“Made in Serbia” should be a much bigger thing than it is currently.
The country is full of artisans and entrepreneurs, old and new, making fantastic things, but we do not give them enough credit.
Indeed, due to the deprivation and harsh sanctions during 1990s even many locals tend to look down on local produce and prefer foreign wares – but Serbian producers are making awesome things, from traditional sweets to swimwear, which often offer a much better bang for the buck than most imported international brands.
Here is my list of my favourite “Made in Serbia” brands and products, way beyond the usual rakija and ajvar gifts, all of which I enjoyed after I got them for me with my own money (I still get no freebies). So if you are looking for a great gift from Serbia for yourself or someone else, think of spending your own money on something produced with love and skill and thus supporting some great creative people here.
Although it is difficult to visit due to strange working hours, Lubarda, makes a lot of wonderfully retro, but high quality ties at a quaint little shop in Makedonska street. I am especially fond of his art-deco patterns, but there are also more standard ones.
If you want to be proper gent, you can find hand-made hats at the few remaining millinersin Balkanska and Terazije. Rade is very good for men’s traditional styles and folk hats, while Ercegovac is great for ladies. Speaking of old crafts, you can also get good hand-made shoes in Belgrade at Opačić.
If you want something more casual,DechkoTzarare well known for their wittily designed Belgrade (and Serbia) themed t-shirts. They, however, do much more than just quirky t-shirts (although they are enough for me), including great hoodies and even underwear, all of which can be found in their DechTzar flagship store.
If shirts are too normie for you, how about going for some Serbian swimwear? Founded by water polo-obsessed siblings from Voždovac, Keel swimwear is worn by Serbia’s beloved water polo team (which is the best in the world, of course) and many other water polo squads, from New Zealand to Brazil. While the official Serbian waterpolo speedos are their most popular product, they also do a variety of designs.
If speedos are too out there for you, or you’re interested in women’s wear, I would suggest having a look around Čumićevo sokače/Belgrade Design District as they have a lot of small designer boutiques. If you want to go fancy, there are always elegant designs by Dragana Ognjenović or very quirky ones (beloved by Miley Cyrus and Paloma Faith) by Ana Ljubinković.
One of Belgrade’s most famous artisanal shops is certainly Sava, the city’s only remaining perfumer. There you can get their signature scent, citrusy, Beogradska Noć as well as a variety of mixes in reusable bottles.
In terms of more recent businesses, natural beauty brand Koozmetik offers a wide range of high quality products in their flagship shop, from all sorts of creams to soaps and shampoos. Keep an eye out for their natural tooth drops, which do wonders for gums, and really nice long-lasting natural deodorants. Their stylish packaging is also certainly a plus.
Another great newish brand to look out for is Novi Sad-based Sofi, which can found in cosmetic shop chains like DM and Lily.
At last but not the least is All-Nut who make beauty products (and more) from cold pressed plum, apricot and hazelnut oils. I am especially fond of their juniper-scented body, but I also started using their really good and foamy shaving soap.
At last but not the least, there is Brion brand of shaving products, produced by Dahlia in Zemun, whose scent has been synanymous with Yugoslav masculinity since the socialist times.
Although wine was produced in Serbia since antiquity, and up until 20th century used to be more prevalent than wine, our local wine scene only started developing since 2000. Due to the relatively small size of vineyards and distribution costs, it is relatively expensive (compared to France and Italy, but also Macedonia and Croatia), but there are now quite a few great vineyards around.
I would definitely suggest going for the the local prokupac and vranac grape varieties, as well as bermet – a dessert wine from Sremski Karlovci which even made it onto the wine list of the Titanic. Some of my favourite wine producers are Janko (Zavet – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Deurić (Talas beli – Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Gewurztraminer), Erdevik (Roza Nostra – rose), Budimir (.. I kao da si anđeo… – Merlot, prokupac) and Đurđić (Crni Vitez – bermet) which can be found in most wine shops, although I recommend go to the beautifully stocked and super-friendly Fino Vino or equally great Wine Corner.
