While most tourists that visit Europe get obsessed with Italian, French, or Spanish cuisines, and with so many international restaurants and fast-food chains, Slavic food is often overshadowed and unnoticed by most travelers. However, that doesn’t mean that Slavic cuisine doesn’t have anything to offer. From Russia to Macedonia, here are the best Slavic dishes you should try at least once in a lifetime!
If you ever visited any southern Slavic country, you’d know that no trip to the Balkan is complete without sarma (or its first cousin, dolma). Sarma is a sour cabbage roll stuffed with rice and ground meat (usually pork and veal). The rolls are steamed in a pot and mixed with tomato juice and local spices. This dish requires two hours to prepare but it takes at least a few weeks for the cabbage to stay in sour water before making it.
That’s why a lot of families in the Balkan buy a lot of cabbage in the winters and store it in barrels. However, this isn’t the only place where you can taste sarma! A variation of this is also available in Poland (Gołąbki), Russia, and Ukraine, making these cabbage rolls one of the most popular Slavic food!
Potato pancakes, also known as Draniki is one of the most popular Belarus dishes. Draniki can be found in most Belarus restaurants but it’s just as beloved in countries like Ukraine, Poland, and Russia. The main ingredients of draniki include grated potatoes and onions. However, you can find different variations in different countries, including, meat, cheese, mushrooms, and even bacon.
Zhurek is one of the most popular soups in Poland and Belarus. It’s super easy to prepare but it’s really delicious and a great winter snack. Zhurek consists of a mix of oats and dark bread. This mix needs to stay for three days before being boiled with meat and vegetables.
While pork fat isn’t used in a lot of cuisines, it’s actually one of the most nutritious foods in the world and Slavic people found a great (and delicious) way to use it. Chvarci is a delicious snack that consists of deep-frying seasoned chunks of pork fat. It’s a popular winter food, a snack that goes great with a beer, and can even be served as a breakfast with some scrambled eggs or potatoes.
Proja is a simple corn flour bread that reflects the life of poor peasants in the second half of the 20th century. A lot of Slavic countries were facing extreme levels of poverty and lack of basic supplies after WWII and proja bread became a very important staple. It goes perfectly with milk, ayran or kefir (local yogurt), sarma or ajvar (more about it below).
You probably wouldn’t expect to find local dumplings in any Slavic country but Pierogi is actually one of the most popular dishes in Poland and is even famous in Russia, Ukraine, and several other countries in Central Europe. The usual fillings include ground meat, sauerkraut, potato, cheese, and even fruits. If you’re used to Asian dumplings, you might find pierogi weird but after a few tries, you will love it!
Pljeskavica (grilled meat)
I know you might think you can’t expect a lot from something that looks like a regular burger paddy, but you’d be wrong! Seasoning and grilling a pljeskavica is a real art in some of the southern Slavic countries and some of them even have entire festivals devoted to this delicious treat! In Macedonia and Serbia, you can also find a local variation named Sarska Pljeskavica, which also includes melted cheese inside the paddy.
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Pastrmajlija is Macedonia’s response to Italy’s pizza. This dish consists of an oval-shaped dough seasoned with tiny meat cubes (pork, lamb or beef) and sometimes, cheese and local spices. It’s usually served with pickled chilly peppers and in Macedonia, there’s an entire festival devoted to Pastramajlija in the city where it originates from (Shtip).
Pasztecik szczeciński is probably one of the newer dishes on this list. The first mention of this delicious Polish snack dates back to 1969. This snack consists of deep-fried yeast dough filled with either minced meat or sauerkraut and dried mushrooms and was one of the ‘first fast-food snacks’ in Communist Poland.
If you didn’t get it by now, Slavic cuisines are very creative when it comes to using pork fat. Salo is another great example of this. This snack consists of cured slabs of fatback or pork belly and has different names in different regions. The salo you get in the eastern Slavic countries is usually served with paprika, while the South Slavic version is usually smoked. I know it sounds quite gross, but this is actually a very delicious and nutritional snack.
No list that features Slavic food can be complete without Borscht. This sour soup is very popular in Russia, Ukraine, and parts of Northern Asia. The most common ingredient for borscht is beetroots that give this soup its distinctive red color but there are a lot of other ingredients that make borscht what it is.
From Siberia to Szczecin, everyone claims this dish as their own and it has different names in different countries but whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian or Polish, Ukrainian or Russian, borscht, barszcz, or barščiai, one thing is certain; this red flavorful soup is the ultimate Slavic culinary classic.
