Street Food Favorites in the Balkans
From Bosnia & Herzegovina to Romania and Bulgaria, I was constantly impressed by how friendly the locals were across the region known as the Balkans. I was a foreigner but the people I met in each place took interest in why I was there and asked me what I thought of the land they call home. Though the Balkans isn’t known for having such famous landmarks as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben there are many beautiful things to see in this part of the world. And there are many more reasons from travelers to add this area to their list. I was amazed at the well preserved castles of Transylvania, the mountain views of Montenegro, and the ancient churches along the coast of Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Much of this land was once part of the Ottoman Empire and remnants of this history are still found in the architecture and the food. The cuisine of the Balkans is known for hearty dishes of grilled meats, a variety of breads, and sweets reminiscent of my time in Turkey. There are great meals to be found here for not very much money. Here are my street food favorites in the Balkans.
Also known as cevapcici, this skinless sausage is grilled and can be made from a variety of meats. Most commonly beef or pork is used. Cevapi is found throughout the Balkans and can be served as a sandwich, a main course, or on top of something such as slow roasted beans. The last is most commonly found in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Depending on the region, cevapi may be served with raw or cooked onions.
Depending on the region, cevapi may also be accompanied by one of the following pepper based spreads:
- Pindjur: A spicy relish found in many Balkan cuisines. It is most commonly prepared with red bell peppers, garlic, and chili peppers.
- Ajvar: Usually a mild relish or chutney made most commonly with red bell peppers and garlic. Some versions may include eggplant while spicier versions will contain chili peppers or paprika. Most commonly found in Serbian cuisine.
- Ljutenica: Also known as lyutenitsa or lutenica, this spicy vegetable relish or chutney is made of peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, salt, crushed pepper and sugar. It is commonly found in the cuisines of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia.
Similar to the Greek gyro, doner kebab is found throughout the Balkans at street vendors, food stalls, and restaurants. Beef, lamb, chicken, or pork are grilled on a vertical rotisserie and then thinly sliced to order. The meat is added to a pita or other fresh bread wrap along with a medley of cabbage, tomato, onion, and usually tzatziki. Sometimes a spicy sauce or chili flakes are available on request.
While versions of this dish may vary throughout the region, it is almost always one of the best quick meals available. To spot the best doner kebab vendor make sure they are slicing the meat to order. If the rotisserie is not on or a large pile of sliced meat is just sitting at the bottom of the rotisserie tray, it is most likely not fresh. Keep looking around until you find the busiest spot, preferable with locals in line, and most likely that will be the best doner kebab available.
Grilled Meat Kebab
Simple and savory, nearly every major street that has a constant flow of traffic will have at least one spot to find freshly grilled meat dishes. Pork chops, steaks, chicken, sausages, burgers, and more are typically available. Grilled meat kebabs are generally served with optional sides such as salad, potatoes, stewed vegetables, or other selections. Burgers and sausages are usually offered with or without a bun, onion, slaw, ketchup, and mustard.
Depending on the part of the world and your selection, grilled meats range from $2-8. Make sure to try some of the local sausages!
This Balkan favorite, also known as börek, is made of a thin and flaky phyllo dough. The dough is typically stuffed with cheese, spinach, meat, or a combination of these ingredients, before being baked in the oven. Depending on the area, it can be found in a range of shapes and sizes. Burek can be found in triangular pieces in Albania, circular in Bosnia, and square closer to Turkey. Some regions even have versions that look like large eggrolls.
Regardless of the size and shape, burek is commonly served as an accompaniment to breakfast or lunch. Every local usually has their own favorite shop and challenging them on this is a common argument heard throughout the region. I always asked staff at hostels and walking tour guides for their favorite spot. It was almost never the same from person to person.
- Yogurt or jogurt is a crucial accompaniment to burek. Whenever ordering the bread dish, make sure to purchase some yogurt to drink alongside it. Take a bite of the bread and then take a sip of the yogurt to add creaminess and a touch of salt to every bite. I was advised that this is the traditional way the locals eat burek. I tried it both ways and definitely prefer the yogurt and burek combination.
Regardless of where your journey takes you through the Balkans, make sure to try and taste each of these dishes for the complete local experience. For more comprehensive information on each region, I’ll have country specific street food guides soon for each place I visited.
Street Food Guides for Specific Cities in the Balkans
- Greece: Best Gyros in Athens and Best Gyros in Santorini
- Romania: Street Food in Bucharest
- Turkey: 12 Must Try Street Foods in Istanbul
- Bosnia & Herzegovina: Sarajevo (Coming soon!)
- Bulgaria: Sofia (Coming soon!)
- Croatia: Split and Dubrovnik (Coming soon!)
- Montenegro: Street Food in Budva
Thank you for reading! As always, please feel free to comment or email me with any questions!