If beer is more your thing, past decade led to the opening of many decent craft breweries, starting with Kabinet, who have a wide variety of brews. Other great Belgrade breweries are Salto and Dorćol Pivara, which seeks to maintain its local cred by only serving its beers in this most atmospheric of central Belgrade’s quarters. Best place to find them (and others) is 300 čuda, Belgrade’s little temple to craft beer.
Rakija, our fruit distilled national drink, is a great gift for people outside of Serbia, but can be a bit problematic inside the country as tastes differ and almost everyone either has their own supplier or their family make it themselves. Unless you know your favourite brand, I would suggest going for some monastery rakijas (Kovilj monastery and Patriarchate cellars in Sremski Karlovci are good choices), which can be found in many church-operated shops around the city. Another great chain of shops with sensible prices and great variety is Cerpromet and there I always trust recommendations of their knowledgeable staff. If you want something truly unique, keep an eye out on juniper-infused BB Klekovača, which is highly praised both for its taste and medicinal properties.
In terms of non-traditional spirits, Juni 93 is by far the best local craft gin. It is produced in Žiča by two Nottinghamians using local ingredients, including juniper berries, which are apparently the best in the world. I would suggest going for their extra-Serbian raspberry-and-plum flavoured gin. Unfortunately, getting a hold of one of their bottles can be a bit tricky, but they can be found in Vino I Tako To and Wine Corner.
In terms of great food gifts from Serbia, our ajvar is the obvious choice. Although it is most easily available in supermarkets, I suggest getting one from many new delis specialising in traditional foods (such as Ukus in Dorćol) around town as they tend to have fuller taste.
If you want something different to bring to your friends abroad, I would suggest going for kulen – our delightfully spicy dry sausage, or čvarci – pork rinds. They can be found in most super markets and butcher shops around town, however I would recommend Morava or pretty much any butcher shop around the Zemun market (Belgrade’s best!).
If sweets are more of your thing, Belgrade’s last surviving traditional candy shop, Bosiljčić, still makes great old fashioned caramel fudge and Turkish delight, both of which are very tasty and travel well.
Slightly more left-field choice that also makes for a good gift is (h)alva (sesame and honey-based dry sweet) and I would suggest checking out Belgrade’s most atmospheric oriental pastry-shop Orijent.
Although Serbian chocolate is far from a global phenomenon, ever-excellent Mandarina does some imaginative craft bars which will delight connoisseurs. Easily one of the prettiest café/shops in the city, Valentina i Karanfil, also make their own fantastic chocolate and marzipan.
Finally, given that Serbia was one of the first countries in Europe to develop a coffee culture (“thanks” to the Ottoman conquest), giving coffee as a gift is still very popular. While most people stick to super market brands (Grand, Doncafe etc.), getting some beans from artisanal roasteries such as Pržionica D59B, Lokal and Užitak is becoming increasingly common. However if herbal infusions are more your thing, I would suggest getting some “Rtanj tea”, made from a herb which grows on the slopes of Serbia’s most mysterious mountain and which is considered great for health. You can get it from herb merchants at most green markets (again, Zemun rules!), or even from pharmacies.
Art and Trinkets
While you can indeed go for St Sava temple fridge magnets, one thing that is great about shopping in Belgrade is that you can get some really great art works for a fraction of what you would pay abroad. There are many galleries which sell outstanding affordable and small-format local art works such as Galerija 1250 (ceramics), Grafički kolektiv (prints) and Wunderkammer (anything and everything).
If you are interested in something more substantial, GIR showcases the best of local furniture design (alongside foreign brands), while small antiquarian shops such as DUB are great places to find local handicrafts, such as distinctive Pirot kilims.
But if you are still looking for something more traditional or obviously Serbian, I would suggest hitting the gift shops of Muzej Jugoslavije, Narodni Muzej and Ethnographic Museum, where you can find anything from replicas of old artworks to Tito-shaped piggybanks.