If you’re looking for a cuisine with continental flavor spiced up with an Ottoman/Central Asian touch, trying some Macedonian food will satisfy your cravings. Macedonian cuisine is like a big melting pot where the ingredients of the East and the West are mixed, giving whoever tries its food a sensory overload of another level. Most Macedonian recipes are archaic, date back to hundreds of years ago, and are an important part of the small country’s rich cultural heritage. And this article sums up the crème de la crème of the Macedonian cuisine.
But before we start, let’s cover some basics.
What does Macedonian cuisine consist of?
Macedonian food is colorful, flavorful, and diverse. The country saw a lot of conquerors throughout the years, from Romans and Byzantines to Slavs and Ottomans, and all of these influences played a key role in shaping Macedonian food throughout the years.
Combine this with the pleasant weather (Macedonia is the fifth sunniest country in Europe) that allows a myriad of fruits and vegetables to thrive here and you get the Macedonian food we know and love today; a flavorful mix of vegetables (the backbone of local cuisine) dairy products, delicious pastries and meat dishes and stews capable of not only filling your tummy but also filling your heart.
With that being said, let’s see which are some of the most popular Macedonian dishes.
Appetizers & Salads (10)
Appetizers are a big part not only of Macedonian cuisine but also Macedonian culture. In Macedonia, a meal can last for a very long time, and sometimes, the appetizer is the longest part of the meal. Traditionally, people eat appetizers (locally called meze) with a glass of rakija (local spirit) or some local wine while discussing everyday topics (Macedonians love to chit-chat) sometimes for hours before proceeding to the main course. Hence, no list of Macedonian food would be mentioned without some of the most popular local appetizers.
When it comes to salads, no meal is complete without Shopska. Shopska is a salad that consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and shredded white cheese. I know it sounds like a strange combo, but nothing can open an appetite like the fresh vegetables combined with some sirene (salty cheese). Most Macedonians eat Shopska with a shot of rakija before the meal (not after like in most other countries) and even though it sounds unorthodox, it’s something you should definitely try while in Macedonia.
Even though today we have imports and exports, that wasn’t always the case. Back in the days, during the cold winters, people didn’t have any vegetables, hence they came up with a way to preserve them and store them for the winter.
This gave birth to turshija. Turshija is a term that refers to the fermented version of practically every vegetable that you can imagine. Macedonians ferment cucumbers (pickles), carrots, tomatoes, cabbage (sauerkraut), cauliflower, peppers, etc. I know it might sound unappetizing and even gross, but the sour mildly sour flavor does wonders for your appetite.
If you’re not afraid of having garlic breath, you’ll definitely love makalo. Makalo is a popular local dipping sauce that has four different variations in which the basic ingredients are peppers, tomatoes, and garlic.
Makalo can be prepared as a liquid sauce or a spread in which garlic is the dominant ingredient, as a dense curry in which potatoes and peppers are the main ingredients, or as a mix of ground dried peppers and garlic.
Warning: trying one bite will eventually make you finish the whole plate no matter how hard you try to control yourself.
Yes, that’s right! Fermented milk is not popular only in Central Asia and Turkey, it’s big in the Balkan countries too, especially in the mountain areas. Macedonian fermented milk is dense and it has a structure similar to whipped cream and once seasoned with some salt, oregano, and local aromatic plants, it makes an amazing appetizer. If you ever get the chance, try fermented sheep milk from a local farmer. It’s natural, organic, animal cruelty-free, and actually very healthy!
Baked sirene (cheese) is exactly what it sounds; a few different types of cheese baked in an oven. It’s simple, easy to prepare and when combined with some thin local bread or mekici (more about this below), it makes a great appetizer. I guess this one isn’t as much about the preparation method as it is about the combination of cheeses. Macedonian cheese is severely underrated but it’s actually one of the finest ones in Europe.
Wherever you see the word ‘chorba’, expect a greasy, hearty, delicious stew. Teleshka chorba is basically a veal stew that’s boiled for 3-4 hours until the meat is really soft and chewy. Traditionally, it’s eaten for breakfast, but it’s not uncommon to have it as an appetizer too. It’s usually paired up with some garlic sauce and vinegar and served with fresh bread.
