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Home » Belgrade: A Culinary Journey. Discovering the Best Pleskavica, Burek, and Džezva Coffee

Belgrade: A Culinary Journey. Discovering the Best Pleskavica, Burek, and Džezva Coffee

During your trip to Belgrade, you risk gaining a few extra kilograms: bakeries, pastry shops, and grilled meat await at every corner, and food prices are low. We talk about the most interesting Serbian dishes and where to try them in Belgrade.

Serbian traditional cuisine relies heavily on the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, albeit with influences from Central Europe. In Belgrade, a classic breakfast is bakery pastries with yogurt, and for lunch or dinner, the main dish is grilled meat with salad (sometimes this meat is wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and ham) or combinations of meat with vegetables.

Roštilj — Grilled Meat

Grilled meat is the foundation of Belgrade’s cuisine. The most common dish is a round, flat patty called pljeskavica, usually made of beef (sometimes from a mix of beef and pork or beef and lamb). In fast food, pljeskavica is served in a wheat flatbread called somun with vegetables and a choice of sauce.

Grilled meat is the cornerstone of Belgrade's cuisine. The most popular dish is a round, flat patty called pljeskavica, usually made of beef. Photo: Mila Atkovska / Wikimedia.org
Grilled meat is the cornerstone of Belgrade’s cuisine. The most popular dish is a round, flat patty called pljeskavica, usually made of beef. Photo: Mila Atkovska / Wikimedia.org

You can add a spicy cheese sauce called urnebes, thick salted cream kajmak, or a vegetable spread called ajvar. In restaurants, pljeskavica is not served in somun but on a plate. There are different varieties: punjena with cheese inside, wrapped in bacon rolovana, or gurmanska with pieces of cheese and bacon.

Personal observation by the author: the worse the design of the establishment, the tastier the meat will be.

Legendary place: “Prava pljeskavica” (“prava” means “real” in Serbian) on Takovska Street. Under no circumstances should you ask for ketchup or mayonnaise — the offended owner might refuse to serve you.

The second most popular dish is ćevapi, minced meat sausages. There are several varieties of ćevapi in the Balkans, named after cities: Sarajevo, Travnik, Banja Luka — from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Novi Pazar and Leskovac — from Serbia. Residents of these cities fiercely argue over which version is the best, but there’s no significant difference between them. Ćevapi vary in meat composition (pure beef, with lamb, with pork), shape (the length of the ćevapi, whether they are separated or connected), and serving (with flatbread, without flatbread, which specific one, with onions, with paprika). In Belgrade, Sarajevo ćevapi are the easiest to find — for example, at To Je To or the Walter chain of establishments. This place is named after the legendary film “Walter Defends Sarajevo”.

The second most popular dish in Serbia is ćevapi, minced meat sausages. Photo: Walter
The second most popular dish in Serbia is ćevapi, minced meat sausages. Photo: Walter

In addition to pljeskavica and ćevapi, so-called restaurants specializing in roštilj also serve Leskovački uštipci — spicy meat with cheese and bacon, ražnjići — a local version of shish kebab, steak biftek — raw meat similar to tartare, vešalica — pork steak, sudžuk — spicy sausages, and dishes made from offal. If you want to try a little bit of everything, order mešano meso — a mix of different dishes. Usually, this is a very large portion, and it’s worth ordering for two.

Avoid restaurants on the most touristy street, Skadarlija. They have a rich history, bohemian ambiance, and live music, but catering to tourists negatively affects the quality of food and prices. Excellent Serbian restaurants with roštilj include “Grmeč,” “Palilula,” “Durmitor.”

Ćevapi and pljeskavica can also be bought in butcher shops (mesara), but here they are sold only by the kilogram: suitable for large groups and those who want to save.

