When you combine meat, dairy, and organic produce aplenty, with local ingenuity stretching back as far as history books go, you discover the allure of Macedonian food. Wedding together the cultural influence from both the east and the west, Macedonian cuisine gives you a sensory overload of another kind.
Most of the recipes are quaintly archaic, and this invariably illuminates the local commitment to tradition and cultural heritage. As foreigners often say, Macedonian dishes are hedonistic art at its fines, and definitely a reason enough to visit this small but colorful country.
Economically stagnant, and continually oppressed, the locals have been investing heavily in simple art, recreation and a garden variety of pastime activities for centuries back. And Macedonian culture, given the riches of the land, learned to appreciate food as much as leisure. Borrowing from the Ottomans, and then the Austrian influence from the Northwest, Macedonians came up with clever ways to upgrade their local dishes. Macedonian traditional food, therefore, is a perfect blend of flavors at a juncture between the east and west. Predictably, people fall in love right away.
Macedonian food today
Taking pride in their rural customs, Macedonians cling tight to history and tradition. Spend some time here, and you’ll realize that People go out of their way to prepare and enjoy different recipes. Surprisingly enough, this is true for the capital city Skopje, as much as it is for the countryside. Macedonian cuisine requires dedication, and the locals are more than ready to roll up their sleeves and prepare something nice.
Most of the ethno ambient that goes hand in hand with Macedonian traditional food has been preserved, making the serving equally important, and often a real spectacle to enjoy. Macedonians value traditional music, the ethno appeal, and the entire ritualistic approach that goes along with a meal. Most of the recipes are preserved, and with them an entirely different era. Foreigners, as you might imagine, love this more than everything else, paying lip service for years on end.
What is Macedonian cuisine like?
The food in Macedonia is colorful and diverse, but most of the recipes are based on organic produce. Vegetables serve as the backbone – the proper frame – on top of which other ingredients are added in order to create a firework of flavors, and an energy bonanza.
The climate is such that a raw tomato is delicious enough to be enjoyed as it is, yet alone mixed with fine Macedonian cheese, or combined with peppers, onion, or perhaps some eggplant.
Pastry is also an integral part of Macedonian food, and you’ll quickly find out that bread, for example, goes hand in hand with almost everything that you can think of. Fresh Macedonian bread, for example, is still used as a traditional welcome gesture along with Ajvar and cheese.
Most Macedonian dishes are testaments to the past. You’ll find different cultural stamps wherever you look, but that doesn’t negate the unique recipe, as adapted by Macedonians to fit their local cuisine.
The most popular Macedonian dishes include Tavce Gravce, Turlitava, Stuffed Peppers, Sarmi, Selsko Meso, and Pastrmajlija. They combine perfectly well with side dishes such as Ajvar, Makalo and Pindzur, or the famous Macedonian Shopska Salad. You’ll also enjoy Burek, Chevapi, Moussaka, Yogurt, Baklava, Lokum and Gevrek – different dishes and recipes that point out to the Ottoman, Greek, Austrian, Hungarian, Serbian and Croatian influence over this region.
The most popular Macedonian dishes
These are some of the best Macedonian recipes – they reflect the Macedonian culture, tradition and local ingenuity, pointing out to a far more sophisticated commitment to food.
First on the list, of course, is Tavce Gravce. The beans are among the most popular legumes in Macedonia, and preparing Tavce Gravce is the litmus test equivalent for every Macedonian housewife. Macedonians would often put embroidered peppers as well, enhancing the flavor and increasing the sharpness of it.
The ample prelude to every Macedonian lunch, Shopska salad brings together the best Macedonian produce and the fines Macedonian cheese. Popular lore holds true that you can survive on Macedonian bread and Shopska Salad alone. Nutritious and simultaneously refreshing, it is the perfect combination for those hot summer months.
This Macedonian recipe is perhaps the best example of how locals like to mix organic produce with all sorts of meat. Stuffed Peppers take quite a while to prepare, but the end result is yummy. Red bell peppers, therefore, although quite common in Macedonia, are a true commodity once the season is in full swing.
This is clearly one of the best remnants from the Ottoman era, and definitely the favorite breakfast across the country. Describing Burek, you instantly think of a carbohydrate and meat explosion, as the crispy thin pastry meets the juicy fats. If you want to have the best breakfast in the world, make sure to order yogurt as well, as it perfectly washes away the excess fat, instantly enhancing the flavor.
Also known as the caviar of the Balkans, Ajvar is the best product that comes out of Maceodnia. Preparing it is a twofold challenge, as you need to grill, peal, and grind those red peppers, before you spent an hour or two stirring the mix on the stove, depending on quantity. The end result is pure bliss. Served with Macedonian bread and cheese, it is the frosting on the metaphorical cake, dwarfing everything else in significance.
