Travel

Nice to Meat You, Serbia

Go to the Balkans for meat, more meat, puffy bread and even more meat
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table
Meat

This March, we're taking you on a tour of the Old World, with a focus on how traditional European dishes are influencing modern cuisine.

Cancún? More like Can'tcún. Here's a new spring break plan: Go to Serbia. There's no Eiffel Tower or ocean breeze, but there's a ton of meat.

During a stereotypical postgrad Eurotrip I took with a friend, I got to experience this firsthand during a brief stay in the country's capital, Belgrade. We arrived late, and I'd had a particularly traumatic day: I fainted on a bus in Greece, and a couple of our flights were delayed. So I was looking forward to the simple pleasures of food and a nondescript hostel bed.

We wandered down an eerily quiet cobblestone street lined with giant murals and a handful of restaurants, and settled on a place called Tri Šešira. After realizing we couldn't pronounce anything on the menu and lacked the energy to give an ounce of effort, we did what any adventurous young travelers (er, lazy, hungry Americans) would do: We asked the waiter to bring "whatever Serbians like."

For me (a mostly vegetarian) and my travel buddy (a recently relapsed vegetarian) ordering blindly was not the best of ideas. We realized this after the waiter proudly presented a platter of ambiguous meat products, from which point on, Serbia forever became known to us as The Land of the Giant Meat Platter. The jury is still out on about 40 percent of what was on the plate, but it was some form of a Serbian mixed grill. (Are you getting the meat sweats just looking at that?)

Here are the top three dishes to try in Serbia, a meat lover's paradise.

① Pljeskavica: This is otherwise known as the most difficult to pronounce hamburger that ever was. It's one of the country's national dishes and is a three-animal team effort of pork, beef and lamb. It's traditionally served inside a flatbread bun of sorts, but we tried it solo. Well, solo with about five other cuts of meat.

② Ćevapi: Another national dish, ćevapi is minced meat rolled into finger-shaped sausages and grilled. They're like pigs without their blankets. This Belgrade restaurant calls them "an unavoidable meal for lovers of grilled food." Agreed.

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③ Leskovac fritters: They look deceptively like ćevapi, but these are the result of rolling veal with bacon and cheese and frying them into little chicken-finger shapes. Sorry, cholesterol levels: Hindsight is 20/20.

Considering there was enough meat to feed four, we did respectable damage to the plate. But the best part of the meal (and I would argue all of Serbia) was the bread basket. It had the puffiest white bread I've ever had the honor to encounter (top left corner), plus slices from a darker seeded loaf. But emotional trauma calls for refined simple carbohydrates, so we tore into the flour-dusted pillows with a primal joy that belied two recent grads who were staving off the real world.

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