Oscypek is a special sheep cheese only available in the Tatra Mountains in Poland. Personally, it’s one of the tastiest cheeses I’ve tried, probably because of the unique preparation method. This smoked cheese is made of salted sheep milk and is usually served with bacon, grilled apple, and cranberry sauce.
Chicken Kiev is Ukraine’s (and Russia’s) most popular chicken fillet and one of the tastiest classics when it comes to Slavic food. This chicken fillet is coated with bread crumbs and eggs and it’s prepared either by deep-frying or baking.
Do you need more proof that Poland is home to some of the most delicious stews in the Old Continent? Well, we have more! Bigos is a traditional meat stew that includes cuts of meat and sausages, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and honey. I know the combination sounds extremely weird but a list of the best Slavic food couldn’t be complete without mentioning bigos! The serving usually includes mash potatoes or rye bread.
Speaking of strange combinations, it doesn’t get stranger than kholodets. This is perhaps the most alien-like-looking dish on this list and something most people wouldn’t even consider trying but it’s a dish that rewards the few curious outsiders that try it. Kholodets consists of meat stock, vegetables, and consommé soaked into gelatin. A similar variation with gelatin made of pure pork fat (without vegetables) can be found in Macedonia and Serbia under the name Pacha.
If you ever visited Serbia, you’ll know that this is the place to be for barbecue lovers and that no barbecue experience in Serbia is complete without Karadzordzeva Snicla. This schnitzel consists of a rolled pork or veal steak filled with kajmak (fermented milk cream). This preparation includes both, breading and grilling. It’s served with tartar sauce and roasted potatoes.
Even though it can be found in the Middle East and Central Asia, kajmak is an important part of Balkan cuisines (especially Serbian). Kajmak is mostly a homemade dish and isn’t widely commercialized. It originates from Central Asia, and originally, kajmak was matured in dried animal skin sacks, a technique that gives it a greasy composition and makes it even more flavorful.
In the Balkan region, this method of preparation is not widely used but one could argue that locals have mastered the craft of kajmak-making to perfection. Kajmak is usually an appetizer, breakfast food or a side dish to many meat-based meals. My recommendation is to try a burger topped with kajmak while in Serbia. You’ll thank me later!
Who said Slavic cuisines don’t have any vegetarian options? Tavche Gravche is one of Macedonia’s most beloved dishes, by both, tourists and locals alike. The main ingredient of this dish are kidney beans but the dish includes a lot of other vegetables. This dish includes two steps; boiling (2 hours) and baking (1 hour) and it tastes the best when served in a traditional clay dish. Tavche Gravche usually comes with a spicy dried pepper (or sausage) and fresh onions.
Ajvar is one of the most popular snacks in the former Yugoslavia. It originates from Macedonia and the preparation method requires double-frying red bell peppers and (there are a few variations that include tomatoes and/or eggplants. Similarly like sarma, a lot of people around the Balkan prepare hundreds of jars at once and store them for the winter. The period in which ajvar is prepared is also jokingly referred to as ‘ajvar season’ among locals.
Easily the most popular salad in all Slavic cuisines. Originating from the Balkan (there’s actually a dispute between Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria), this simple but tasty salad quickly became popular in a lot of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The ingredients for the salad are tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, shredded cheese, oil, and vinegar.
As you can see, Slavic food is delicious but here and there, you’ll find a few dishes that are not for the faint-hearted. One such example is shkembe chorba. Shkembe chorba is a traditional hangover food in cities like Skopje and Sofia but fewer people eat it nowadays because it’s just not for everyone. The dish is basically a tripe soup but there are some variations that include cow intestines. It’s rather blunt and prepared without many spices, but after adding some vinegar, salt, and chili, and pairing it up with a homemade pogacha, it’s actually very tasty.
Burek is an integral part of Slavic cuisine and one of the most popular pastries in all Slavic countries. Also known as borek and cheburek, this delicious snack actually originates from Central Asia but it’s the Balkan countries that mastered it into perfection. Today, burek is the most popular breakfast in countries like Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro.
This thin flaky dough is typically prepared in a large pan, filled with meat and cheese (but there are variations with potato, cabbage/spinach, and even pizza-yes, pizza inside another pastry!), cut into pieces and sold to customers.
Banitsa is technically a burek variation but it deserves its special mention because preparing it requires a lot of skill. This dish requires layering a mixture of whisked eggs, natural yogurt and pieces of feta cheese in between the dough. All this needs to fit this circle maze shape with every layer having the same amount of feta cheese!
Bosanski Lonac (Pot) is one of the many classics of Bosnian cuisine. The main ingredients of this pot include chunks of meat (lamb or beef), and some fresh vegetables, including tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, garlic, peppercorns, and parsley but a lot of different vegetables can be used. This is one of Bosnia’s most beloved dishes and it has established a presence on tables of both the rich and the poor across the country for hundreds of years!