The influence from Croatia and Serbia reflects mostly on vegetable dishes combined perfectly with pork or lamb. The Turlitava recipe definitely stems from there, though Macedonians avoid the meat as they paint with different sorts of vegetables to invoke the strongest intoxicating taste and smell.
Preparing Sarmi requires Herculean effort. Many Macedonian households will start the process several months earlier, making sour cabbage by storing it in large barrels. Then, around the beginning of the New Year the cabbage is ready and you’ll find Sarmi to be a frequent dish in every house.
The dish is made with ground beef, rice, and sour cabbage leafs, and the preparation is quite elaborate.
Another influence from the Northwest, Chevapi are the reason why entire parts of the capital smell like a huge barbeque. Served with onion, Macedonian Nafora bread, and the Bukovec spice, a Chevapi dish is among the most delicious things you’ll ever try.
A much simpler side dish when compared to the Ajvar recipe, Makalo is the budget friendly counterpart. Equally tasty and attractive, it is much easier to eat in large quantities.
Macedonian pita (Macedonian pie)
Pastry, as I said earlier, is an integral part of Macedonian cuisine. The pies, mostly with spinach, cheese, leek and sour cabbage, are true delicacies of the region. To pinpoint the exact source is next to impossible, as the entire Balkan is preparing these elaborate pastry dishes. If you happen to visit the countryside, make sure to order Macedonian pita. If prepared in the traditional way, it includes slow baking under coal. The process and the accompanying smell itself, command your attention as you wait for the pie to get ready.
Borrowed from the Greek cuisine, Moussaka is one of the most popular dishes in every Macedonian household. Macedonians use layers of potato, rarely mixed with an eggplant, and of course some of the finest local meat. Poured with a couple of scrambled eggs on top, this recipe is a firework of flavors.
The central region of Macedonia makes one of the best alternatives to pizza known to men. Called Pastrmajlija, this tasty dish is nothing short of extraordinary. Served with either pork or chicken, it is one of the most popular Macedonian recipes.
To prove that Macedonian food does not only revolve about vegetables and dairy, Selsko Meso is an explosion of different types of meat. Order Shopska Salad, Nafora and grilled mushrooms on the side, and you’ll have a royal meal to remember.
Grilled cheese and vegetables
Macedonians like to grill many things other than meat. Cheese for example, is present on mostly every restaurant table. The same can be said of mushrooms, and a garden variety of other vegetables.
Eastern comes and Macedonians love to cook lamb. There is nothing fancy about any of the recipes, and most them come as a result of the artistic expression of the chef. Slowly cooked, it is one of the best meals you can enjoy in Macedonia.
When it comes to fish, Ohrid is the capital gourmet city. You can try the stuffed Macedonian Carp, or the renowned Ohrid trout.
Lokum, baklava, Alva…
Borrowed from the Ottoman era, Macedonians love to enjoy these oriental sewets. If you happen to visit Krusevo, a small town perfectly secluded in the mountains, make sure to taste Krusevski lokum.
Other sweets include Baklava, Tulumbi, Alva, and Kadaif. All of these have their Ottoman origin.
Macedonian wine and beverage
If you visit a Macedonian kafana, which is a traditional restaurant with an ethno appeal, you’ll most definitely have a sip of one alcoholic beverage or another. Macedonian wines do not need an acquired taste, and strong alcoholic beverages will take most anyone by surprise.
Rakija, for example, is the Balkan equivalent to Whiskey, and it combines perfectly well with Shopska Salad. But take a glass too many, and… well, Houston, you may have a problem the size of Texas. Even if you think that you can hold your liquor, Rakija will quickly throw you into a fog of confusion, so make sure to drink responsibly!
Wines, on the other hand, offer lines never previously explored, promoting this region as one of the most underrated wine hubs in southeastern Europe. If you have the chance, make sure to visit one of the vineyards along River Vardar.
Turkish black coffee, and black tea are both very popular, as one of the many remnants from the Ottoman era. You can have the best coffee and the best tea in the Old Bazar in Skopje.
Final word on Macedonian food
Macedonian cuisine is colorful and diverse, and this is largely thanks to various cultural influences throughout the centuries. Nevertheless, every dish has its own unique stamp, and most anything on the menu is good enough to impress you so much so that you’ll want to adjust your accommodation arrangements, staying a while longer. Make sure to enjoy plenty of vegetables, as they are available in every supermarket at surprisingly affordable prices, explore different places to eat, and try to order as many Macedonian dishes as you can. Make sure to have your plate full at all times, as Macedonian food is a form of art in and of itself, and a reason enough to visit this country over and over again. Bon appetite!
An outdoor junkie and an adventurous spirit who loves the mountain. Slavko regularly talks about travel, lifestyle design, holistic health and fitness. You can find his writings on popular magazines around the net, and his regular guides and columns in The Lifestyle Updated.