Dorćol is the area of Belgrade where hip locals live. People there are well-off, foreign, or living outside their means to live somewhere cool. Restaurants in Dorćol could be in Brooklyn or San Francisco. They are hipster-chic with creative design concepts. A bicycle frame as a light fixture, a gardenia in a soup can as a centerpiece, etc. The menus have heirloom vegetables, cured Italian meats, and gluten free options. I saw someone eating french fries with chopsticks in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other. In short, Dorćol has the type of restaurants where spoiled, yuppie Americans (like me!) instagram their dishes.
More importantly, Dorćol is, in my experience, the only neighborhood in all of Serbia with decent restaurants. Otherwise, Serbian food is riotously unhealthy. Delicious in the moment. Deadly in the long run. It’s pork stuffed with chicken and beef wrapped in bacon with a side of sausages, all glistening with grease. The meat platter is usually accompanied by a petit side salad of tomato, cucumber, and a mound of feta. Sometimes you eat little salted, fried minnows—heads and eyeballs and everything!
caption: meat stuffed with meat wrapped in meat with a side of meat
One ubiquitous fast food option is pljeskavica, which Americans refer to as Serbian hamburgers. Pljeskavica are not exactly hamburgers, but patties of mixed ground meats, the size of your head. I willingly consume pljeskavica from time to time (2-4 am after drinking), but am always remorseful in retrospect (on the toilet the next day).
caption: pljeskavica with my head for scale.
The other major cardiac clogger is savory pastries, like burek—flakey, greasy phyllo dough stuffed with meat or cheese. Burek is admittedly delicious, especially with yogurt, which is a sour milk drink (Not to be confused with kiselo mleko, or “sour milk,” which is yogurt as we know it. Remember: yogurt = sour milk and sour milk = yogurt). Burek consumption may take away a year off your life, but it’s probably worth it. I don’t think you’d do much in that year anyway.
Drinks are another issue. The beer is bleh, bland, pointless. It’s astonishing that there are Central European countries with bad beer (the Balkans, Poland) with such geographical and cultural proximity to countries with renowned beer (Germany, Czech Republic). Most Americans in Serbia order Jelen pivo (literally, “deer beer”) because it’s easy to say and remember, and tastes inoffensively mild, like stale water. Nikšićko, a Montenegrin beer is better, but ordering it presents an intimidating tongue twister of “sh” and “ch.”
Wine—I don’t know. It’s fine when someone’s uncle in the village makes it. Wine is seen as a light, lunchtime drink, and commonly mixed with sparkling water as spritzer. It turns out that spritzer is not just drank by your Aunt Nancy on the Cape. In Serbia spritzer is a non-facetious drink option for towering men with Germanic bulk and Turkish belligerence. (These men also wear man purses, but when you’re 6.5” your masculinity is not being questioned).
The reason Serbs are not concerned with beer and wine is because their national drink is rakija, a seriously hard, hard-alcohol made from stone fruits like plum, apricot, and quince. Rakija tastes like burning in the best possible way. It’s noxiously intoxicating and immediately warms you with a happy buzz. I call it insta-drunk.
If you’re going to the Balkans you MUST develop and taste and tolerance for rakija. Be prepared to drink it anywhere, anytime. Before dinner, at midnight, at 8 am when you’re walking through a village and a grandpa offers you some of his homemade stock. It would be really offensive to decline. If you can’t down a shot of 60% moonshine at 8 in the morning, you really shouldn’t be in a Serbian village. If this is the case, stay in Belgrade and eat in Dorćol, where you can order Chilean wine to drink with panko-crusted shrimp. Don’t forget to instagram it!