Traditional Balkan food attracts tourists and gourmets from around the world. Balkan Peninsula is a relatively small part of Europe, which, however, for many centuries, was in the midst of large-scale events. In different periods, the Balkans were owned by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks. People, traditions, cultures, languages, religions are mixed, and the whole time the Balkans were at the intersection of the most important trade routes. Experience the Balkan tradition trough its food.
The diversity of Balkan food can satisfy everyone’s taste. Typical Balkan food is rich in variety. Red pepper, tomato, onions, white cheese, kaymak, meat, and various pies are present in all cuisines of Balkan Peninsula – Romanian, Bulgarian, Montenegrin, Macedonian, Greek, and other Balkan cuisines.
There has never been a single Balkan culture, but there are some exceptions to this rule. Balkan cuisine is just one of them. The concept of Balkan food and cuisine is, of course, nothing more than a conventionality, the same crazy cocktail as the Balkan Peninsula itself. Similar geographical and climatic conditions of the Balkans, the strong influence first of the Byzantine, then Turkish culinary traditions, the kinship of many peoples and the active interchange of cultures did their job. Similarities in the kitchen of the Balkan countries can be found no less than differences. Like any other cuisine, Balkan cuisine grew out of what the people cultivated on the land on which they lived and worked, so the cuisine of the Balkan countries vary greatly depending on the geographic factor.
Turkish influence: thanks and despite
The era of Turkish rule had a huge impact on the present image of the Balkan Peninsula. The Balkans split into religious and national grounds, the cruelty of the Turkish occupiers became a byword, but at the same time, any of the Balkan nations absorbed the best that was in the Turkish cultural heritage. The cuisine of the Balkan countries is the brightest example.
Traces left in the Balkan cuisine by the Turks can easily be traced in the names of the dishes. Chorba is a family of soups popular all over the peninsula, in Romanian cuisine, it is called borsch, in Bulgarian shkembe chorba.
The strong love of many Balkan peoples for pork also originates in the confrontation with the Turkish invaders. For many of them, meat banned for Muslims became a symbol of preserving one’s own identity and traditions.
The tradition of cooking festive meat dishes on the open fire existed here since primitive times, but a modern Balkan grill would have been impossible without the influence of Turkish cuisine with kebabs and shish kebab.
“Meze” is a great Balkan food tradition, also originated from Turks. It is the manner of presenting to the guest everything that is in the house, starting a meal with a large number of small snacks, accompanied by drinks. The composition of the meze may vary depending on the country – in Serbia you can’t imagine a table without a kaymak, in Bosnia and Herzegovina – dried and smoked beef, in Bulgaria- the baked peppers, and in any of these countries – cheeses, sausages. salami, and ham.
From the Turkish cuisine whole Balkan region acquired such features as the use of spicy pepper seasonings, a variety of soup recipes, and preference for hearty dishes. However, the traditional Balkan food has much preferences from other cultures: Hungarian, German and Slavic.
Balkan Peninsula meat lovers
Great pride of Balkan food is certainly meat. Love for meat comes from a long-standing national mythology. Popular are the different types of meat and all meat products. Undoubtedly, the base of Balkan cooking is pork, which is used in various versions. Traditional Balkan food preparation involves a lot of pig fat. Thick soup can be prepared with pork, lamb, and beef. Meat is boiled with flour, spices, and pepper. A lot of paprika is added, so the meat dish turns out to be quite spicy. Another traditional Balkan food, goulash is typically eaten together with mashed potatoes or dumplings.
Locals cook a lot of meat dishes. It should be noted, that traditionally preparation of every meat dish begins with roasting or stewing onions. Balkan food and dishes are unimaginable without onion. Different methods of processing meat are used: it can be fried, stewed, boiled, smoked and much more. In the villages, you can find baked lamb or stewed with potatoes and milk. Young meat in milk turns out very soft and gentle. For an appetizer, Balkans make sausages with spices or slices of jerky. The whole baked pig is not just an indispensable attribute of festive recipes, but also an indicator of the welfare of the owner of the house. This dish accompanies the birth of a child, a funeral, weddings and just long-awaited meetings with relatives.
Another favorite dish of Balkan cuisine is the so-called “pleskavitza“, which is in all English-speaking guides translated simply as a “burger”. However, this is a little different treat. Original pleskavitza has an incredible size – the size of a large plate and the thickness of two fingers. This dish is served with finely chopped onions. Even young girls are not shy to eat onions in large quantities.
