Vegetarian food in Serbia – a guide for vegetarian travellers

Vegetarian sweet pepper dish in restaurant Meze in Nis, Serbia

Our travel guidebook had warned us: “Meat is the Serbs’ favourite vegetable.” So, we didn’t expect much from our two-week Serbia travel in terms of food. Being vegetarian travellers, we focussed on the sightseeing aspects and general travel experiences in Serbia – which were quite good. But as always, we prepared by learning some useful phrases like, “without meat???” and the names of some vegetarian dishes we might hopefully spot on the menu. Eventually, it turned out that the choices of vegetarian food in Serbia were not too bad!

Altogether Serbia was a lovely autumn destination.

Pizza and Pasta chains

Pizza in a simple restaurant in Zajecar - good value for money and always an option for vegetarians

Like in most countries, we found some cheap pizza eateries in the bigger Serbian towns. Perhaps thanks to the closeness of Italy – in the era of Yugoslavia it was a neighbouring country, after all – the pizzas were quite edibler who had learned the trade in Germany as a kitchen help. He was happy to practice his German while preparing our pizza. Novi Pazar was a great base to explore the nearby UNESCO sites of Sopocani monastery, St Peter church and the ruins of Stari Ras.

Pasta Arrabiata in a past fast food restaurant in Belgrade

A different type of restaurant included the small fast-food joints specialising in pasta. Some of them also did risotto, but never pizza. They all had English menus and a special section with vegetarian options. It annoyed us a bit that they would often serve their food in cardboard boxes even when eating in.

Palačinki pancakes

Because we aren’t vegan, the rich pancakes (Palačinki) popular in neighbouring Hungary were a great addition to our diet. They are made with eggs and milk and are very filling.

Palačinki are a great option for vegetarian travellers in Serbia

In Serbia there are specialised Palačinki stalls that sell sweet and savoury pancake in a thousand varieties. At least that’s what you think looking at the menu. In fact, they are just listing all possible variations of, say, five different spreads and eight different toppings … And since double cream is a little more expensive than normal cream, and Nutella a little more expensive than Eurokrem (the local brand), this menu selection looks really difficult! We ordered the items that we recognised, and some by intuition. Plazma, for instance, sounded intriguing. We expected some kind of sweet gel or paste (it was listed in the sweet section). It turned out to be crumbled sponge fingers from a popular brand by the name of Plazma.

To our delight, Palačinki are also available in a savoury version. They also fill long menu lists, but the Palačinki stalls often don’t have many vegetables in stock. Therefore, it was a matter of suggesting possible items: “How about double cream and mushrooms, do you have that? And maybe tomatoes? What about corn? And yes – Ketchup is a very good idea, too.”

Vegetarian Sandwiches

Vegetarian index sandwich in Novi Sad, Serbia

The simple sandwich stalls were similar to the Palačinki eateries: They sported large menus combining various ingredients. A so-called “index sandwich” is a speciality of the town of Novi Sad in the north of Serbia. In this case the sandwich filling is first fried on a hotplate and then put inside a bread roll. The ingredients seem to be the same as elsewhere, though. As vegetarian travellers, we opt for tomatoes and cucumbers, and several spreads. Those include “Greek Salad” (that is, Tzatziki) and Ajvar, a mild sweet pepper paste that we know from Germany. And then there’s something called Urnebes. The translation app returns this as “pandemonium” – we rather don’t try it! Later we learn that it is a spread like Ajvar but very hot.

Burek and other traditional vegetarian food in Serbia

Burek in a bakery in Kraljevo - a standard food for vegetarian travellers!

There’s a lot of layered and rolled flaky pastry dishes in Serbia. Some are sweet, some are filled with meat, and others contain cheese or spinach. In Berlin we would call them all Börek – probably a simplification, too. But in Serbia they had different names including Burek and Gibanica. Some say it’s the same anyway, and even if it isn’t, we would not be sure which one is which. But they were very tasty! We even found fast food stalls specialising in Burek – they often had long queues and the pastry was fresh and delicious.

Bakeries as an all-round option for vegetarian travellers in Serbia

Travel bloggers' rest in a bakery in Kraljevo, Serbia

Otherwise, it was always possible to get Burek and similar savoury snacks in the bakeries. Some of the bakeries also sold sweet strudels (Austrian-style dough rolls) and poppy seed pastries. We also tried Krempita, a traditional sweet cake that someone recommended to us. Compared to other cakes, it was less sugary but also somewhat bland.

Most of the bakeries had a few tables for immediate consumption. However, they rarely sold coffee – instead, most customers ordered thin natural yoghurt to drink with their pastry.

Vegetarian food in Serbian restaurants

Prebranac, a Serbian vegetarian bean stew

Restaurant menus generally focus on the meat dishes. That’s why we rarely had dinner at proper sit-down restaurants. In the bigger cities, we found a few restaurants with a better selection of vegetarian food. For instance, the grilled peppers with garlic were one of our favourites. And once we had Prebranac, a vegetarian thick and savoury bean stew. Combined with some salads, grilled mushrooms, fresh bread, and Burek and Gibanica, it makes a filling vegetarian meal.

However, most restaurants in the countryside don’t offer this kind of dishes … In the village of Studenica, where we stayed near the remarkable Monastery of Studenica, there was just one restaurant and a tiny shop. Since the shop sold only beer and chocolate, we entered the restaurant. And after some discussion with the waitress, we ended up eating French fries and oily omelette.