If you didn’t get it by now, Balkan Slavs love meat and they are experts in roasts and barbecue. Ispod Saca is another proof of that. It consists of mutton, lamb, or veal slow-roasted with carrots, potatoes, onions under a metal dome (called sach) covered with coals. The final result is probably the most tender meat you have ever tried and a must-try dish for anyone traveling in the Balkan region.
Available primarily in Slovenia and Croatia, pršut is a mix of bacon and prosciutto, and one of the most popular appetizers in the region. In the Karst region, they have taken the art of prsut making to another level, so if you happen to be in the region, you really shouldn’t miss out on this local delicacy.
Štefani Pečenka is Slovenia’s version of meatloaf enriched with hard-boiled eggs inside the meatloaf. It might sound and seem difficult to make but it’s actually very easy and can be made in 20 minutes! Štefani Pečenka is a national dish in Slovenia and popular in several other countries in Central Europe.
Originating in Dalmatia, this stewed beef dish is one of the main food classics in Croatia. You can find several variations of Slavic food that resemble Pasticada but most can’t compare to it. The preparation includes piercing the meat and stuffing it with garlic cloves, bacon, and carrots, marinating for a night and brewing it for up to five hours (depending on the meat).
Who said that Slavic food doesn’t feature any pasta? Fusi is a pasta that originates from Istria (a region shared between Croatia and Slovenia). The preparation of fusi includes rolling the pasta dough into a thin sheet, cutting it into strips, placing them over each other, and cutting again while forming diamond shapes. Usually, fusi is accompanied by a traditional mild red veal sauce.
Slavic cuisines might not find a lot of sea food but the ones that they have are amazing! Brudet is one of the most popular fish stews in the coastal regions of Croatia. It consists of several types of fish stewed with spices and red wine prepared in a single pot. It’s usually coupled with polenta or bread which soaks up the fish broth and makes the stew even tastier.
Svíčková na smetaně
How could this list of popular food from different Slavic cuisines be complete without the most popular Czech meal? Svíčková na smetaně is basically a braised sirloin steak covered in a thick creamy sauce topped with carrots and parsley root, with whipped cream, bread dumplings, and cranberry sauce on the side. I know it sounds like just too many flavors in one plate, but it’s surprisingly delicious.
Česnečka (garlic soup)
Česnečka is arguably the most popular and flavorful soup in Czech and Slovak cuisine. This soup consists of sliced potatoes, thin broth, cumin, marjoram, caraway, and of course, a lot of garlic, with grated cheese being a popular add-on ingredient. A lot of people drink it when they catch a flue because they believe it’s very healthy and it’s also widely used as a hangover dish by many locals.
Finally, no Slavic food article would be complete without mentioning dishes from all countries and we didn’t mention any Slovakian dishes yet. Arguably, Slovakia’s most famous dish is Bryndzové halušky. It consists of bryndza (a soft sheep cheese) and halušky (boiled lumps of potato dough), optionally sprinkled with smoked pork (which makes it even better if you ask me).
Kureci kapsa is a popular Czech dish that consists of chicken breasts stuffed with bacon or other kind of meat and melted cheese. Its Balkan counterpart is known as uvijac and it has a slightly different shape (it looks more like a sausage) and can be prepared of pork or chicken and wrapped with bacon on the outside.
Vepřo Knedlo Zelo
Vepro knedlo zelo is one of the national dishes of the Czech Republic. The dish consists of roasted pork (but chicken or beef can also be used), dumplings, cabbage (or sauerkraut), and an onion-caraway gravy. At a glance, it might not look very appetizing but trust me, this dish is an explosion of flavors.
Tatarak is another Czeczh/Slovak dish that looks strange but it’s very tasty. It consists of raw minced beef stuffed with diced onion, paprika powder, mustard, salt, tomato sauce, and egg on the top. It’s usually served pre-mixed but some places also serve the ingredients on the side for you to mix it by yourself. Tatarak is traditionally served with fried toast and garlic. However, if you want to try it, only do so at trusted restaurants because this dish consists mainly of raw meat.
Potato babka is one of the most popular dishes in Belarus and parts of Poland. The dish name translates to potato cake but a more appropriate translation would be ‘potato pie’. Potato Babka is made from potatoes, onions, eggs, bacon, and (sometimes) sausage. The mix is baked in a crock and served with a sauce of sour cream and pork flitch.
Did you learn some new things about Slavic food? Are you more familiar with the different Slavic cuisines after reading this article? What was your favorite dish? What was something you would never try? Let us know in the comments!
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