Shkembe chorba is another delicious stew made of cow intestines but it’s a lot tastier than it actually sounds. The preparation method is rather long (up to 5-6 hours) but this stew is worth waiting. Traditionally, it was one of the most common breakfasts in Macedonia. Today, not so much but people still refer to shkembe chorba as the ‘national hangover dish’.
Even though some other countries try to present it as their own, ajvar is 100% Macedonian. This delicious mix of ground and subsequently double-fried peppers (and a little bit of tomatoes and eggplants) is Macedonia’s favorite winter snack.
Similarly to turshija, a lot of people prepare hundreds of jars at once and store them from the winter. That’s why the period around September/beginning of October is jokingly referred to as ‘Ajvar season’. Ajvar is most tasty when paired up with fresh bread and some local sirene.
The best way to describe pindjur is as ajvar’s less popular cousin. Pindjur is also prepared by mixing peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, but it also features some other optional ingredients, such as onions, garlic, and olive oil. Pindjur is eaten in the warmer months of the year and similarly to ajvar, it’s traditionally served with feta cheese, bread, and (optionally) some marinated olives.
If you ever visited Macedonia, you probably saw at least a few houses ‘decorated’ with long strings of dry red peppers hanging on the walls. But did you know that these ‘decorations’ are actually edible? Vezenka is a popular locally-grown pepper that comes in two varieties- sweet and spicy. Locals dry the peppers throughout the summers and use them as a side dish with a lot of main courses, most commonly tavce gravce (more about it below).
Bread, Pastries, and Pies (8)
No list of Macedonian food is complete without bread and pastries. Bread is an integral part of Macedonian cuisine and most Macedonians can’t imagine their meal without eating bread. A lot of restaurants even serve bread as a complementary addition to your meal (on the house, of course).
Pogacha is a traditional type of bread shaped like a round loaf. As you can imagine, the preparation procedure is quite difficult and that’s why it’s only prepared for special occasions. Pogacha is usually prepared plain but it can also be made with filling. The basic ingredients are flour, yogurt, and eggs.
If you ask people from the Balkan, they’ll tell you that burek is the best pastry in the world. Even though Turkish in origin, the burek you’ll find in Balkan countries like Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia is equally delicious if not even better. Burek is basically a flaky baked pastry stuffed with ground meat, sirene, or different types of vegetables.
Gibanica is another popular Macedonian pastry that looks quite similar to burek. The main ingredients are eggs and sirene (no meat in this one). It’s very easy to prepare and even though not as popular as burek, you should definitely try it when visiting Macedonia.
Mekica is a fried dough that looks kind of like a donut. The texture is similar but mekici are usually eaten with sirene, bacon, or other salty appetizers, unlike their sweet counterparts. In Macedonia, mekici are traditionally prepared by the grandmothers and served by the father when a baby is born but you can also find them in most local bakeries.
Kifla is a flaky, croissant-shaped pastry sprinkled with sesame sweets. Kifli comes in three varieties- plain, stuffed with sirene, or with sweet jam or chocolate. The first one is usually served as a side dish with most Macedonian main course dishes, the second one is typically eaten for breakfast, while the sweet version is eaten as a dessert or a snack.
When Macedonian food is the topic, we just have to mention Zelnik; a traditional Macedonian savory pie that consists of thin layers of phyllo stuffed with sauerkraut (trust me it tastes amazing), spinach, cheese, or meat topped with leek and wound up into a spiral shape. Zelnik is traditionally eaten warm with a glass of yogurt or ayran.
Gjomleze is a traditional Macedonian pastry that originates from the cities Ohrid and Struga. This white, crispy pie is traditionally prepared on large metal or ceramic lid called sach that enables even, convection baking for up to 7-8 hours. You can also prepare gjomleze in the oven but if you ever visit Ohrid or Struga, make sure you try gjomleze prepared on sach, the good, old-fashioned way.
