. Every year, Niš hosts an burek festival named Buregdžijada, where competitors attempt to create the world’s biggest burek. In 2005, a 100kg burek was produced.
Sarma is a common dish in Serbia of Turkish descent. It is made of cabbage, chard or grape leaves rolled around mincemeat – usually lamb, beef, veal or pork. Other ingredients can be added to the meat, such as rice, onions, herbs and spices. To prepare the meal, it must be boiled for several hours. Sarma is traditionally served at Christmas and other religious celebrations, like weddings.
One must conclude with the statement that ‘national cuisine’ in this context is in itself a slight paradox: the preparation and sharing of food is a tradition that evidentially transcends geopolitical boundaries to unite an entire region. Whilst it would be untrue to claim that there are no nuances in Serbian cuisine that are endemic to the country, the obvious commonalities demonstrate that the term ‘Balkan’ may be more apt than ‘Serbian’ as far as gastronomy is concerned.