Cuisine from the Balkan Peninsula
Cuisines of the Balkan Peninsula benefit from the natural endowments of high mountains - think dairy herds - and wonderful fish and seafood from its long coast. The cultural kaleidoscope of Slavic and Mediterranean cultures stirring the pot over centuries has left a trail of wonderful dishes in the Balkan kitchen.
Great variety features in the cuisine of Serbia thanks to its geographical, national and cultural diversity, and the jigsaw of Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish and Hungarian influences. Beef prosciutto, a type of polenta made from flour, eggs, butter and cheese, rose-petal slatko (a sweet preserve) and specialties made with dried plums are considered native Serbian foods. You’ll find lots of breads, strudels and pasta, spinach pies and spit-roast pork, smoked meat and lamb dishes as specialties in different western regions. In eastern Serbia try shepherd’s pies, lamb cooked in milk, smoked wild boar meat, and Homolj kačamak, a type of polenta made from cornmeal, potato and sometimes feta cheese. Whether you’re an omnivore or a vegetarian, you’ll delighted by the variety on Serbian menus.
Italy, Austria and Hungary have all influenced the cooking of Slovenia, where 170 dishes are now officially recognized as typically Slovene, from unusual soups and buckwheat porridge to meat dishes and delightful desserts. The main ingredients are cabbage, beans and potatoes; without them there would be no typical dumplings or sautéed potatoes. Slovenia’s inns, or gostilne, are the best place to sample local cuisine. Many of them are family businesses, some going back a hundred years or more, so you can expect a warm, hospitable welcome and service. In the wealth of dishes on offer, you can always find at least three dishes that are typical of the area or region. A tasty meal is often concluded with a rich potica or prekmurska gibanica cake.
Continental cuisine in Croatia is fascinating. Influences inherited from the Hungarian, Viennese, and Turkish kitchens during various periods in history to add new dimensions to its Slavic roots. The Slavonian dining table groans with tasty ham and Kulen sausage while the typical Slavonian pot olds shepherd’s bean stew or paprika fish stew, washed down with the not to be missed glass of plum schnapps. In Istria, start first with an aperitif of mistletoe, rue or honey schnapps, followed by cheese and prosciutto accompanied with Istrian soup, and during the spring scrambled egg made from asparagus. Ston oysters and mussels in Dubrovnik, or lamb and veal cooked in embers under an iron bell… the delights of Croatia are hardly limited to the table, but there you’ll find quite a few.
An excellent way to know the heart of Montenegro is through its food. Try lamb or kid meat, pivski kajmak (a special milk cream from Piva), clear fish soup and boiled fish, fried carp and smoked bleak. In the northern region you’ll find lots of dairy products, lamb and cornmeal porridge on the menu, whereas near the seacoast loads of fish are brought to the table, grilled and served with olive oil-drizzled vegetables. And above all, pour some Vranac or Krstac wine after your meal and finish off with something sweet such as cheesecake, a peach or some water melon. If it’s just a little break you need, relax with a Nikšicko beer, and in the early evening invigorate yourself with grape brandy and tidbits of along with smoked ham, goat cheese and tomatoes.
Greece claims to have four simple keys to its gastronomic success: good quality fresh ingredients, correct use of herbs and spices, the famous Greek olive oil and simplicity. Greek olive oil deserves a mention because it accompanies almost all Greek dishes and is of such excellent quality. The Greek climate eliminates the need for greenhouses so the vegetables all get to grow outside, just like in the old days, and you can taste the difference. Fruits, such as grapes, apricots, peaches, cherries, melons, and watermelons are equally flavorful. The amazing aroma of fresh oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary in many dishes will mesmerize you. The Aegean and Ionian Seas are crystal clear and rich with fish that are a little bit of heaven when they’re grilled fresh from the water and served up simply.
Mealtime in Bulgaria is almost certainly going to include brightly colored salads made with vegetables and pulses and one of many delectable soups – mushroom, chicken, fish, or a cooling cucumber yogurt potion in the summertime. Veal, pork and chicken are the most common meats consumed, alternately grilled, minced and spiced, or in rich stews and “one pot” meals with vegetables. Let’s not forget the bread to mop up the rich flavors you wouldn’t want to leave in the bowl or on the plate. Dairy products are ubiquitous, in snacks such as banitsa and in many desserts filled with creamy or curd cheeses. If you need a little sustenance so you can take in a few more sights, it’s time for a piroshki, a little savory filled pastry, from a cart on the square.
Over time the ancient Greeks, the Germanic Saxons, the Turks, and its Slavic and Magyar neighbors have influenced the kitchen in Romania. A traditional Romanian meal may include appetizers of assorted cheeses and cured meats and salamis along with vegetable pates, and then a sustaining soup. Favorites are meatball or tripe, and of course vegetable soup. Common fish are grilled, brined carp, Black Sea sturgeon and herring; meat can be grilled but is popular stewed with onions. Mixed sautéed vegetables or stuffed cabbage leaves balance out the diet, and then of course there’s dessert. Pastries filled with sweetened curd or cream cheese and flavored with raisins, seeds or nuts are what your sweet tooth can happily anticipate.