If you happen to travel the Balkan region and enjoy the versatile cultural treasury and gastronomical experiences of this part of Europe, make sure you stop by in North Macedonia, a small but hospitable and warm country in the southeast of the Balkan Peninsula .
The geographical characteristics and features of this country also reflect in its cuisine, offering a modest array of ingredients but inventive preparations and combinations and incredible product quality due to the favorable climate and predominant sunny weather during the year.
Historically speaking, the country suffered long periods of oppression and economic stagnation, so the locals invested in creating simple forms of pleasure regarding food, leisure, and social life.
Macedonian cuisine can be described as a blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food with diverse dairy products, delicious fruits, and vegetables as well as alcoholic beverages.
Here are some of the best and most popular Macedonian recipes in different regions that reflect the Macedonian culture, tradition, and exquisite quality of local products.
1. Tavche Gravche (Pot-Baked Beans)
Tavche Gravche is a real gastronomical pleasure even for the pickiest food connoisseurs since it is made of a simple yet delicious blend of ingredients creamy beans, juicy paprika, and onions. It is usually served with freshly baked bread on the side, and its winter version may include chopped bacon or pancetta.
Burek is a guilty pleasure that you can’t refuse to indulge in.
A dish made of crispy, thin layers of filo covered with a decent amount of fat that provides juiciness, filled with three traditional flavors to pick from cheese, meat, or spinach.
The burek is served with a glass of yogurt, kefir, or ayran (liquid savory dairy products) that will ease your digestion after consuming the inavoidable yet delicious excess fat in this traditional Macedonian dish from the Ottoman era.
3. Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage)
Sarma is one of the many traditional dishes with Ottoman origin in Macedonian cuisine.
These rolls are made of fermented cabbage leaves and filled with minced meat and rice (some versions include sheds of dry red paprika).
The lent, vegetarian sarma replaces meat with chopped walnuts and leek. If you happen to find yourself craving for a summer version of this dish, then try sarma made of vine leaves.
Ajvar is a red- pepper spread, also known as “Balkan caviar”. When you visit Macedonia, you will often hear talks that Ajvar is the best product in this country, and locals just can’t live without it.
And this is true. A great number of families prepare this dish in large quantities and preserve it for winter. However, you can also find it in Macedonian restaurants where they serve it with homemade bread and fresh white cheese.
5. Stuffed Bell Peppers
This dish is served either as a starter or as a main dish depending on the occasion.
It is a typical summer or autumn dish, and depending on the season, you can choose between red or green bell peppers.
The peppers are then stuffed with minced meat and rice, covered with a slice of potato or tomato, and cooked in a pot in the oven.
The stuffed peppers are served hot right from the oven with a freshly baked bread on the side.
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Moussaka is a very popular dish borrowed from Greek cuisine but presents on the regular menu of Macedonian homes and families.
As a perfect blend of tasty vegetables and minced meat, it is a much-favored dish that you can find in almost any traditional Macedonian restaurant.
The Moussaka is made of layers of either potato, aubergine, or zucchini, depending on the season. Between the layers, you can add rice and minced meat with some garlic and onions and top-up with a layer of scrambled eggs.
This pizza-like pastry with an oval shape is a portion of mind-blowing comfort food that will awake your taste buds and satisfy your hunger at the same time.
The dough of pastrmajlija is made of white flour and topped with chunks of salted pork or poultry meat and some pork fat.
Don’t let the pork fat scare you since it is used to make the dough more tender and provide a distinct flavor.
If you order this Macedonian dish in the western part of the country, you will get a version topped with eggs while the so-called original recipe from the central part contains no eggs but serves the pastrmajlija with a pickled green hot pepper called feferonka.
A burst of colors and flavors in a single dish! The turlitava is a satiable mash-up of vegetables, herbs, meat, and spices, all cooked slowly at a low temperature in a pot.
The recipe for this traditional dish contains chunks of beef or pork accompanied with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, okra, carrots, etc.
The turlitava can also be made in a nutritious vegetarian version with all the ingredients included except the meat.
The pindjur is a roasted version of the popular Balkan mishmash dish (fried peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and eggs).
Ingredients included in this dish are peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, salt, and oil.
The pindjur can be served warm or cold as a side dish with bread and white cheese.
