But such short periods of time can’t really give us a proper insight into nutritional habits of a place that we are visiting. When I’m somewhere for a week or so, I mostly eat out. I do what other tourists normally do, although I try hard to stick to my nutritional ideology.
However, as I was in Belgrade for a longer time, my meals were the way I normally have them at home. In other words, I predominantly prepared my food at home. Additionally, there were periods of time when restaurants and bars were either closed or opened for a limited time during the day because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so it was easier for me to cook at home and eat at the time that was convenient for me.
MY GENERAL VIEW ON SERBIAN FOOD
First of all, let me say that I know Serbian food very well. After all, I was born in Belgrade and lived with Serbian food until I moved to England. But it’s also true that I haven’t been living there for a very long time, in which I was exposed to different cuisines. There is no English cuisine as such, so I’m really talking about international food such as Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Thai, Chinese, Indian and also from many other world countries that are widely available in London.
People in Serbia eat tasty, good food. The standard is high and, whichever restaurant you go to, you will have a good meal. But that doesn’t mean that food that the Serbs eat is healthy. In fact, I would go a step further and would say that people there eat rather unhealthily. I was there long enough to come to this conclusion. I also want to say that, when I lived there, I certainly didn’t see the local nutritional habits that way. Can delicious food really be unhealthy?
So, let’s have a look at what I had during my most recent stay in Belgrade. Through my culinary experiences, we can examine which food was healthy, but also my unhealthy escapades.
When you stay in Belgrade for a longer period of time, perhaps the best place where you can buy food are the green markets. There are many of them in Belgrade and, if you are close to one, it should be your main source of food.
But keep in mind that they only sell seasonal products. I arrived to Belgrade in early July, it was almost the end of the cherries season. I don’t know how many kilos of cherries I had while they were available. They are a pure luxury in England, while in Serbia you buy one kilogram for a fraction of the price that you would pay in supermarkets in England. Afterwards, grapes, watermelons, peppers arrived and so on.
They normally sell good quality products in these markets, from local production. You are not going to find products imported from South Africa, California or Australia. Rather, peasants from nearby villages bring their products to these markets. That’s why you can only buy what’s in season.
Prices are cheap for western standards, but they increase as products comes towards the end of their season. Also, fruit and vegetable prices are the same in green markets and supermarkets. Supermarkets simply can’t afford to sell them at higher prices because no one would buy them.
I stayed in a flat near the Bajloni Market in Belgrade and shopped there regularly. You should do the same if you are in Belgrade for a longer time and if you want to eat good and healthy food.
SERBIAN FAST FOOD
Serbian fast food are “home-made” ready meals that you can buy in every bigger supermarket and in numerous shops all over the city. This is the same as in Turkey although, in Turkey, it’s the locantasi type restaurants where you go to eat this already prepared food. In Serbia, only some places offer the possibility for you to have your meal there, usually the idea is to buy whatever you want and bring back home to eat.
And that’s exactly what I did. A large selection of food on offer, that you can see in these photos, enables you to carefully choose healthy options. Normally, you can buy a good meal for 3 or 4 Euros, for one person.
Certainly, this is much better than junk food normally sold and eaten in western countries. Of course, there are junk food establishments in Belgrade, but not too many and they are normally not busy. With the food offer in Belgrade, it would be really stupid to eat in McDonald’s or KFC.
But, be careful. Although these meals were normally fresh and very tasty, sometimes they were too salty for my taste. Some other meals were too greasy. It seems that the Serbs are accustomed to heavy food which, although delicious, may not be very healthy.
But, I managed to find a place where they prepared meals to my taste, so I went back there on a regular basis. I would on average buy them three to four times per week. The rest of the time, I cooked at home.
Bakeries in Belgrade are everywhere and they are fabulous. I think that bakeries in Serbia are among the best in Europe. They are on par with bakeries in Italy, Spain and France, countries with excellent culinary traditions.
