The one thing that Serbs love more than anything (but not each other) is Barbecue. Derived from the Spanish word barbacoa, barbecue in the Balkans is generally known as; “Roštilj” ,pronounced ‘rosh-teel‘. (the ‘ š ‘ is pronounced as ‘sh’)). The word Roštilj simply stands for ‘grill’ or ‘griddle’.
Everywhere in the Balkans, especially in Serbia, roštilj is always the main attraction at any occasion, whether that be a wedding, a birthday party or Mayday celebrations. No excuse is needed for a good old cookout as long as the weather permits.
Anything, from meat to vegetables to seafood and even marshmallows can be grilled or barbecued. Since Serbia is generally considered a meat lovers country more often than not you’ll find meat being the star of the roštilj. Serbians specifically love pork (try this recipe). Still, there are some meats that are appreciated just as much and, apart from sausages, these are; Pljeskavica and Cevapi (originated from the Turkish word ‘kebab’), the latter being sausage shaped mince meat patties found all over the Balkan. They are usually served in groups of five to ten pieces on a plate or stuffed into a flatbread like lepinje, often covered with chopped onions, kajmak (clotted cream), spicy red pepper & salt.
Apart from Pljeskavica and Cevapi other roštilj favourites are; pancetta, pork chops, a variety of sausages, chicken wings, uštipci (pronounced ‘ush-teep-tsi’) which are basically bacon & cheese mini burgers made famous by the grill masters of the town of Leskovac located in the south of Serbia. Leskovac is mostly known for its excellent barbecue. The secret of Leskovački roštilj is in the recipes and, dare I say, luckily some of those recipes have ‘leaked’ and have found their way across the country to various restaurants and fast food outlets, the best of which I will share with you today.
Let’s start with…
is on the top of my list because, for one, they have managed to get the ‘mix’ just right. They picked a lovely spot right on the confluence of the rivers Sava and the Danube, yet the location is still within easy reach of the city centre and provides ample parking (a great plus because parking in Belgrade is often a challenge). The premises are spacious and comfortably furnished and the high ceiling makes the place feel airy and allows for much natural light to flood inside.
Secondly, Ambar is a restaurant that serves up authentic Balkan cuisine as well as fancy barbecue which is grilled with great care to perfection. They’ve invested in a most sophisticated rotisserie, on which they spit-roast just about anything. Their barbecue equipment, which includes a wood smoke oven, is top of the range. Their kitchen is staffed by Serbia’s best talent who, under the supervision of the acclaimed executive chef Bojan Bocvarov and head chef Vlada, make sure that only the most delicious food reaches your table. Presentation is second to none, an art in itself. something as attractive as their dishes is usually reserved for establishments that befit the highest of accolades. Their plates look amazing! The food is the best! The atmosphere great!
Now you might be forgiven to think that visiting a restaurant that classy comes at a dear price but actually you will be pleasantly surprised that the place not only dishes up great tasting and looking food but actually gives you very good value for your money. For instance they do an ‘all-you-can-eat’ lunch for 1950 rsd per person (at the time of writing this article that would be about 17 Euro/18,50US$) and an unlimited dinner for 2990 rsd per person (that would be about 26 Euro/28US$). That’s a great deal by any means.
All in all, if you would like to experience Balkan cuisine at its apex and you would like to spend some time at one of the Balkan’s finest locations then a visit to Ambar should absolutely be on your list of things-to-do while in Belgrade.
How to get there:
is among one of my favourite restaurants in Belgrade, simply because the ambiance of this hidden gem resembles times from days long gone by. You’ll find mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, some good and others not so, but in my experience Stara Hercegovina (meaning Old Hercegovina, which is a geographical part of Bosnia and well known for its grilled specialities) does simple food very well.
The waiters are old school, dressed in black and white, the interior is dated but clean. You’ll find tables covered with linen and, when the place is busy, ashtrays filled to the brim on each of them. Smoking is (still) tolerated and unfortunately this is the case in most of the Balkan. I am not a smoker (anymore) but find smokey places tend to have a livelier and a more personal atmosphere than places that are not. Naturally, this is not to any ones taste so from spring through the summer months well into autumn it possible to park your but on the benched tables outside.
Stara Hercegovina does a splendid roštilj and features many different cuts of meat, either beech wood smoked or fresh from the butcher.
Their barbecued specialities come to your table on old fashioned stainless steel serving dishes and always with a generous helping of freshly cut onions. I recommend you ask for a large portion of kajmak (clotted cream) too. It may not do your arteries any good but kajmak and grilled meat certainly are a match made in heaven.
An other dish SH is famous for is their veal head stew. The meat is so succulent you can almost suck this dish through a straw. If you like eating your food while dipping potatoes and bread in the juices then definitely order yourself a portion.
Stara Hercegovina is a safe bet for good quality and affordable food, that is if you don’t mind the smoky surroundings of the interior. But then again, you can always sit outside and soak in the sights and sounds of this old part of town while enjoying the charms of this old relic.
