The Serbian Cuisine: Espresso and Cigarettes

Serbian Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Ask a Serb about typical national cuisine and you will hear endless stories glorifying meat. Cevapcici is probably the most famous dish and consists of seasoned, ground, mixed meat formed into sausage shaped cylinders and grilled. They are usually eaten with onions and or tomatoes. For some reason, the Serbs are completely obsessed with this dish, and I’ll admit it’s decent, but nothing to write home about. It certainly can’t compare to my hometown’s great BBQ. Another specialty is the pleskavica, which is resembles a thin hamburger patty the size of your head served in a fluffy pita like bun. Besides those meat dishes, Serbs love burek, which is a flaky, greasy, pastry served warm and filled with either meat or cheese. Serbian soups are generally blended, salad hardly ever has lettuce, and every meal is served with lots of bread. When people ask me what Serbian food is like, I generally explain that it’s the opposite of California cuisine. California cuisine for those unfamiliar is fresh, light, simply prepared items, focusing on fruits, vegetables, and possibly a very light meat. Serbian cuisine is everything that California cuisine is not. It generally consists of greasy meats and lots of bread and heavy dishes with sauces and cured and pickled things prepared as if they were always coming out of a year-long winter. It was rare to see a fresh vegetable or fruit, and even rarer to not have a bowl of bread with every meal. Want to experience Serbian food but don’t have time for an authentic home cooked meal? Stop by any of the countless fast food shops and you’ll find slices of cold pizza with a dollop of sour cream on top, or perhaps a ham and cheese croissant. So with all these heavy, highly caloric foods everywhere, and hardly any salads or healthy options, it led me to wonder how they all stay fit. Why don’t they balloon into shapeless human orbs, as so many Americans seem to do?
The answer is simple: Espressos and Cigarettes.
You see, the typical Serb doesn’t eat all this unhealthy stuff all day, though they probably dream about it and wish they could. No, restaurants are considered expensive, and probably a rare treat (much like in many parts of the US). So it’s probably foreigners that are frequenting a lot of these places. The typical Serb can be seen having a coffee and cigarette for breakfast, and repeating that meal every few hours or so until its time for going out at night. Then they drink their calories, dance them off, and hop into bed. The next day this pattern will be repeated, and throw in 5 or more miles of walking through the city each day and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great looking body! So with all this coffee accelerating their metabolism, the cigarettes suppressing their appetites, and the endless hours of walking through the city (walking seems to be the main form of transportation in Belgrade), you end up with relatively fit locals. They do look cool in the cafes. So what’s better, a Serb with a caffeine and nicotine addiction, but who looks great? Or an overweight, non smoker American, that works out incessantly at the gym to help combat a sedentary lifestyle? I’d rather sip my daily espresso and stroll through the city looking chic than to clutch a sweaty water bottle working out like a rat at the gym.
Now I’m not going to go on and on about the Serb’s eating habits without bashing our own. Yes, Americans tend to have a pretty unhealthy relationship with food as well. We binge, diet, eat for comfort, and have absolutely no idea of portion control. We are obsessed with working out at the gym, fad diets, diet pills, and many have eating disorders on one end of the spectrum or the other. And yet, we still have problems with obesity, anorexia, and body image.
Well, we all have our vices, but at least the Serbs look cool while staying fit.

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9 thoughts on “The Serbian Cuisine: Espresso and Cigarettes

  1. You didn’t try Sarma? (it’s the coat of arms on the alternative flag of Serbia) Or Podvarak? I’d kill for Podvarak… I like it that much 😀 There’s more than BBQ meat on our dishes. You didn’t discover much of Serbia yet. 😀

    • Of course I had Sarma, I even had Sarma served at my own American/Serbian wedding in California last year, and of course, Mama Z would make it all the time and send me home with it after visiting her for weekend lunches. Sarma and Podvarak demonstrate again, the typical Serbian cuisine. Lots of meat, nothing fresh, and very, very heavy. And yes, Sarma should have been highlighted since its such a typical Serbian dish, however, I try to avoid it when I can, doesn’t suit my taste.

  2. You were there in winter season when there is nothing fresh because nothing grows in winter. Sarma or podvarak are typically winter dishes, nobody eats that in summer. Or burek. Also, when its cold body asks for more calories, it needs energy. Serbia has 4 seasons, unlike California. I think that Serbs eat lots of salad when it’s available, in spring, summer.
    Not all Serbs smoke or drink coffee, I don’t and know lot of people who don’t, and they’re all thin.

    • Thanks for the comment! Obviously I’m an equal opportunity offender, which is why I was happy to report on American food issues as well as Serbs. (see end of blog posts). I was in Belgrade in March and Early April, I saw the last snowfall of the season, and the beautiful new blooms of new spring. Yes, Belgrade has 4 seasons, as mentioned in a previous post, thats one thing I really love about it! I grew up in the midwest where we have 4 distinct seasons, like Belgrade, and I’m a transplant to California, where we have eternal springtime. Of course, the seasons definitely affect the type of cuisine, and the severe winters in Belgrade have certainly affected the local tastes. However whenever I hear a Serb here talking about the best food they miss from Belgrade, I always hear things like: Sarma, Cevap, and Burek. I never hear them talk about lighter fare. I was delighted though to find a lovely soup and salad place called Supa i Salata near studentski trg in old town that offered a variety of fresh salads and soups. Sadly, this was the only place of its kind in Belgrade, according to the owners.
      As for the smoking, of course not all Belgraders smoke, my husband and his entire family are part of many nonsmokers, but its undeniable that smoking and coffee is way more a part of the culture than it is in the US. Here, it is rare to find a smoker at all, we don’t smoke in restaurants, cafes, or even bars. In fact we don’t even smoke outside of cafes here at all or even in many public parks. Its something thats been more and more considered taboo here lately, and has almost disappeared completely in public. Thank You for your comment! 🙂

  3. As mentioned previously, if you went during the cold periods then you wouldn’t see a lot of salad or fruit as they are grown locally and not imported (which is also why you would have eaten it pickled). The major difference between Serbian and American (and English, while we’re at it) culture is that salad is always eaten as a side dish with another meal (and soup is, again, would not be considered a main meal). You will never have someone say ‘the dish I really miss the most is mama’s salad’ because that’s not a dish, that’s a side dish. You can even say that fruits and vegetables are an inherent part of the culture, as the stereotype goes that the Serbian mother will ask you every day, without fail, ‘what fruits and vegetables have you eaten today?’ During the summer, fruit and vegetable markets are everywhere (pijaca). Our main meals are indeed very fatty, however.

    Also re the female Serbian figure, along with smoking and drinking a lot of coffee, Serbian females are always ALWAYS on a diet, competitively so, and don’t regularly eat a lot of those fatty foods. Girls will always check each other out to see who’s prettier or thinner than they, and thus stay on that questionable diet of coffee and cigarettes.

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