Additionally, most bakeries that you will see in Belgrade are independent businesses, they prepare and bake their products fresh, they normally have kitchens in the back part of the store. There are also several chains and they are equally good, otherwise they wouldn’t survive fierce competition. The range of products on offer is more or less the same everywhere, adapted to the taste and preferences of the local population.
But almost everything that you can buy in a typical bakery is made of wheat and thus unhealthy. Wheat contains a carbohydrate Amylopectin A. So, when you eat any product made of wheat, its rapid digestion increases your blood sugar to diabetic levels. Then, your pancreas produces insulin whose role is to regulate the blood sugar level by converting it into fat. In other words, if you want to be healthy, bakery products are not something that you would want to eat often, if at all.
Bakeries are very popular in Serbia, because of their excellence and convenience. You will always see a lot of people buying these products in bakeries in central Belgrade. Additionally, some of them have a space where you can eat.
So, when I came from London where there are no bakeries worth mentioning, I succumbed to the temptation. Not too much, but enough to break my otherwise strict nutritional ideology. Sometimes when I was very hungry, I would buy a croissant or some other product to satisfy my hunger. Additionally, I also wanted to try things that I either haven’t eaten in years or perhaps never.
We now arrive to the biggest culprit – burek. I’ve written about this particular food in my post on Turkish food. You also get this same product in Serbia. Serbs and Turks lived together in the Ottoman Empire for centuries so, after such a long time, the cuisines of these two nations became almost identical. Burek is just one of many food items that you can find in both Belgrade and Istanbul.
But this is not something that you want to eat often. It’s delicious and I’ve never met a foreigner that didn’t like it. It’s made of wheat and with a lot of oil. Basically, when you eat a piece of it, you put at least over a thousand unhealthy calories into your body.
During my stay in Serbia, I had burek only on special occasions. I took the photo below in a bakery in Smederevo, where I stopped to have a rest. I was visiting Smederevo for one day only and, as I was hungry, I wanted something fast but tasty. In that case, burek with yogurt was really the best choice.
Burek is an institution in Serbia, there are shops dedicated to just this one food item. The photo below shows one such shop in Novi Sad. They offer a product made in a highly specialised way, although I didn’t try it.
As I said, it’s something that you should eat only occasionally although, if you go to Serbia, you must try it.
One more option, where you can eat, are restaurants. In my case, as I was in Serbia for a longer time, I mostly ate in restaurants when I travelled. In Belgrade, I ate at home. I either cooked or had already cooked “home-made” meals that I mentioned earlier in this post.
Whenever I went to have a meal in a restaurant, I had ćevapi that you can see in the photo below. That was my dinner in a restaurant in Zrenjanin, where I stayed for one night.
I had the same in Novi Sad and in Šabac. It’s a typical Serbian meal that I don’t eat often. Chicken, beef, fish, you can get everywhere. But you can eat proper ćevapi only in the Balkans.
I also want to mention čvarke, one more popular Serbian delicacy. But let me say straight away that this is something that you would only want to try and never eat on a regular basis. Loosely translated into English, these are a kind of pork crisps. Basically, it’s fat that’s thermally extracted from the lard. It sounds bizarre, but believe me when I tell you that they are phenomenally delicious.
You are not going to find this food item in Turkey, for obvious reasons. It’s one crucial difference between Serbian and Turkish cuisines.
SO, IS SERBIAN FOOD HEALTHY?
Well, it all comes down to food choices that we make and it’s the same wherever we are. If we base our diet on a lot of vegetables with limited quantities of meat or fish, then we eat healthily. If we never eat any junk food and if we limit the intake of wheat products that normally give us abnormal blood sugar spikes, we eat healthily.
Serbian food can be as healthy or unhealthy as you personally choose. However, based on my experience, I would say that the eating habits in Serbia are not entirely healthy. Temptations are everywhere, it’s almost like a minefield.
While I think that it’s OK to occasionally give in to temptations and try exotic food, they should really remain just the occasional treats.
In all honesty, I didn’t rigorously stick to my nutritional ideology, from time to time I treated myself with food that I would normally never eat, to satisfy both my eyes and my soul.
You should do the same, wherever you happen to be.