If you decide to try an authentic, traditional Serbian first course after your aperitif of ‘hladna prepečenica’ (45-50 proof plum rakija – brandy) you should ask for some proja (cornbread), sir (cheese) and kajmak (kaymak – clotted cream). Please, do not be surprised if you are asked to choose a salad, as they are usually eaten with both the first course and the second course in Serbia. If it is winter, you should choose kiseli kupus (sauerkraut/pickled cabbage), and if it is summer, opt for hladna bašta (see: Salads).
If you want to sample one of the meat specialities, the best combination to opt for is a srpska zakuska (Serbian starter) with either proja (cornbread) orpogača (a flat, round bread). Alongside some kajmak and cheese, this dish includes pršuta (prosciutto – dry-cured ham), pečenica (smoked pork tenderloin), srpska kobasica (Serbian sausages), dimljeni vrat (smoked ham), kuvana jaja (hard-boiled eggs), papričice (chilli peppers) and mladi luk(spring onion). You should choose a quality white wine or rose with this starter. During winter, the Serbian starter may also include pihtije,prebranac, pečenica and feferone (chilli peppers).
Pihtije (pork in aspic) is a traditional Serbian winter starter that originated from the need to make use of low quality cuts of pork (hocks and meat from the head). These are boiled in water with pepper, bay leaves and salt. The meat is separated from the bone and the liquid is poured into shallow bowls. Garlic is then added to taste and the bowls left in a cold place to set. Aleva paprika, that is ground red paprika, is sprinkled on top and then it is cut into cubes. Pihtije is served with pickled vegetables (gherkins, bell peppers and green tomatoes).
Prebranac (Serbian Baked Beans) is prepared with a special type of large white bean (tetovac), onions and seasoning (pepper, salt and paprika). It is served cold as part of the Serbian starter. Of course, some wine to go with this dish is required. Try a white wine spritzer (a mixture of two parts white wine and one part soda water) – it helps digestion.
If you would prefer lighter food, then cold posne sarmice (low-fat vegetarianSarmice) are highly recommended. A stuffing made from sautéed onion and rice, plus tomato, paprika and parsley is wrapped in cabbage or vine leaves.
At more formal occasions, fish lovers should not forget to try punjeni smuđ na golubački način (Perch Fillet Golubac Style). The perch – king of the Danube, and Golubac – a fortress on the river, have combined quality and a tradition of rich dining. Fish is always accompanied with white wine, but straight!
If you manage to resist the charms of the cold starters and delicious soups, you can begin your meal with a warm starter. Of course, cheese and kajmakare still on the menu because no meal can be complete without them, but as a warm starter they come as gibanica (Cheese and Egg Pie) or zeljanica(Spinach Pie). These pies are made with filo pastry and are filled with plenty of cheese, kajmak and egg, and if you order a zeljanica, then it has finely-chopped spinach and dock leaves as well. These pies are especially good with some beer!
Punjene paprika sa sirom (Stuffed Peppers with Cheese) is an interesting dish from southern Serbia. It is cooked in two different ways, either fresh or breaded. The best are made from sun-dried red peppers, stuffed full of cheese and kajmak, roasted in a fireproof dish. Pohovane tikvice (Breaded Courgette) or pohovani plavi patlidžan (Breaded Aubergine) are fantastic during summer. They are served with tartar sauce and are best washed down with a beer.
For the gourmets among you, pohovane teleće nogice (Breaded Hock of Veal) come highly recommended. The cooked meat is removed from the bone and then breaded Parisian style. This dish is served with tartar sauce and goes with a cold beer or white wine spritzer.
In the majority of good restaurants you can order pečurke (Mushrooms), usually button mushrooms. They are served with rice, or even more often with chicken livers. Don’t forget to drink some good rakija (local brandy) with this dish! Choose either klekovača (juniper brandy) or lincura (Yellow Gentian herbal brandy), as they will increase your appetite.
Soups and broths
There is a common saying in Serbia, “If I haven’t eaten with a spoon, then I haven’t eaten at all!” Regardless of whether it is an everyday lunch or a special occasion, without soup or a čorba (broth), lunch is just not complete. There are many different kinds of soups and čorbe available, with the most common ones being:
– Teleća srpska čorba (Serbian Veal Broth)
– Pileća srpska čorba (Serbian Chicken Broth)
– Jagnjeća čorba (Lamb Broth)
– Goveđa or pileća supa (Beef or Chicken Soup)
Čorbe are full of meat and vegetables, and often have a piquant taste (sour broths). Supe (soups) are also made with meat and vegetables, but these are removed prior to serving and replaced with noodles or dumplings.
However, there is a čorba that is a bit of both: Šumadijska (ratarska) supa(Šumadija Farmer’s Soup). This broth contains chicken strips, carrot, parsnip, celery and onion, cooked with a dash of pepper and finely-chopped parsley to season.