Discover The Gourmet Paradise Through Traditional Macedonian Food
Written by Slavko Desik from Discovering Macedonia.
Macedonia is not your typical travel destination. Macedonia has been hidden away for the past couple of decades, virtually existing below the radar. Most people would need a worn passport and an adventurous spirit to get there, but worry not – this article will make a proper introduction inviting everyone to include Macedonia into their next itinerary. I will focus on the cuisine, exploring an entire country through food alone.
Captivated by picturesque lakes and archaic monastery landmarks, you’ll get the impression that Macedonia is a heavenly vacation spot. The outdoors, it seems, provide most of the thrill, but there is rarely a discussion to be had about the gastronomic part of the offer.
As you scroll down, you’ll realize that Macedonia is not only about the panoramic views and the challenging mountain terrain. Most of the cultural heritage is embedded within the cuisine, where the Macedonian spirit manifests itself in full display.
The recipes are rich, colorful and vibrant, and the menu is affordable beyond belief. The atmosphere, on the other hand, in which food is served, is the frosting of the metaphorical cake. Macedonians know how to respect their cuisine in a way that is second to none. Predictably, people fall in love right away.
So let’s see why Macedonian traditional food is so alluring, and why it commands attention amidst a host of other neighboring Balkan countries.
What You Need To Know About Macedonian Food
The great thing about this region, when you observe things from a macro perspective, is the mixture of cultural influences. The architecture, the history, and every tradition you’ll come across were influenced by different nations throughout the past. The same can be said about the food.
Borrowing plenty of templates from the Ottoman cuisine, Macedonians enjoy a lot of oriental flavors.
But this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg since other influences include Serbian, Croatian, Greek and even the cuisine of Austria and Hungary as it permeated the Balkans.
However, Slavic ingenuity has added multiple layers on top of every recipe, adjusting the foreign influence for both climate and everyday life of the people living here.
The Most Popular Macedonian Dishes
Cataloging Macedonian food, you’ll quickly get a picture of how diverse the menu actually is. Most dishes are the perfect combination of organic produce, dairy, and quality meat, and there is something for everyone regardless of food preferences or taste.
Macedonians enjoy salads before meals, drink strong alcohol, and consume different varieties of bread and pastry. The highlight, however, is fresh organic vegetables often mixed with juicy meat or served alone in different combinations.
But let’s break down some of the most popular Macedonian food, shall we?
Whatever else might be said, Ajvar is the caviar of the Balkans. The origin is often disputed, but once you visit Macedonia during the start of autumn, you’ll know with certainty that Ajvar belongs to the south of the Balkan Peninsula.
As a side-dish, Ajvar is characterized with intense and rich flavor and can be combined perfectly with Macedonian white cheese or almost any pastry that you can think of.
This recipe gives an ample prelude of the way Macedonians combine vegetables with meat. The result is a juicy flavor with highlighted red peppers, and textured meat that goes perfectly well with all the other ingredients such as rice, parsley, and often melted cheese.
If you want to skip the vegetables and go straight to meat, there is hardly an alternative to Selsko Meso. This dish combines a garden variety of meat chops, prepared slowly, sometimes for hours on end. The flavors blend perfectly offering one of the most exquisite recipes produced in the country. Served with Nafora, it is the pinnacle of Macedonian dishes.
Tomatoes, white cheese, cucumbers, and sunflower oil – this is how you start most Macedonian meals. Shopska Salad is the centerpiece of every Macedonian table, as it easily competes with the main course. Although refreshing, and usually enjoyed during the summer, this salad can be rather heavy with calories. Popular lore holds true that Macedonians can go a couple of days in a row on nothing but Shopska alone.
Tavce Gravce is the white-beans specialty that many Macedonian households like to enjoy. The recipe is simple, as it includes 300-400 grams of white beans, covered in water and local seasoning, and then cooked in the oven for about an hour and a half. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a delicious meal rich with flavors.
Considering how long it takes to prepare Sarmi, this recipe dwarfs all others in significance. Many households, even in the capital city Skopje, prepare their sour cabbage at home as they dedicate a special barrel filled with fresh cabbage during autumn. Then, once the leaves are ready around December, Macedonian housewives would make small rolls filled with ground beef, rice, onion, and parsley.