Yogurtlitava is a unique pastry from the central south part of the country that’s traditionally prepared for Orthodox Easter. The pastry is basically a mix of flour, yogurt, and eggs stuffed with rice and beef, veal, or lamb. If you ever visit the city of Bitola in the southern part of the country, this is a dish you just have to try.
Vegetarian Main Course Dishes (5)
You might think that you can’t find a lot of vegetarian options in Macedonia but you’d be wrong. Macedonian cuisine has something in store for everyone, including vegetarians. So, we decided to enrich this list of Macedonian food by adding some of the most popular local vegetarian dishes.
Potato stew is a lean meal or according to most people, a dish for poor people. The stew consists of potatoes, onions, other optional vegetables, red pepper, and a myriad of local spices. It’s quick and easy, healthy, and delicious.
Turlitava’s name originates from the ancient Slavic word ‘turalje’, meaning mix, and the word ‘Tava’ which is a local cooking pan and the name is rather self-explanatory. The dish consists of all possible vegetables you can imagine baked on a Tava. The original version is prepared without any meat but since Macedonians are big-time meat-eaters, a lot of people cook it with veal or pork.
No list of Macedonian food is complete without tavce gravce; perhaps the most popular Macedonian dish. The main ingredient for this dish is beans and they’re prepared by boiling and baking. Traditionally, it’s served with a sausage and sushena vezenka but if you take the sausage out, you got yourself a nice vegan meal.
The preparation method isn’t that easy, however, but don’t worry; if you want to prepare it in your home, check out our tavce gravce recipe.
Sarma is a traditional Macedonian food that’s equally popular in several other Slavic countries too. Sarma consists of sauerkraut wrap stuffed with fried rice. Sarma also has a much more popular meat version that includes ground meat in addition to the fried rice (and personally, I think this is much tastier but that’s just me).
Polneti Piperki or stuffed peppers is another delicious Macedonian dish with a self-explanatory name. The dish consists of peppers stuffed with fried rice baked in an oven. This dish comes in a non-vegetarian version by mixing the fried rice with some ground meat before stuffing the peppers.
Non-vegetarian Main Course Dishes (9)
As you’re probably already starting to understand, Macedonian food features a lot of meat dishes and most locals will tell you that this is the best part of Macedonian cuisine.
Kukurec is a Macedonian lamb specialty prepared in an authentic earthenware pot that takes cooking meat on another level. The dish itself sounds kind of gross ingredients-wise (it’s made of lamb intestines). Similarly to other Macedonian dishes, it’s not very easy to prepared and the intestines need to be cleaned very well before cooking which can also be time-consuming but this dish is worth the wait. It goes very well with some white wine.
The name of this dish translates to ‘meat prepared on a village way’ and it’s exactly it sounds (you’re probably starting to understand that Macedonian dishes have very straight-forward names). Traditionally, the meat is baked in an earthenware pot until it’s so soft that it will melt in your mouth. The meat is baked with some potatoes, carrots, onions, and optionally mushrooms.
Shirden is another Macedonian dish that sounds kinda gross but it’s actually surprisingly tasty. This dish made of lamb stomach showcases the Ottoman influence on Macedonian cuisine. Even though it was much more popular in the past, today it can be labeled as a ‘rare delicacy’ and there aren’t a lot of places where you can try shirden because of the lengthy preparation method. The preparation starts by cleaning the abomasum, stuffing it with ground meat, pepper, and onion, and baking it for 1.5-2 hours.
The best way to describe piftija or pacha is as ‘the Macedonian version of aspic’. Most locals either love it or hate it so there’s no middle ground but if you’re open-minded towards experimenting with local dishes while traveling, piftija is one thing you have to try. The dish consists of pig or cow legs and feet or head cooked in its own fat. The preparation can take up to 8 hours because the final result needs to be a gelatine-like dish.
Traditionally, piftija was a poor man’s dish because it consists of the parts of the animal no one else would eat but throughout time, it became one of the most popular dishes in Macedonia, traditionally served for festivities and celebrations.