If you want to try a little bit of everything, then order mešano meso — a mix of different dishes. Usually, this is a very large portion, and it's worth ordering for two. Photo: "Grmeč"
If you want to try a little bit of everything, then order mešano meso — a mix of different dishes. Usually, this is a very large portion, and it’s worth ordering for two. Photo: “Grmeč”

Pečenje — Roasted Meat on a Spit

Pečenje is meat roasted on a spit, either lamb or piglet. Preparing this dish is not easy, so in Serbian families, it’s only made for holidays. An ideal opportunity to try pečenje is to befriend someone to the extent of being invited to Slava — a celebration in honor of the family’s patron saint. But there is an alternative — restaurants specializing in pečenje are called pečenjara (“печењара”). They often sell meat by the kilogram. Good pečenjare can be found in markets, for example, Toma at the Palilula market or Tri Prasića at the Kalenić. A great place where pečenje is served with freshly baked bread and champagne is Pretop in Zemun. Several other good pečenjare are Radovanović and Janković.

Pečenje — Roasted Meat on a Spit of Lamb or Piglet. Photo: Pečenjara "Kod Tome"
Pečenje — Roasted Meat on a Spit of Lamb or Piglet. Photo: Pečenjara “Kod Tome”

Kuvana Hrana — Serbian Home Kitchen

Kuvana hrana represents traditional dishes of Serbian home cooking, known to every Serb through grandmother’s recipes. Most of them are combinations of meat and vegetables:

  • Stuffed peppers, eggplants, zucchinis, somewhat similar to stuffed cabbage leaves called sarma.
  • Variations on schnitzel: Karađorđeva šnicla with kajmak inside, šnicla u sosu in a mustard-cream sauce.
  • Bean-based dishes: čorbast pasulj — beans in a thick sauce with bacon, prebranac — beans with onions.
  • Ćufte — meatballs, mućkalica — meat with potatoes and vegetables, ajmokac — chicken with onions in a cream sauce.

Pasulj, Karađorđeva šnicla, and stuffed cabbage leaves sarma are typical dishes of Serbian home cooking. Photo: Petar Milošević / Wikimedia.org, "Grmeč"
Pasulj, Karađorđeva šnicla, and stuffed cabbage leaves sarma are typical dishes of Serbian home cooking. Photo: Petar Milošević / Wikimedia.org, “Grmeč”

There are two terms to denote soups: supa and čorba. The former is more like a broth, usually with a couple of ingredients, while the latter is a thicker soup. The most popular dish in this category is riblja čorba (fish soup).

One might think that traditional dishes should be served in national cuisine restaurants, but most establishments prepare roštilj, and home cooking dishes are not as common. However, in Belgrade, there are establishments similar to our canteens. Their names usually include the words “gotova jela,” “kuvana jela,” or “kuvana hrana.” There, the choice of dishes is much larger, and the prices are lower.

Traditional dishes with a modern twist can be tried at two establishments of the New Balkan Cuisine project — Iva and Tisa.

Traditional Serbian dishes with a modern twist can be tried at the Iva and Tisa restaurants. Photo: Tisa New Balkan Cuisine
Traditional Serbian dishes with a modern twist can be tried at the Iva and Tisa restaurants. Photo: Tisa New Balkan Cuisine

Pekara — Bureks, Doughnuts, and Pitas

It’s hard not to notice bakeries: there are many, and the smell is detectable from several meters away from the entrance. For Belgradians, pekaras are a place for breakfast and snacks. The standard option is either burek or pita (both are pastries made from layered dough) with fillings: meat, cheese, potatoes, greens, mushrooms. The dishes are often washed down with yogurt, and coffee is only available in the most fashionable chain bakeries like Hleb i Kifle, Lulu, or Lebovski. Also popular are the roll kifla, doughnut krofna, filled cookie vanilice, and proja — cornmeal pastry.

The standard Serbian snack option is burek or pita with fillings: meat, cheese, potatoes, greens, mushrooms. The dishes are usually washed down with yogurt. Photo: Lebovski
The standard Serbian snack option is burek or pita with fillings: meat, cheese, potatoes, greens, mushrooms. The dishes are usually washed down with yogurt. Photo: Lebovski

An unmistakable indicator of a good bakery is a line in the morning. At Trpković, Ljupče, or Pekarska Radionica, you’ll have to wait about 10–15 minutes before getting your burek. Aca, Kirćanski, Kališ — are a few more good bakeries.

There’s only one legendary dough product that bakeries almost never make — it’s lepinja, a flatbread filled with eggs, kajmak, and rendered fat. It is usually sold under the name užička komplet lepinja. There’s also a Zlatibor version — this flatbread includes bacon. The best flatbreads are at “Čobanov odmor” cafe, where they don’t limit themselves to standard fillings.

