Best Serbian Food: 15 Traditional Things to Eat & Drink

Wondering what to eat in Serbia? Here’s a list of 15 Serbian dishes – including traditional Serbian desserts and beverages – to enjoy during your trip.

Cevapi, I’m grilling on my terrace

In Serbia, food is a central part of the culture, where cooking and sharing meals are deeply woven into the social scene. Serbian cuisine is rich with history and reflects a blend of various cultural influences. 

Initially, you might think Serbian food would resemble the cuisine of neighboring countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, or Hungary. But you’ll quickly find that Serbian cuisine has its unique flavors and traditions.

If I had to pick a country in the region for its incredible food, Serbia would undoubtedly rank high on the list! 

Living in Serbia has been a tasty adventure for me. I’ve enjoyed awesome local versions of favorites like sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls) and ajvar (pepper spread), and I’ve found lots of other yummy dishes that are special to Serbia and its different areas.

From all the great food I’ve tried here in Serbia, I’ve made a list of the top 15 Serbian foods, sweets, and drinks that I think everyone should try. Whether you’re just visiting or you live here, these are some real treats you shouldn’t miss out on.

1. Karađorđeva šnicla

Named after the Serbian prince Karađorđe, is a unique and flavorful dish that holds a special place in Serbian cuisine. Often compared to a schnitzel, it stands out with its distinctive preparation and rich taste. 

Typically made with thinly pounded pork or veal, the meat is rolled around a savory filling of kajmak, a cherished Serbian dairy product known for its creamy and rich texture.

The process of making Karađorđeva šnicla involves tenderizing the meat to create a thin layer, which is then generously spread with kajmak. This combination is rolled into a cylindrical shape, resembling the original shape of the rolled-up Serbian flag, which adds a touch of national pride to the dish. 

The meat roll is then breaded in a traditional manner – dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs – and deep-fried to a golden brown perfection.

2. Komplet Lepinja (Serbian complete sandwich)

Komplet Lepinja, a hearty Serbian breakfast dish, is a staple in Zlatibor, Užice, and nearby areas. It’s recently gained fame as the “best breakfast in the world.” This dish is a calorie and cholesterol-rich option that you can find in almost every bakery and restaurant in these regions.

The lepinja, a Serbian flatbread, is the base of this dish. It’s cut open and filled with a mixture of kajmak (a creamy dairy product) and a runny egg. The bread soaks up the flavors and the egg, creating a rich, indulgent meal. Often, it’s served alongside roasted meat drippings for added flavor.

3. Kajmak

In the world, only two nations, Serbs and Mongolians, prepare kajmak. The term “kajmak” originates from Turkish, though it is not found in Turkey; it is actually a translation of the older name “skorup”.

It’s also interesting that kajmak has never been successfully produced industrially while maintaining its distinctive look and taste. Local experts insist that the best kajmak is from the region around Zlatiboor. It is believed that kajmak has been produced in Serbia since the era of the Nemanjić dynasty.

4. Gibanica

This Serbian pastry, similar in cultural importance to Bosnia’s burek, is a delightful combination of phyllo dough, eggs, and cheese, sometimes with spinach.

When baked, it becomes crispy and golden brown. It’s a staple in Serbian households and is often served at family and religious events, symbolizing hospitality. Just like pizza is a big deal to Italians, this dish is a treasured part of Serbia’s food culture.

5. Pljeskavica 

It looks like a burger, yet in my opinion, it’s much better and bigger. While people often swear by the pljeskavica made in Leskovac, known for its Leskovac style of grilling, I’ve tried many that are even better elsewhere. 

In Leskovac, they host a yearly barbecue event called Roštiljijada, where they aim to set a world record by making the biggest pljeskavica. Last year, they made an impressive 67 kg pljeskavica, trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records. 

6. Burek

Available in almost every bakery across Serbia, this is a must-try in Serbian cuisine. Each place has its own version of this traditional pastry, making the journey of tasting different bureks an adventure in itself. 