As these rolls are prepared slowly in the oven, the result is beyond what you might expect – a taste hard to describe as it perfectly combines the sourness of the cabbage with the strong flavor of the meat.
Some would say about Makalo that it is the budget version of Ajvar. Here, instead of juicy red peppers, the main ingredient is yellow potatoes. Combined with red peppers, often the embroidered variety, the mash is covered with heated oil.
Then, as it slowly inflates, both ingredients mix into one flavor. Whatever else might be said, this is the perfect side dish for an introductory course.
Borrowed from the north-west, Chevapi are surprisingly present in the Macedonian cuisine. Enjoyed at almost every local barbeque, they go well with the strong spice Bukovec, and some freshly chopped onion.
If you want to enjoy the full scope of the experience, make sure to be around when the minced meat hits the grill. The smell is outlandish!
The preferred Macedonian breakfast, Burek is one of the juiciest remnants of the Ottoman past. One bite will reveal the soft pie and juicy meat hiding under the crispy crunch, as they provide an energy bonanza of carbs, proteins, and fats mixed together.
This dish invariably illuminates the resourcefulness of the Balkan region, as it blends together a garden variety of vegetables. Baked in the oven, the mix produces a heavenly smell and taste. Think yellow potatoes, carrots, rice, okra, eggplant, and peppers. Yummy!
Even without the added meat, this recipe is one of the best representatives of the entire region.
Pastrmajlija is the Macedonian version of pizza. The dough is smaller and follows an oval and rectangular shape, and the crust is higher than that of a pizza.
The thickness is different enough to make Pastrmajlija a proper meal, and there is plenty of meat (either pork or chicken) often mixed with eggs on top. Needless to say, it is a sensory overload – a meal, unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
Prepared under coal, the Macedonian pie will point to a far more sophisticated local cuisine. It is the king of pastry, combining thin layers with spinach, cheese, leek or sour cabbage.
Often served with white cheese or more preferably Turkish yogurt, it is a real sacrilege to miss this one before returning home.
Macedonians would often serve either vegetables or dairy prepared against a grill. The result is heavenly smell and rich flavors especially when we are talking about mushrooms and homemade white cheese.
If you enjoy grilled food, some of the best-grilled fish can be found in Ohrid, the beautiful town on the crystal blue lake on the far southwest.
When it comes to deserts, it is safe to say that Ottoman influences run the show. You should definitely have a taste of Baklava, Lokum, Tulumba, and Kadaif. All of these represent the Orient, and they are heavy on the sugar so make sure to avoid overindulgence.
Wine And Beverages
Macedonians are well known for their vineyards, as they are dotting the map along the River Vardar. Visit one of them, and you’ll be paying lip service for years on end, as they perfectly resemble the Old Italian setting you’ll mostly find in California’s Napa Valley.
Make sure to check Sopot, Tikvesh, Popova Kula and Stobi, and enjoy the sunset as you sip fine Macedonian red.
If you want something stronger, you’ll find your challenge in Rakija. This beverage is the official Balkan aperitif, and every country is adding a bit of its own touch into the mix.
Make sure, however, to drink in moderation for once you drink too much of it too quickly, you’ll find yourself into a fog of confusion. The Macedonian sun during July doesn’t mix well with Rakija, so three or four sips can very well knock you down if taken on an empty stomach.
Discovering Macedonia Through Food
As you fall in love with the food, you’ll inevitably travel across the country to visit different places and dine like royalty, all the while staying well below the budget.
The cost of living in Macedonia is ridiculously low, so make sure to use this to your advantage as you sample the entire menu, and visit most of the outdoor attractions. Hunting for the best gourmet experience, you’ll definitely visit Canyon Matka, the old town of Prilep, and the charming mountain towns of Berovo and Krusevo.
You’ll also pass through the small villages of Galicnik and Mavrovo, and visit Ethno House and Vezilka near the observatory of Kokino.
On the other end of the country, make sure to visit Ohrid as it is the pinnacle of the Macedonian experience. Then head slightly to the east as the wine region is following the River Vardar back to the capital city Skopje, where you will find most of the elite restaurants, slowly returning back to the food of the west.