The best flatbreads are at "Čobanov odmor" cafe, where they don't limit themselves to standard fillings. Photo: "Čobanov odmor"
The best flatbreads are at “Čobanov odmor” cafe, where they don’t limit themselves to standard fillings. Photo: “Čobanov odmor”

Poslastičarnica — Pastry Shop

Most Belgrade pastry shops don’t look very attractive: externally, they seem to be stuck in the eighties. But the food they prepare is very delicious. The assortment includes both classic cakes and pastries (for example, Sachertorte or tiramisu) and more local options:

  • Žito sa šlagom — ground wheat with cream
  • Kutnikvez — quince jelly
  • Chestnut purée
  • Šampita — a type of meringue
  • Krempita — cream pastry

Excellent pastry shops include Pelivan, Mama Goca, DJ, Šećerlema, Urma. Particularly popular among locals is “Moskva-šnit” — a cake with cherries, vanilla cream, and pineapple, specially invented for the “Moskva” hotel, where it’s a must-try.

Kitnikez — quince jelly and žito sa šlagom — ground wheat with cream. Photo: Kitnikez
Kitnikez — quince jelly and žito sa šlagom — ground wheat with cream. Photo: Kitnikez

Pizza

Due to the ubiquitous love for roštilj, establishments with national cuisines from other countries rarely take root in Belgrade. They open rapidly and close just as quickly. Italian pizza is an exception.

In Belgrade, pizza is available in two different forms — restaurant and street style. Restaurants often follow the traditions of Italian cuisine, some of them even make it into the rankings of the best pizzerias in Europe: such as Majstor i Margarita and Pietra.

Street-style pizza is treated more ruthlessly. Not only is it doused with ketchup, but it can also be topped with a mayonnaise salad like Olivier, as in the cult favorite takeaway pizza place Bucko.

Some Belgrade pizzerias are in the rankings of the best pizzerias in Europe: these are Majstor i Margarita and Pietra. Photo: Majstor i Margarita
Some Belgrade pizzerias are in the rankings of the best pizzerias in Europe: these are Majstor i Margarita and Pietra. Photo: Majstor i Margarita

Vegetarian, Vegan, and Healthy Living Establishments

In recent years, Belgrade has seen an increasing number of alternatives to traditional establishments. Key places for vegetarians and vegans include Radost Fina Kuhinjica, Rai Urban Vege, Vegangelov, Kokos Bistro, Zdravo Ljubavi. There are also more establishments focusing on healthy eating — for example, Prana, Super Donkey, Moja Salata. They serve meat, but usually have many dishes for vegetarians and vegans.

Belgrade also has several confectioneries offering desserts without sugar or flour: Šuma, Ćao Šećeru.

Rai Urban Vege — one of the main establishments for vegetarians and vegans in Belgrade. Photo: Rai Urban Vege
Rai Urban Vege — one of the main establishments for vegetarians and vegans in Belgrade. Photo: Rai Urban Vege

Coffee Alternative

Third-wave coffee shops are only beginning to capture the Belgrade audience. Locals, especially the older generation, prefer dark roast and strong coffee brewed “homemade,” that is, in a cup, or made in a Turkish pot. Even on the European Coffee Trip portal, where collections of specialty coffee shops across Europe are gathered, in the 1.5 million population of Belgrade, only 11 establishments are noted. In a similarly sized Prague, there are 143 specialty coffee shops.

The cafe and roasters D59B have already become iconic: here work coffee enthusiasts, attentive to all details and stages of the process. Although the cafe is quite small and off the tourist trails, it has many visitors. A good alternative in a more cozy setting is Przionica.

The cafe and roasters D59B have already become iconic: here, coffee enthusiasts attentive to all details and stages of the process work. Photo: D59B
The cafe and roasters D59B have already become iconic: here, coffee enthusiasts attentive to all details and stages of the process work. Photo: D59B

For lovers of coffee blends and Chemex, a visit to Kafeterija on Kralja Petra 16 is a must. Prices here are above average, but the interior design and the huge windows in the Art Nouveau building are worth paying a little extra for. Fans of alternative brewing methods should also check out Koppa. And a few more cool specialty coffee shops are Java, Drip, Uzitak, Way Cup, Soljica, Artist, Hotel Beograd, Coffee, Tea and Sympathy.