If you like chicken-based dishes, gjuvec will show you another creative way to prepare chicken. It’s prepared by adding large pieces of chicken in a mix of fried rice and deep-fried vegetables, such as onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
Equally popular in both, Macedonia, Greece, and the Middle-eastern countries, musaka or moussaka is a dish that consists of three layers; one layer of potatoes, one layer of minced meat, and one layer of egg (custard). In the Middle East, Moussaka is traditionally served cold but in Macedonia and Greece, it’s eaten while warm.
When speaking of Macedonian food, we just have to mention good, old kebab. It’s another dish that showcases the Ottoman/Middle Eastern influence on Macedonian cuisine. Traditionally, kebabs are barbecued and are the main ingredient of the next dish on this list.
What kind of list of the best Macedonian food would this be if we didn’t reserve a spot for Skara? Skara is a mix of barbecue that includes kebabs, sausages, beef burger paddies, pork chops, pork ribs, raznici (meat on a stick), uvijaci (pork or chicken wrapped in bacon stuffed with melting cheese), ustipci, etc. For most tourists, Skara is the highlight of Macedonian food and no trip to Macedonia isn’t complete without trying local barbecue at least once.
According to most Macedonians, this oval, baked meat pie is the ‘Macedonian pizza’. The dough is topped with cubed beef, pork, or chicken and melted cheese and baked for 20-30 minutes. The final result is a pizza-like dish that goes great with Macedonian beer or some fine local red wine.
Chomlek is another delicious traditional Macedonian stew. It consists of veal, chopped onion bulbs, and garlic cooked in red wine, dried red peppers, tomatoes, parsley, and (optionally) mushrooms.
Macedonian FishDishes (3)
Even though Macedonian cuisine isn’t very creative when it comes to preparing fish, there are still a few fish dishes that this list of the best Macedonian food would be incomplete without.
Cironka is basically a common bleak from Macedonia’s Prespa Lake, salted and fermented for a few days. After this, the fish is threaded and left to harden. In the end, the fish is finally placed in water to remove the unpleasant aroma and served with garlic, mint, and topped with some vinegar.
Macedonia’s two biggest lakes, Ohrid and Prespa are filled with carps and it’s no surprise that one of the most popular dishes in this region is the stuffed carp. The carp is baked or barbecued and its inside is stuffed with a fish filling made of a mix of vegetables, most notably tomatoes, onions, garlic, pepper, and carrot. Traditionally, this dish is served with lemon on the side alongside a glass of white wine or draught beer.
Stuffed Ohrid Trout
No trip to Ohrid is complete without trying perhaps the city’s finest delicacy, the famous Ohrid Trout. The texture is similar to the stuffed carp but the filling prepared for the trout is slightly different because of the different flavors of these two dishes. The filling for the trout consists of spinach, cheese, eggs, flour, and sour cream. After stuffing, the fish is either fried in some olive oil or barbecued but both options are utterly delicious!
Macedonian deserts (9)
If you have a sweet tooth, local sweets will give you plenty of reasons to fall in love with Macedonian food. We tried to keep this list short and not include sweets like baklava, tulumba, pancake, and other sweets that are famous in Turkey and other Balkan countries, so this list consists only of sweets that derive from Macedonia (and are probably less famous than some of the sweets I mentioned).
Vanilici are tiny, dry, and crunch vanilla cookies stuffed with either nuts or some kind of fruit jam and topped with powdered sugar.
Bombici translates to ‘tiny bombs’ and the name of this sweet describes the explosion of flavors that happens in your mouth once you taste this delicious truffle. These sweets consist of chocolate, almonds, figs or dates, and cocoa powder and are usually topped with coconut flakes.
Ravanija is the Macedonian version of Basbousa, a dessert that’s very popular in Egypt, the Middle East, and Turkey. This sweet is made from semolina flour dough soaked in sherbet (liquid sugar).
Equally popular in Macedonia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and Albania, gurabija is a delicious cookie whose recipe is at least a few centuries old. It’s a light, flat shortbread cookie that’s prepared by pressing sugar cubes inside the dough before baking the cookies. Traditionally, gurabija is enjoyed with a cup of Turkish coffee or tea.
Enjoying this post? Then make sure to check out our list of the best sweets in Turkey.