For those looking for the best, Trpković bakery in Belgrade is my personal recommendation. Their burek, with its flaky layers and rich fillings, whether meat or cheese is a real treat.

If you’re in Belgrade, a visit to Trpković bakery to try their take on burek is well worth it, as many consider it to be the best in the city.

7. Ajvar

In Serbia, salads are generally not served as an appetizer, but alongside the main dish. However, a specialty known as ajvar can be eaten on its own without any other side dishes or accompaniments.

It’s so wonderful (also called Serbian vegetable caviar) that, if you’re in a hurry, you can simply spread it on a slice of bread and still be sure you’ve had a quality meal. Ajvar in southern Serbia is made from the finest red peppers, either sweet or spicy, often both.

This fantastic Serbian salad is traditionally made in autumn, during the peak pepper season, and is used throughout the year (it’s rare for anyone in Serbia to have any left until the next batch is made for winter storage). Considering the amount of time it takes to make and that a “mountain” of peppers yields just a few jars of ajvar, more and more modern housewives are buying ajvar from stores.

Ajvar is prepared by hand, in open pots, best on a wood stove. Before cooking, the peppers are roasted, peeled, drained, and ground.

In southern Serbia, this specialty is often served with finely chopped and salted garlic. The name “ajvar” is of Turkish origin, meaning salted or brined roe.

If you want to make your own here’s how we make Ajvar at home.

8. Stuffed Peppers With Cheese

There’s no scent more characteristic of autumn than the smell of bell peppers. In the south of Serbia, peppers top the list of vegetables, and local cooks use them wherever they can – fresh, in salads, as both appetizers and main dishes.

Stuffed peppers with cheese are certainly a nostalgic aroma for most people in Serbia. There are various ways to prepare them. You can simply stuff the peppers with cheese and bake them in the oven, or you can make the stuffing with eggs, cheese, cream, with or without semolina. Indeed, this dish is a ‘direct hit’ for even the most refined gourmets. 

It tastes just as delicious whether eaten immediately after cooking or cold.

9. Wedding Cabbage

In Serbia, a wedding can’t be imagined without its traditional dish, named after the occasion itself, wedding cabbage. Besides weddings, it’s served at all ‘fairs,’ parties, and events. 

The dish originates from the heart of Šumadija and is often associated with Guča and its trumpet festival. It’s said that the best wedding cabbage is made there! 

It’s cooked for hours in a clay pot; the longer it simmers on the fire, the tastier it becomes, especially the next day. About 40% meat is used in relation to cabbage, layered in alternating order.

10. Slatko (Sweet Fruit Preserve)

Sweet fruit preserve, or ‘slatko,’ is definitely something you must try if you haven’t had the chance yet. A traditional Serbian welcome is unimaginable without slatko and water, and it’s something you can easily experience if you visit ethnic households.

Slatko is made from fruit, and almost any kind of fruit can be used. Interestingly, each jar contains only one type of fruit; different fruits are not mixed together.

The most common varieties of slatko are made with strawberries, sour cherries, figs, and cherries, but as mentioned, all kinds of fruits are used.

Since slatko is always stored in jars, this fantastic Serbian specialty can also serve as an excellent souvenir or gift for friends and family.

11. Vanilice (Serbian Vanilla Cookies)

Vanilice, Serbian Vanilla Cookies, have been declared several times as the best small pastry in the world! 

If you ask anyone in Serbia, they’re a common delight – simply put, everyone loves Vanilice and they are prepared for every occasion. 

Therefore, if you’re looking for an authentic, traditional, and dearly loved dessert in Serbia, you must try Vanilice.

12. Rakija

In Serbia, the fruits of plum, pear, apple, apricot, and walnut trees, along with grapevines and various medicinal herbs nurtured for generations within family homesteads, are distilled into rakija, a sharp alcoholic drink. 

