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!
Pizza and Pasta chains
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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
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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