Mekici are pastries made of fried dough usually served with white cheese and some fresh vegetables or with fruit jam or preserve.
The dough is made with yogurt, and this makes it soft and tender enough to result in a fluffy pastry with a chewy inside.
Another amusing fact about this dish is that it is a key element in the traditional celebration of newborns. When a baby is born, the families prepare mekici and invite close relatives or friends to share the food for good health and prosperity of the newborn.
11. Shopska Salad
Shopska salad is a tasty fresh starter that is served before each meal as a welcome accompanied by a glass of cold rakija (brandy, schnapps).
This salad contains the best of the best- sun-grown red tomato, juicy cucumber, zesty onion, oil and grated white cheese on top.
Shopska salad is a nutritious salad that can be served as a full summer meal along freshly baked bread.
Baklava is a mouth-watering dessert and one of the tastiest recipes inherited from the Ottoman Empire. This dessert is a rich pastry made of thin filo layers filled with nuts (walnuts or pistachios) and drenched in sugary syrup.
Kozinjak is a traditional Macedonian sweet bread made with milk, raisins, and lemon or orange zest, shaped in the form of a braid.
This pastry is usually filled with raisins soaked in brandy or rum. The top is covered with an egg-milk mixture before it is baked in the oven,
Some recipes for kozinjak include filling of poppy seeds or fruit jams.
In general, the kozinjak is served as a breakfast food with fruit jam or preserve and a glass of milk on the side. Moreover, kozinjak is a common food element during Christmas or Easter holidays.
Ravanija is a fluffy sponge cake soaked in a sugary syrup (sherbet). This dessert is usually served with ground walnuts on top while modern versions include a lump of green fig preserve,
Lokum is the Macedonian version of Turkish delight made of sugar, water, lemon acid and starch cooked together.
While hot, this mixture is filled with chopped walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts and then let to cool down. Finally, the lokum is cut into cubes and covered with powdered sugar.
16. Slatko od Divi Smokvi (Wild Figs Preserve)
The Wild Figs Preserve is a delicious fruit preserve recognized as the first product of the Slow Food Presidium in North Macedonia.
The wild figs preserve originates from the Southeastern part of the country where fig trees grow in abundance (Valandovo, Gevgelija, and Dojran), and fig desserts such as jams and preserves are traditionally produced.
17. Ohridska Torta (Cake from Ohrid)
Ohridska torta is a cake made of layered walnut sponges and sweet egg yolk filling between,
The sponges and the filling contain a walnut caramel known as “grijash” which is crushed into tiny particles or in powder. Some variations are made with melted dark chocolate or crushed walnuts.
Ohridska Torta is usually topped with chocolate or whipped cream.
Kebapi, or widely known as cevapi, are frilled meat sticks made of fresh, delicious varieties of minced meat, onion, salt, and pepper.
Kebapi take place on the menu of almost any Macedonian food restaurant, and they are also a food that compliments a variety of dishes on tables during celebrations or barbequing in nature.
A traditional veal or beef stew with a great amount of shallots and garlic, cooked with either white or red wine.
This dish is usually made with carrots, tomatoes, parsley, mushrooms, or dried red peppers in the winter. It is served hot with a piece of homemade rustic bread and a glass of red or rose wine.
It might look like Burek, but it’s definitely not the same.
Zelnik is a traditional Macedonian pie made of homemade thin filo layers filled with cheese, meat, sauerkraut, leek, eggs, and even pumpkin as a sweet variation.
The zelnik is best prepared when baked under a special metal cover in an outdoor oven. Pair it with a glass of yogurt or kefir for maximum enjoyment.
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The Bottom Line
The wide variety and combinations of fresh, tasty vegetables, meat, pastries, and dairy products make Macedonia a real foodie destination on the Balkans, a hidden jewel for travelers and visitors.
Macedonian cuisine is a combination of various cultures, but today’s offer in restaurants and pub reflects specific gastronomical features regarding flavor and diversity of recipes.
Regardless of whether you opt for something sweet or savory, a starter or main course, you will indulge in mouthwatering culinary experience to remember.
So if you decide to visit the Balkans or Macedonia, make sure you try these traditional Macedonian dishes that speak loudly about the beauty and diversity of this sun-soaked country.