As I mentioned above, Macedonians love bread and the fact that they even have a sweet bread should come as no surprise. Kozinjak is a sweet bread topped with sugar and stuffed with sweet fruit jam. This sweet is considered to be festive food and traditionally, most Macedonian families prepare Kozinjak for Christmas, Easter, and other important occasions.
Tatlija is a traditional Macedonian sweet that closely resembles baklava. The main difference is tatlija is less crunchy, softer, and chewier than baklava and it melts in your mouth. Personally, it’s one of my favorite Macedonian sweets and if you ever visit Macedonia, I warmly recommend you to try it.
Similar but not the same to French éclair, Macedonian ekler is not as heavy, flakier, and filled with a lot more dense cream that allows it to stay edible a lot longer. Eklers in Macedonia are omnipresent and you can find them anywhere from sweet shops and bakeries to street food stalls and supermarkets.
Tikvarnik is a traditional Macedonian pumpkin cake typical for the winter. It’s one of the healthiest desserts you’ll find and traditionally, it’s prepared without any sugar because Macedonia is home to some of the sweetest pumpkins you’ll ever taste.
Slatko od Smokvi (Green Fig Preserve)
Fruit preserves are very difficult to describe and most people who visit Macedonia have a hard time associating these sweets to this region because of their oriental note. It’s prepared by adding tiny pieces of green figs in boiling sugar and mixing it with lime juice. After cooking, the figs harden and give the preserve a crunchy texture that will surely leave you craving for more.
Now that we covered the most popular Macedonian dishes, let’s see which are some of the most popular local drinks.
No celebration or festivity is complete without drinking some rakija. Rakija is a Macedonian/Serbian fruit brandy that has been prepared in this region for hundreds of years. It comes in many shapes and sizes but the most popular versions of rakija are made of plums and grapes, but you can also find rakija made of pears, cherries, walnuts, and even honey.
Rakija is traditionally consumed alongside an appetizer, but a lot of Macedonians also use it as a substitute for antibiotics, they rub it on their body when feeling pain, and every Macedonian has a bottle of bad rakija (brlja) they somehow got (from a friend or their own unsuccessful attempt of baking rakija) and keep it for cleaning doors and windows in their home.
As we mentioned above, Macedonia is the fifth sunniest country in Europe and this makes it a premier wine destination. Since the fall of communism, the wine industry in Macedonia is growing exponentially every year and since recently, Macedonian wine can be purchased in most corners of the world and some varieties are even served in Michelin-star restaurants in cities like London and Paris.
The best thing about Macedonian wine is- it’s freaking cheap! You can buy a bottle of wine for as little as $2 and a very good bottle of wine for as little as $8-$10.
Some people classify mastika as a type of rakija because of the similar method of preparation but most Macedonians know that there is a difference between the two. Mastika is traditionally made of grapes, anise, and sugar and has a sweet/hot flavor. If you’re looking for the best mastika in Macedonia, you’ll find it in the Southeastern city of Strumica.
If turshija served as a way to preserve vegetables for winter months, kompot was a way to preserve fruits. Kompot is a non-alcoholic beverage drink made of preserved fruits that’s popular even today in most Slavic countries. Kompot can be made from any possible fruit but the most popular versions include apricot kompot, peach kompot, and apple kompot.
Even though this drink originates from Central Asia and is popular in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and most Balkan countries, every country has its own specifics in making boza and that’s why this sweet drink deserves a special spot on this list. Boza is a malt drink prepared by fermenting different types of grains and wheat.
The original recipe includes a very small amount of alcohol (1%) but the Macedonian version is alcohol-free and is perhaps the sweetest variety of boza. Traditionally, boza is consumed alongside a dessert.
In most parts of the world, yogurt is treated as a light appetizer or a snack but in Macedonia, yogurt is a drink. It’s similar to Turkish kefir but has enough differences to be classified as its own drink (less dense and a milder flavor). Traditionally, it’s consumed for breakfast alongside one of the delicious breakfast pastries mentioned above.
How did you like this list of Macedonian food? Which one was your favorite? Do you think we forgot to mention some other Macedonian dishes? Let us know in the comments!
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