Balkan Food: Must-Try Dishes from the Balkans

food culture of sarajevo

If you’re looking for a culinary adventure, the Balkans should be on your radar. This region, located in Europe’s east, boasts a diverse and delicious food scene that is often overlooked by travelers. From hearty meat dishes to fresh seasonal produce, the Balkan food scene is a true celebration of simple, tasty food.

Balkan cuisine is heavily influenced by neighboring cultures, including the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and historical empires such as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. No matter where you go in the Balkans, you’ll find a shared appreciation for simple menus done right.

What is Balkan Food?

Balkan cuisine refers to the provincial cuisines of 12 countries on the Balkan Peninsula. It is based on Ottoman cooking with heavy influences from Mediterranean and Central European dishes. Balkan food is all about hearty meals, grilled meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, and stuffed dishes.

Here are some must-try Balkan dishes to add to your culinary bucket list:


Ćevapčići, also known as ćevapi, is a staple of Balkan cuisine and a must-try dish. You can find it in almost any country in the region, and while it may be served differently, the satisfaction is always the same. These small, finger-sized skinless sausages are usually made with grilled beef, lamb, pork, or veal and served inside a flatbread. They are often accompanied by ajvar and chopped onions.

Tarator Soup

Tarator soup is a popular dish in Bulgaria and can be found on nearly every menu. This chilled soup is simple, light, and refreshing, making it a perfect dish for warm summer months. The traditional recipe consists of Bulgarian yogurt, chopped dill, cucumbers, sunflower oil, and garlic, with cold water or ice cubes added to enhance the refreshing taste. Some variations may include walnuts for a crunchy texture, while others omit the watering down of yogurt and create a salad version.


Ajvar is a well-known condiment that deserves to be on the list of Balkan dishes. It is a staple of the Balkans food chain and is served with almost any meaty order at restaurants, including fish. Ajvar comes in a large variety of brands and flavors that can be found at any market throughout the region. The original flavor consists mainly of roasted red peppers and garlic, with traditional Balkan spices, tomatoes, and a little eggplant to make it hot. It is a must-try on your vacation to the Balkans.


Flija is a simple yet delicious Kosovo food that consists of alternating layers of batter and cream baked one layer at a time over 5 to 6 hours. The amount of work put into making this dish is what makes it taste so much sweeter. It may seem painstaking, but it is worth trying.


Dolma can take many shapes and forms and use a variety of vegetables. The most commonly eaten dolma dish comprises rice wrapped in leaves. The filling and wrap can vary widely, from onion, zucchini, cabbage, meat, stuffed tomatoes, squash, and many more. Most ingredients are backed in some liquid stock or tomato sauce before being served with kajmak.

Mostar’s Sogan Dolma

Mostar’s Sogan Dolma is a unique dolma variety that is a typical dish from the area of Mostar. It uses onions as the main ingredient and is stuffed with either meat, rice, or a mixture of both. It is far from being a dry or tasteless dish and is usually served as a snack or starter. It is easy to find in any restaurant or eatery in the region and is served boiling hot at your table.

Fiš Paprikaš

If you are a seafood lover, then fiš paprikas is a must-try dish. This spicy fish stew is a popular dish in the interior Balkans, particularly in Serbia and inland Croatia. Made with freshwater fish, including carp, catfish, and pike, fiš paprikaš is cooked in a cauldron over fire, which adds a smoky flavor to the dish. The generous pinch of paprika gives it a fiery kick, making it a hearty and satisfying meal.


Klepe is a traditional Balkan dish that consists of small dumplings filled with ground beef or mutton and blonde onions sautéed in a pan. They are similar to Turkish manti or Italian ravioli and are usually steamed or boiled. Some places offer klepe with a cheese filling. The dish is served with a delicious and creamy sauce made of yogurt and garlic, making it a perfect comfort food.


Pljeskavica is a round patty made of beef, lamb, pork, or veal (or a mixture) that is a popular street food in the Balkans. It can be served plain or on a bun with kajmak and ajvar spread, similar to a hamburger. This dish is cheap, tasty, and filling, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Shopska Salad

For a refreshing and healthy option, try the shopska salad, which is a staple on most Balkan menus. This salad consists of cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and grated feta cheese. Unlike other salads, there are no leaves in a shopska salad, and it is served with olive oil and vinegar on the side. This vegetarian option is perfect for those who prefer non-meaty dishes.


Đuveč is a traditional Balkan dish made with various seasonal vegetables and rice, slow-cooked for at least 2 hours in a round pot bearing the same name as the dish. This vegetarian dish has a Mediterranean influence and can be served as a main dish or as a side dish with grilled or stewed beef. The slow-cooking process allows the flavors to meld, resulting in a savory and delicious meal.

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