Serbian food is getting a lot of good press lately, and it is quite something: no good night out ever ends without a pop to a street food stall (pljekavica and burek are the most common), and the people tend to take their food quite seriously (not to mention plentifully). A mix of various influences, from Turkish to German, it tends to be on the heavy side with lots of meat and cheese, especially when eating out. Vegetarianism is accommodated, much due to the popularity of fasts, but the food tends to be much blander.
Unfortunately, given the focus on restaurants, and the list sadly misses the home-made glories of sarma (stuffed pickled cabbage), stuffed peppers, podvarak (shredded and baked pickled cabbage) and prebranac (boiled beans) which never shine outside of a family dinner table and are marginally lighter. I also missed out most non-traditional places: although there are many decent Italian restaurants, and there is a fad for sushi and burgers, traditional food still dominates in terms of quality.
Burek from Trpković
There is no better way to start the day (or end a night), than by having 250g of burek (with cheese) in the morning, accompanied by jogurt (fluid yoghurt). The place to go is Trpkovic, which is easily recognised by the long queues. The family-owned bakery has been around since before WWII and offers many other (rather calorific) delights, including an outstanding poppy seed strudel drenched in honey. Proximity of the Manjež park helps to quickly enjoy your burek.
Pogačice from Čarli
Pogačice, are a childhood favourite due to their amazing layered texture and crunch. At Čarli they come in two flavours, plain and with čvarci (pork rinds). Needless to say, both are a bit heavy on the stomach (despite their smallish size, two are quite enough) and best consumed with jogurt.
Turkish coffee from “?”
Although much as been said about “?” on this blog, it is still a must to have the turkish coffee on a morning while looking at the spire of Saborna crkva from the street garden or enjoying the coziness inside. If you’re more an espresso person don’t bother – Koffein and Moritz eis do a great one and are nearby and are quite nice places.
Cold meat and cheese platter from Dijagonala
Although its menu can be a bit hit and miss, Dijagonala’s cold meat and cheese platter is a must try for those interested in the true taste of Serbian countryside (albeit in probably the most urbane and well designed environment in town). All ingredients are sourced from nearby farms and served with mouthwatering proja (corn bread). The price is steep but well worth it – combined with a salad (and a nice quince rakija) this can make a lightish lunch while exploring Vračar and nearby Sveti Sava temple.
Veal goulash from Zaplet
Dijagonala’s predecessor and sister restaurant, Zaplet was and is one of the main innovators on Belgrade’s culinary scene by introducing sous-vide and many other innovative (but not ridiculous) takes on our varied culinary tradition and resurrecting of niche old fashioned favourites such as breaded brains and tripe. The true show-stopper on the menu is the beef goulash which is deliciously fragrant.
Teleća-Šopska-Karadjorjdeva combo at Madera
Madera has long held a place at the very top of Belgrade’s kafana scene, much thanks to journalist and sports celebs who frequented the place since its beginnings. Since the renovation, it has established itself as the meeting place of the Serbian elite and a place to go to see and be seen. Thankfully, the food has followed suite and it offers hands down the most coherent and consistently amazing fare in the city, with impeccable service. Although there are many innovative things springing on its menu, it is the place to traditional Serbian restaurant combo of Teleća čorba (veal broth), Karadjordjeva schnitzel (breaded pork fillet stuffed with soft cheese) and Šopska salad (tomato, cucumber and onion salad topped with soft cheese). Best enjoyed in the summer in Madera’s garden in Tašmajdan park.
Lamb or veal roast from Durmitor
Durmitor is an outstanding restaurant, a hidden gem in the concrete jungle of New Belgrade. The menu is great throughout (gills, schnitzels – you name it they have it) however the specialties are lamb and veal roasts. It is advisable to order them in advance while making a booking and enquring when thery will be ready, as the place is jam-packed with a mix of local businessmen and other punters.
Šampite and baklavas from Pelivan
Pelivan is the oldest and one of the few remaining traditional dessert shops in Belgrade. šampita is a bit of an acquired taste, as it is basically egg-whites mixed with enough sugar to leave you buzzing for a day and sandwiched in thin crust. Baklava is also amazing.
Žito sa šlagom from Petković
Petković is another old sweet shop in Belgrade and they offer a traditional serbian dessert of žito sa šlagom (grain pudding with whipped cream). Žito, although an acquired taste, is also very interesting as it plays a role in family rituals such as slava (family patron saint’s day) and funerals.
Pohovane paprike and čevapi from Tri šešira
Although Skadarlija is probably the biggest tourist trap in Belgrade, I have a soft spot for ancient and gigantic Tri Šesira for not letting its standards slip with popularity. In the late summer the thing to go for is the starter of pohovane paprike sa sirom (breaded peppers stuffed with soft cheese) and ćevapi sa kajmakom (grilled meat with special cheese). Although there are better places to enjoy grilled food (e.g Naja or Jb) but the central location, nice setting and good enough quality make it great.
Moskva snit from Moskva
Moskva is the only remaining Viennese-style cafe in Belgrade and is famous for its cakes. Although they tend to be on the heavy and sugary side, Moskva šnit (torte with cherries and egg cream) is the special and a favourite.
Raspberry and dark chocolate ice cream at Moritz Eis
The newcomer on the list, Moritz has shot to the heights of Belgrade food scene for its great taste and amazing branding. Although there are no weak spots, I suggest going for raspberry and dark chocolate, especially given that Serbs are (somewhat comically) proud of their raspberries.
Palačinke from Glumac
Hefty palačinke (crepes) from Glumac come both sweet and savoury and are a favourite amongst Dorćol youngsters returning from school. The most typical combo is banana, nutella and Plazma (Serbia’s national biscuit, modified from Italy’s Plasmon), while sour cherry, nutella and Plazma is my favourite .
Pljeskavica to go (all around)
One should not leave Belgrade without trying pljeskavica, essentially a very meaty hamburger which is probably the favourite street food in the region. There are many places that do them and as long you can see a queue in front of it means it is probably good. Most famous places in Old Belgrade are are Loki in Dorćol and Mara in Vračar. Typical toppings are chopped onion, urnebes (spicey cheese with paprika), kajmak ( a bit risky in the summer) and cabbage and sour cream combo.
My favourite winter warmer is cooked warm rakija – its caramelly taste and soft finish makes one impervious to the winter gloom and cold. Usually drunk around Christmas, the best rakijas are found at Kalenić, Srpska kafana and “?”.
Game goulash and pogače from Lovac
Lovac has a feel of a neighbourhood kafana in Vračar and is famous for its seasonal offering of game dishes (game goulash is my favourite). It also has the best bread basket in town with small pogače (thicker flatbread) which go wondrously with kajmak or urnebes as a starter.