How to get there:
‘Stari Mlin’ meaning ‘the old mill’, is centered close to the heart of the city and is famous for its traditional no-fuss Balkan cuisine. Stari Mlin is well known for perfectly tasting, yummy food. The kitchen takes much pride in preparation, execution and presentation and allows only the best quality and freshest of ingredients to make it on the menu. They do a great array of salads and oven dishes as well as superbly grilled meat specialities. Apparently the Cevapi are as delicious as they can possibly be, so whatever else you might decide to eat make sure to order a large portion, with onions and kajmak (just for yourself :))
I have yet to hear a disappointing comment about one of Belgrade’s best kept secrets and is therefore a must go-to place, especially if you love to eat perfectly grilled meat specialities. To ask for a menu card may be unnecessary in that it is perfectly normal to ask the waiter for his recommendations, then trust his suggestions. To order ‘blind’ may seem a little overly adventurous but I propose you should have a go. The experience is fun and serendipitous and totally the Balkan way. Then again, at some point you should consider asking for the menu just to get an idea of the prices.
Stari Mlin is relatively inexpensive, so no need to pawn the family jewels. Still, it is nice to know what the expected ‘damage’ eventually will be.
Even though Stari Mlin is literally 2 minutes from the centre of Belgrade it is still a little difficult to find as well as awkward to get to. Once you get to the street the restaurant is at first a little tricky to spot because of the lack of a single sign pointing you in the right direction. Look for the garden patio and you’ll know you have landed in the right place.
I recommend taking a taxi but if you do drive then you’ll find the coordinates for your navigation below.
Phone: +381 (0)
Coordinates: 44°47’39.0″N 20°27’20.7″E
Best is to make a reservation. The place is usually very busy
Kafana Šabački Slatinac
Pronounced Sha-bats-ski Sla-ti-nats is one of those places that the French would describe as ‘je ne sais quoi’, literally meaning “I don’t know what”.
The reason I say this is because, for one; the location is curious in that it is so well hidden that if you were looking to find it, the moment you blinked you will have passed by, only to go back and look again. So, try not to blink 🙂 and you’ll be rewarded with a cute little place, extremely charming, that does do some of the most outrageous and delicious barbecue on the planet. The other reason for wondering what Šabački Slatinac is all about is that the place is mostly famous, not for their amazingly grilled cevapi, pljeskavica, sausages and smoked meats such as the beechwood smoked vešalica (pork strips) pronounced ‘ve-sha-li-tsa‘, but for food that most people find, well, to put it mildly, unpalatable.
I am talking crispy pan-fried, smokey tasting pig intestines, not so nice and then sweetbread, I found very nice. Sweetbread is basically offal which you’ll find close to the pancreas and takes its name from the fact that the gland is sweet in taste, while the ‘bread’ part comes from the old English, in times when it meant; ‘the flesh of animals’.
The first time I went to this kafana was October 2019.
My friend Bojan, who I mentioned earlier on, invited me to Šabački Slatinac especially to try these two ‘specialities’.
The sweetbread was from, I believe, veal and much to my surprise, is one of the most delicate dishes I ever had the pleasure to consume. The texture resembles foie gras, a specialty food much like pate, made from duck or goose liver, yet the taste is milder and sweeter.
Sweetbreads are first soaked in salt water to remove some of the impurities that may have lingered. After soaking they are blanched for just a minute, then removed from the hot water and shock-cooled on ice. It is then easier to remove the tough membrane surrounding the gland. Once dried, they should be breaded, followed by shallow frying.
The pork intestines, on the other hand, were OK, nothing special. In fact I couldn’t understand what the fuss is all about, meaning why people rush to Šabački Slatinac to try, that! Still, my motto is; if you don’t try you’ll never know.
My advice; order the sweetbread for starters, followed by a mixed barbecue, the full Monty with all the trimmings and you’ll be leaving Šabački Slatinac as most do, full and content.
This is how you find Šabački Slatinac.
Address: Save Maškovića 5, 11000 Belgrade
Coordinates: 44°45’41.5″N / 20°28’59.0″E
Telephone: +381 (0) 11 2464090
About Reservations, I would say; Necessary if you don’t want to wait for a table. Reservations are an absolute must on weekends and especially on Sundays.
Nacionalna kuća Čačanin
Save the best for last but in this blog there are no best ones, only excellent places to enjoy barbecue. Restaurant Čačanin fits this category perfectly. Čačanin is difficult to find because, like Šabački Slatinac, it is not located in the centre of town. In fact this restaurant, well known for very good barbecue and traditional domestic Balkan food, can be found in the the folksy neighbourhood of ‘Kanaravo Brdo’, not exactly an area well know to tourists.
Čačanin takes its name from the town of Čačak, situated in the west of Serbia and is popular with those who love roast pig, lamb and roštilj. The restaurant is traditional in decor, manner and presentation but grand in quality and taste. There are many other dishes available, such as salads and oven roasts. On offer you’ll find some classics such as home made sauerkraut (even in summer), paprika salad and pihtije (pronounced: peeg-ti-je) which is basically jellied pulled pork with garlic and pepper.
How to find Čačanin:
Address: Borska 94, Beograd
Telephone: +381 (0) 11 3583372
Coordinates: 44°45’24.2″N x 20°27’36.5″E
Usually reservations are not necessary but then again, better to call in advance just in case they have a wedding or some other party going on.
I hope you found these tips useful and that one day, when in Belgrade, you’ll find your way to at least one of these places to eat some of the best barbecue in town and if you do then let me know about your experience.