This recipe for rakija, an inevitable part of welcoming rituals, is handed down through generations. Rakija is more than just a drink in Serbia; it’s a symbol of tradition and respect. 

‘Šljivovica,’ a plum brandy, is particularly popular

13. Aspic-like Serbian Dish, Pihtije

Pihtije, a traditional Serbian dish, resembles aspic in appearance. In Serbia, Pihtije is typically made from less valued cuts of pork, such as the head, shank, and/or tendons. Some even add smoked meat for extra flavor. 

Usually part of a meal in Serbia, Pihtije is often served as an appetizer or even as the main course. They are traditionally enjoyed with chilled rakija – strong plum or apricot brandy, with quince brandy also being an excellent choice – along with pickled vegetables like horseradish, peppers, spicy peppers, green tomatoes, and cabbage.

The preparation of Pihtije involves washing the meat and boiling it briefly for no longer than 5-10 minutes. The water is then changed, and vegetables and spices like paprika, bay leaves, onion, carrot, and celery are added. 

The mixture is cooked until the meat starts to separate from the bones. After deboning, the meat is strained, and the gelatinous mixture is poured into shallow dishes. 

Garlic is added, along with decorations like sliced carrots or peppers. The dish is then left to cool in the refrigerator or outside, a common practice during the Serbian winter. 

Once set into a jelly-like consistency, Pihtije can be cut into cubes – often said to cut ‘like glass’ when done well. Before serving, they can be sprinkled with dried red paprika for extra flavor.

14. Duvan Cvarci (Tobacco Cracklings)

Duvan-cvarci are a more refined version of the classic Serbian cvarci, which are hard cracklings obtained as a byproduct of lard rendering, once primarily eaten by the less fortunate. Duvan-čvarci are produced through a longer process of cooking, frying, and pressing, until they disintegrate and attain a golden color. 

A large pot ‘ranija’ is filled with water, and the mixture is cooked for six to seven hours until the meat falls off the bones and turns mushy. Then, it is strained through cloth and clamped, the cracklings are loosened, salted, and made crispy. 

15. Roast lamb

You’ll find it at nearly every big event, like parties, festivals, or family gatherings, served as the main dish. People in different parts of Serbia, especially from places like Pirot and Čačak, often say their roast lamb is the best. 

But really, it all comes down to how good the cook is. It’s not easy to find a really good roast lamb chef, and the ones who know their stuff are usually in high demand.

Is Serbian Cuisine Vegetarian Friendly?

Yes, Serbian cuisine offers several vegetarian options. Dishes like prebranac (baked beans), ajvar (pepper spread), and various salads are naturally meat-free. Most restaurants also have a good selection of salads, and grilled vegetables are a common side dish.

Other vegetarian-friendly Serbian foods include sataras (a dish with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes), musaka with potatoes or zucchini instead of meat, and turšija (pickled vegetables).

What to Eat for Breakfast in Serbia?

Breakfast in Serbia isn’t as extravagant as in some other countries, but it’s hearty. Common choices include fresh bread with kajmak (creamy dairy product) and jam, along with coffee. 

In urban areas, you might also find eggs, palačinke (thin crepes), or both sweet and savory varieties of ustipci (doughnuts). 

A popular breakfast choice is burek, a flaky pastry filled with cheese, meat, or spinach, often enjoyed with yogurt. Many burek shops open early, so it’s perfect for an early start.

Do Serbians Have Any Special Food Traditions?

Yes, Serbia has various food traditions, especially around holidays. For Orthodox Christmas and Easter, traditional foods include pecenica (roasted pork), cesnica (a special bread), and colored eggs. 

During Slava (a family’s patron saint day), a special bread called slavski kolac is prepared, along with a feast that often includes sarma, roast meats, and rich desserts. 

In rural areas, pig slaughtering (kolinje) in winter is a tradition where various pork dishes are made, celebrating the harvest and preparation for winter.