Stocking up on vegetarian food in Serbian markets and Supermarkets

As we often stayed in private flats with reasonably equipped kitchens, it was also possible to cook. In the cities, supermarkets were big and modern. They stocked familiar items but also some regional stuff such as Ajvar and Urnebes, the intense spread consisting of sweet peppers, hot peppers, and tomatoes. The typical Turši, or pickled vegetables, usually came in huge jars that were inconvenient for us. But on open markets in town there were also stalls selling Ajvar and Turši by weight. Many supermarkets also had deli counters for burek, cheese, Turši, and the like.

The Serbian craft beer scene and Serbian wines

Minestarstvo brew pub in Nis, Serbia

As for drinks, we didn’t go far into the sampling of Rakija, the local fruit spirits. After all, we had only just travelled in Tyrol with its unmatchable Edelbrand spirits. But Serbia has good beer and a lively craft beer scene, and we went to craft beer pubs in Subotica and Niš. And we had a lovely evening tasting some good Serbian wines in Belgrade. Some other wines we tried were not to our taste, however.

Did you try vegetarian food in Serbia? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments.

NB: We had no sponsoring for our trip to Serbia and our Serbian food experiences.

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20 Comments

  1. The vegetarian food in Serbia looks tasty, apart from the oily omelet! I can see the closeness to Italian cuisine. I’d love to try the pancakes and the burek. Anything wrapped in pastry is a winner to me. The bean stew looks perfect for the cold weather too.

    1. Dear Lisa, I think if you are used to Italian cuisine, the pasta and pizza in Serbia would be a dissapointment….but anyway food in Serbia is quite good, even for vegetarians. And it doesn`t break the bank….

  2. I would probably be normally looking for meat if I travelled to Serbia. But good to find that there were some vegetarian options too – even if most of them were not regular restaurants. We will always go for a good pizza. And would want to give the Palačinki a try in both sweet and savoury options.

  3. Yes, there are many countries in the eastern and southeastern parts of Europe where a meal isn’t complete without meat. Oftentimes they just take away the meat to create a vegetarian option which is quite frustrating. However, I believe that at least in the bigger cities, due to the global development towards healthy food, you find food that deserves to be called a vegetarian dish. Sometimes, globalization does work in our favor 😉

    1. Dear Renata, you are right – in Belgrade you will find better and more vegetarian options. However we are not so keen on the international vegetarian kitchen, like bowls, Avocado toasts etc. It is difficult to find local vegetarian food quite often. What is a bit sad, becauce usually there are a lot of vegetarian dishes, people prepare at home.

  4. One of my favorite reasons to travel is the food. I loved that you were able to find local food that was vegetarian, and looked delicious. The Palacinki pancakes in particular looked amazing, as well as the burek and various pastries. I often travel with vegetarian friends so I appreciated reading about your techniques for finding the vegetarian food, from stocking up at super markets and using bakeries as an option.

  5. It’s interesting to see that Serbia has so many vegetarian options. When I visited I remember the restaurant menus being very meat heavy. I am familiar with the burek, we have it in my home country as well and I’ve always liked it. The savoury pancakes look delicious as well – I love the ones filled with cottage cheese and baked with sour cream and cheese.

    1. Dear Joanna, we were actually surprised that finding vegetarian food was not too difficult. And most of the time it tasted ok too. Sometimes it was even tasty.

  6. I have the same problem as I generally don’t eat red meat. It is somehow challenging in the Balkans to have non-meat meals. Glad that you managed to find some non-meat alternatives. The paprika does look good as does the pasta.

    1. Dear Adele, the parika was really tasty and pretty authentic Serbian, I guess. The pasta was widely available at fast food stalls, but tastewise only medium…..

  7. The veggie in me is doing a happy dance. I’m so glad to know that there are quite a few veggie options available in Serbia. Good to know that the streetfood vendors were open to make new veggie versions of Palačinki pancakes for you. Burek sounds interesting.

    1. Dear Bhushavali, being a vegetarian and a traveller you will know that sometimes it just requires a little bit of persuasion to get people make you something vegetarian. In Serbia vendors were happy to do so – I guess because we paid the same price but did not get the meat :-)!

  8. I have also heard a lot about Serbia being a great place for meat lovers. I am glad to know that there are some vegetarian options available as my husband is a vegetarian. We are planning a visit to Serbia soon and this is going to be very helpful for us. The Burek and the savory version Palačinki is something new for me and I would definitely love to try it. The idea of having Prebranac with fresh bread and salad also seems good. I hope my husband does not have to rely on Pizza only. Thank you for all the recommendations.

    1. Dear Anjali, I am sure your husband will be fine. I would they being vegan might be more problematic. As a vegetarian he will have some choices.

  9. I agree with you that bakeries is a good option when it’s a bit challenging to look for vegetarian food.

    Happy to know that you got creative and was able to find vegetarian meals that you like. Burek sounds interesting and would love to try it.

    1. Dear Clarice, Burekt is a hit and miss. Sometimes it was really good – flaky outside and creamy white cheese inside. Sometimes it was quite oily or the cheese had a strong sheep taste.

  10. As a fellow vegetarian, I’ve also found it difficult in some heavy-meat countries to find what I want. The fries and oily omelet don’t sound too appetizing, ha! But I’m glad you did find some things. The pancake looks yummy and somewhat crepe-like. I’d like to try that! I haven’t been to Serbia, but this is good to note if I travel there.

  11. The Balkan is one of our favourite areas, especially for the food. But from what we saw, Serbia surely is a difficult place for vegetarians. In fact, when I first saw the title of this post, the only name that came to my mind was the Burek. Glad that you were able to find so many options (though not all of them were memorable in a good way).

    1. Dear Sumit, actually the situation concerning vegetarian food in Serbai was pretty good. We expected it to be worse and of less variety. We did not spent much time researching the food situation though. If you are willing to do this you might find better places. Expecially in Belgrade.

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