The global foodie trend made urbanites in Serbia more conscious about their consumption, and even inspired some of them to try their hand at making healthier, or at least, tastier food. In Belgrade, there are now numerous events devoted to producers of anything from Serbian truffles to Serbian tabasco.
Nevertheless, with almost every house stocked with at least home-made rakija (fruit brandy), ajvar (tomato and pepper salad) and slatko (an-ultra sweet fruit preserve), it would be wrong to think that the trend for craft-food is a new one in Serbia. Indeed, one could say that most Serbians born before WWII are natural born (ur-)foodies: they not only roast and grind their own coffee, but intimately know their fresh produce salespeople and make their own alcohol.
Thankfully, only a few hours away from Belgrade you can still attend lively celebrations of Serbia’s long lasting love affair with local, craft food at local food festivals, untainted by global food fads.
Either competitive in nature or just made as an occasion to eat, drink and party, they allow you to glimpse a different, rural Serbia, and taste a great variety of tasty dishes made in the country that do not make it to even Belgrade’s most experimental restaurants. The foods they are devoted to are normally based on local expertise – Leskovac for grill, Muzalj (in Vojvodina) for cvarci (pork scratchings) and Kikinda for pumpkin – and follow the agricultural and religious calendar (most of them are either around harvest-time or between Orthodox Christmas and Lent). Although the offering can sound a bit out there – from kid-roasting in Gorobilje to testicle-based dishes in Lunjevca – they are always worth a visit as they give a sense of differences in local tastes and customs.
In Vojvodina, they are often orderly, multi-ethnic celebrations where you can stock up on poppy-seed strudel and excellent kulen (spicy dry sasuage), while in Central Serbia they are more likely to be a bit more chaotic, with several piglets and lambs roasting on a spit and Z-list turbofolk celebrities singing about medieval rulers defending Serbia.
Unlike Belgrade’s slightly pretentious foodie scene, this one is definitely more open, and arguably better: can a new-fangled recipe for cheese found on the internet really outshine a secret recipe kept by a whole village (like in Mokrin or Krivi Vir)?Although, it might seem too much at first (a bit like Guca Trumpet Festival), the atmosphere is crowded, but convivial. Producers and cooks happy to allow you to sample (and, of course, buy) their produce and even talk you through production and traditions (although English might be a struggle).
If you are into food, or just want to see a different side to Serbia – visiting one of these is a must on your itinerary. Thanks to the social media (in Serbian, but Google-translateable), , it is now easier to know when they are actually taking place. Note that from some of them (like Sarma-festival in Backa Topola) competition is at the forefront so there might be only one or two stalls serving the actual dish, and that may run out early (by noon even).
Best of the best
Slaninijada, Kacarevo (February) – bacon
Cvarak-fest, Muzlja (February) – pork rinds
Jarijada, Gorobilje (September) – kid-roasts