Food In Macedonia, Top Traditional Macedonian Food You Must Try

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Food In Macedonia, Top Traditional Macedonian Food You Must Try

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 need a well-traveled passport and an adventurous spirit to get there, but worry not – this article will make a proper introduction inviting everyone to include Macedonia in their next itinerary. I will focus on Macedonian 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 food of Macedonia, where the Macedonian spirit manifests itself in full display.

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Macedonians Dining On A Raft
Macedonians Dining On A Raft

Macedonians know how to respect their cuisine in a way that is second to none. Macedonian recipes are rich, colorful, and vibrant, and the menu is affordable beyond belief. On the other hand, the atmosphere in which the food of Macedonia is served is the frosting of the metaphorical cake. Predictably, people fall in love right away.

So let’s see why traditional Macedonian food, cuisine, and recipes are alluring and why they command attention amidst a host of neighboring Balkan countries.

What You Need To Know About Macedonian Foods

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Dining At Matka Canyon
Dining At Matka Canyon

When you observe things from a macro perspective, the great thing about this region is the mixture of cultural influences. Different nations influenced the architecture, history, and tradition you’ll come across throughout the past. The same can be said about the food of Macedonia.

Borrowing plenty of templates from Ottoman cuisine, Macedonia food enjoys many 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.

Balkan Travel Blog_Things to do in Macedonia_Traditional Foods in Macedonia You Can't Miss


The Most Popular Macedonian Dishes

By cataloging traditional Macedonian foods, you’ll quickly see how diverse the menu is. Most Macedonian 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. However, the highlight is fresh organic vegetables, often mixed with juicy meat or served alone in various combinations.

But let’s break down some of the most famous Macedonian food recipes, shall we?

Ajvar (Roasted Red Pepper Spread)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Ajvar

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 by intense and rich flavor and can be combined perfectly with Macedonian white cheese or almost any pastry that you can think of.

Pindjur (Tomato, Eggplant & Red Pepper Spread)

Similar to Ajvar, this spread is prepared by grilling vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, and chili peppers) in the oven and then slowly simmering them together until a red/orange paste forms.

Pindjur is commonly served on flatbreads, potatoes, and cheeses. Unlike Ajvar, Pindjur is made with eggplant and is never served alongside Cevapi.

Polneti Piperki (Stuffed Peppers)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Stuffed Peppers

This recipe gives a great intro to how Macedonians combine vegetables with meat. The result is a juicy flavor with highlighted red peppers and textured meat that perfectly fits all the other ingredients, such as rice, parsley, and often melted cheese.

Moussaka (Meat & Potato Layered Dish)

A comfort food in Macedonia, Moussaka is a casserole or gratin of thinly sliced potatoes and minced meat layered together and baked until golden. Some variations have a top layer made of milk, egg, and flour-based sauce similar to a béchamel sauce. Eggplant, zucchini, and other vegetables can also be used in place of potatoes.

Selsko Meso (Pork & Mushroom Stew)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Picture 5

If you want to skip the vegetables and go straight to the meat, there is hardly any alternative to Selsko Meso. This Macedonian stew 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 Macedonia food.

Shopska Salad (Chopped Salad)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Shopska Salad

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 that Macedonians can go on nothing but Shopska alone for a couple of days in a row.

Tavce Gravce (Baked Beans)

Tavce Gravce is the white-beans specialty that many Macedonian households like to enjoy. The recipe is simple, including 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. The water evaporates, and a delicious meal rich in flavors leaves behind.

Sarmi (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Sarmi

Considering how long it takes to prepare Sarmi, this recipe dwarfs all others in significance. Even in the capital city of Skopje, many households 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 home cooks 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 complicated to describe as it perfectly combines the sourness of the cabbage with the strong flavor of the meat.


Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Makalo

Some would say Makalo that it is the budget version of Ajvar. 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.

Chevapi Or Kebapi (Grilled Minced Meat Sausages)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Chevapi

Borrowed from the northwest, Chevapi are surprisingly present in Macedonian cuisine. They are enjoyed at almost every local barbeque; they go well with the aromatic 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!

Burek (Baked Filled Pastry)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Burek

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.

Turlitava (Vegetable & Meat Stew)

This dish invariably illuminates the Balkan region’s resourcefulness 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 (Macedonian Pizza)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Pastrmajlija

Pastrmajlija is the Macedonian version of pizza. The dough is smaller and follows an oval and rectangular shape, and the crust is higher than a pizza’s.

The thickness is different enough to make Pastrmajlija a proper meal, and there is plenty of meat (pork or chicken) often mixed with eggs. Needless to say, it is a sensory overload – a feast, unlike anything you’ve tasted before.

Zelnik (Macedonian Filo Stuffed Pie)

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Macedonian Pie

Prepared under coal, the Macedonian pie will point to a far more sophisticated local Macedonia cuisine. It is the king of pastry, combining thin layers with spinach, cheese, leek, or sour cabbage.

It is often served with white cheese or, more preferably, Turkish yogurt; it is absolutely sacrilege to miss this one before returning home.

Grilled Cheese

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Grilled cheese

Macedonians would often serve either vegetables or dairy prepared against a grill. The result is the heavenly smell and rich flavors, especially when discussing 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.

Most Popular Macedonian Desserts

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Deserts

Traditional Desserts

It is safe to say that Ottoman influences run the show regarding sweet food in Macedonia. You should definitely have a taste of Baklava, Lokum, Tulumba, and Kadaif. These represent the Orient and are heavy on sugar, so make sure to avoid overindulgence.

Mekici (Macedonian Fried Dough)

These delightful bakery treats are essentially the same as fried doughnuts but with the addition of yogurt in the batter. Small dough balls are deep-fried until golden and then served with honey, jam, or cheese either at breakfast or as a snack.

Most Popular Macedonian Wine And Beverages

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Wine And Beverages

Wine Varieties

Macedonians are well known for their vineyards, as they dot 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.

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Picture 16


Food in Macedonia should always end in rakija. If you want something stronger, you’ll find your challenge in Rakija. This beverage is the official Balkan aperitif, and every country adds 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 in a fog of confusion. During July, the Macedonian sun 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

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Picture 17

As you fall in love with this famous Macedonian food, you’ll inevitably travel across the country to visit different places and dine like royalty while staying well below the budget.

Macedonian traditional food in Macedonia_Picture 18

The cost of living in Macedonia is meager, so make sure to use this to your advantage as you sample the entire menu of traditional Macedonian recipes and visit most of the outdoor attractions. Hunting for the best Macedonia cooking 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.

The Coast Of Ohrid, Church Kaneo
The Coast Of Ohrid, Church Kaneo

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 follows the River Vardar back to the capital city Skopje, where you will find most of the elite restaurants, slowly returning to the food of the west.

Comments (4)

  1. Hello Ana,
    I liked your blogs and very interesting information for tourists.
    I am a Youtuber and currently I am in Belgrade.
    I would like to interview you.
    Please email me as soon as you can.

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