Gifts from the sea
Another of the most important geographical features that shape the appearance of Balkan cuisine is the sea. Most countries in this region have access to the Adriatic coast, so the Balkan cuisine is offering a variety of seafood dishes. Croatian cuisine, which has an extensive coastline and many small islands, is full of fish and seafood. This is especially noticeable in the regions adjacent to the Adriatic Sea where are common dishes made of squid, shrimp, octopus, tuna. Croatia has borrowed a lot of Italian dishes, among which are fish soup – brodet, prosciutto ham, local pasta, and gnocchi.
They prepare both, ordinary and quite sophisticated fish dishes. For example, you can find fried catfish, cooked mackerel with mushrooms, marinated tuna or carp in garlic sauce. Very popular dish on the coast of the Adriatic Sea is black risotto with cuttlefish, prepared as Italian risotto. Another great typical Balkan food is riblya chorba – soup from several types of fish, with the addition of spicy seasonings and flour. Besides sea fish, it can be found recipes for freshwater fish. There are many lakes, so fish is caught in fresh water. A big preference among such species was the pike-perch and wild carp, which had been prepared by the local population since ancient times.
Cheese and longevity
The people of Balkan Peninsula have special relations with cheese and dairy products. The Balkans themselves, in spite of any scientific basis, sincerely believe that the cheese is the secret of their longevity. In Serbian cuisine, without a cheese, there is not a single meal.
Many recipes use dairy products. Special attention was paid to kaymak. To prepare kaymak, first of all, you need to boil the sheep or cow’s milk, and then pour it into shallow vessels with a wide throat. During the cooling of milk, forms a thin film of foam. It must be carefully removed and placed in a wooden barrel. On the top of the film add a little salt, and then laid a new layer, again add some salt – and so to the top of the barrel. Kaymak can be used almost immediately, but you can let it stand. Fresh product is white and has a delicate taste. The aged kaymak has a yellow color and a piquant, sharp taste. Traditional kaymak is used in many dishes as a condiment. For example, kaymak is used in the preparation of fish and meat dishes. In general, kaymak is so popular ingredient that it seems that almost no dish of Balkan cuisine can do without it. The Very popular dish is citzvara – fresh cheese, melted with corn flour. It is served for breakfast with butter and cheese and by its structure is very similar to porridge.
Sun and vegetables
Due to the fact that the entire peninsula, with the exception of its northern part, lies in the subtropical belt, Balkan food is very healthy due to extremely large number of dishes from fruits and vegetables. For example, the national dish of Macedonian cuisine is tavche-tgravche, which is a bean stewed with onion and sweet pepper. As well, Bulgarian cuisine is impossible to imagine without national cold salad Shopska – mixture of vegetables with white cheese. There is also a variety of relish made with red peppers, chili pepper, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, onions …
One meal prepared accordance with the traditions of this cultures can include several dishes from starch. For example, they can cook potatoes, noodles, bread and pastries. The basis of the cuisine consists of different root crops, such as carrots, turnips, beets and potatoes. Every house prepares pies from vegetables and stuffed peppers. In the appropriate season, locals gather and dry mushrooms, from which they prepare food for the whole year. Cereals are distributed because they are quickly grown and have a long preservation after harvesting.
Like all Balkan food, “grah” is a very simple dish, easy to prepare, but also very tasty and nutritious. In some countries of the Balkan cuisine, grapes are specially grown to use it fresh, to prepare jam, wine, and raisins. Often there is a cultivation of corn and olive trees. Since ancient times, Balkan cuisine uses in the preparation an abundance of flour. Flour is used for making the different pastry, or for filling and cooking. For example, flour is added to a traditional goulash soup. From flour, they make a roux for the main dishes because it gives an excellent taste and the necessary density.
Wine and rakia
Heat and the sun are ideal conditions for grape growing, and the proximity to Greece has provided a centuries-old history of winemaking. Although the countries of the Balkan Peninsula can not yet boast of great wines with loud names, the wine is constantly present on the table. Often this is a simple homemade wine that is almost not aged and easily drunk, but there are more serious specimens among the Balkan wines. On hearing – Montenegrin grape variety Vranac, and the local Muscat, which comes from Croatia and is planted more than 10% of all vineyards in California.
The most popular summer drink within Balkans is considered to be the spritzer, borrowed from the Austrians. Spritzer is made with light white wine and sparkling mineral water.
Of strong drinks, the obligatory component of any Balkan banquet is rightly considered to be schnapps – fruit brandy. Every self-respecting owner makes it in an ancient way from plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, grapes, and honeycombs. They drink it from special shot glasses and in a very European way – with small sips.