If you’re in the mood for something Oriental, then visit Luwak Kafeterija: the favorite Belgrade home coffee here is served in the Turkish style — in a beautiful cezve and cups with Turkish delight. And of course, they have Indonesian Kopi Luwak coffee.

Craft Beer

In Serbia, and in Belgrade in particular, there’s no shortage of craft beer. All local breweries, specialized stores, and bars can be easily found on the Kraft Lokator website.

A large selection of craft beer — both local and European — can be found at the pub Samo Pivo, whose name translates as “Only Beer.” It’s noisy and crowded here, but there is a terrace. If you want to taste beer in a more tranquil setting — head to Krafter. All the main local breweries are represented here.

A wide selection of craft beer — both local and European — is available at the Samo Pivo pub. It's noisy and crowded, but there is a terrace. Photo: Samo Pivo
A wide selection of craft beer — both local and European — is available at the Samo Pivo pub. It’s noisy and crowded, but there is a terrace. Photo: Samo Pivo

There are pubs with their own breweries as well. In The Black Turtle chain, there’s a unique seasonal offering every month: for example, smoked beer. I prefer their pub on Svetogorska Street, where a retro interior is preserved and there’s a non-smoking area.

In 2018, the Pivzdarija pub opened, focusing on beer from the eponymous brewery. Pay attention to the red Crven Ban there. They also supply beer to the Pivara pub, and even brew custom-flavor beer (but only with a month’s notice and in large batches).

The number of craft beer shops in Belgrade is increasing every year. The most famous is Majstor Za Pivo, by the creators of Kabinet brewery. A good alternative is Pivski Zabavnik.

Among the local breweries, Kabinet offers the widest selection of varieties. The small brewery “Saлto” has only a few types of beer: pale ale, IPA, wheat, lager, stout. Other excellent options include Dogma, Razbeerbriga, and Nikolacar.

The small brewery "Saлto" has only a few types of beer: pale ale, IPA, wheat, lager, stout. Photo: "Saлto"
The small brewery “Saлto” has only a few types of beer: pale ale, IPA, wheat, lager, stout. Photo: “Saлto”

What to Bring Back Home

Any Serb will surely recommend buying Plazma biscuits as a souvenir. There’s nothing particularly special about them, but apparently, long-term consumption leads to addiction, so much so that Serbs take them with them even on trips abroad. Another legendary sweet is the nut-milk chocolate spread brand Eurokrem. It is also used to make other sweets, such as wafers and biscuits.

Any Serb will surely recommend buying Plazma biscuits as a souvenir. There's nothing particularly special about them, but apparently, long-term consumption leads to addiction, to such an extent that Serbs take them with them even on trips abroad
Any Serb will surely recommend buying Plazma biscuits as a souvenir. There’s nothing particularly special about them, but apparently, long-term consumption leads to addiction, to such an extent that Serbs take them with them even on trips abroad

Belgrade has excellent cheese, but it’s not easy to navigate the variety of Serbian cheeses at first. For an introduction, lovers of hard cheeses are advised to choose kachkaval (ideally Pirot from sheep’s milk), and among soft cheeses, Sombor and Šabac cheeses are good. There are specialized stalls in the markets where homemade cheeses are sold, but transporting them intact is more difficult than the already packaged cheeses from large producers.

From Belgrade, people often bring back sausages and other meat products: apart from pršuta and variations on the theme of salami, there is also pancetta, similar to bacon, and slanina, which is very close to Ukrainian salo. Try kulen — a sausage with paprika, smoked pršuta pečenica, sudžuk, and other types of sausages. Such a souvenir lasts a long time and is easy to transport.

Sausages and other meat products, for example, kulen — a sausage with paprika, are often brought from Belgrade. Photo: Frka / Wikimedia.org
Sausages and other meat products, for example, kulen — a sausage with paprika, are often brought from Belgrade. Photo: Frka / Wikimedia.org

Text by: Elvira Ibragimova
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