Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, is a city that remained under Ottoman rule for 600 years. Therefore, it is possible to find traces of Ottoman culture everywhere. The many cultures that crossed these lands are also reflected in Skopje’s cuisine, which can be described as a synthesis of Ottoman, Balkan and somewhat Mediterranean tastes and techniques.
Now, let’s have a look at some of the wonderful dishes this amalgamation of kitchens has to offer.
In Skopje you will encounter a lot of pastries, but the varieties of börek – a pie made of thin flaky dough with a variety of fillings – will be the crown of your breakfast. As a matter of fact, you can find this pastry across the entire Balkan geography. In every Balkan city, you will find that its böreks are just as delicious as in the last. Cheese, spinach, minced meat … I recommend you try them all. But I don’t want to go without mentioning that in Skopje and the Balkans, the portions of pastries are usually quite large so you may want to mix it up when placing your order. Of course, it is highly possible that you won’t be able to get enough of these delicious pastries and will want more because they really know what they are doing in the Balkans.
Every time I go to Skopje, my breakfast is always the same. A portion of spinach and cheese börek and a side of black tea. This duo is my absolute favorite when visiting. By the way, I highly recommend you try the spinach and cheese combination, you will like it a lot.
Also, you can find pastries other than börek at the places where you will have breakfast, and you can try them as well.
You will be very surprised when you see this delicacy. Yes, they put a börek in sandwich bread and eat it. You may think that they exaggerate the pastry issue, but this snack unique to Skopje is very famous. Although it may seem a little challenging for the stomach, I recommend that you try this local taste that is prepared by putting sliced buttery börek between mahaleb sandwich bread.
Homeland of meatball
First of all, when it comes to meat products, I would like to say that the Balkan geography is at the top of the list in this regard. In Skopje, meatballs are a hearty and delicious option for lunch, dinner or any time of the day. They usually serve longer finger-like meatballs called “cevapi” with a “shopska” salad accompanied by stewed beans with roasted peppers and onions. At the same time, hot fluffy bread is delivered to your table.
In addition to the cevapi meatballs, you can also try the pleskavitsa variety, which are rounder, thicker and come in a single serving. Since pleskavitsa meatballs are thicker, the inside does not dry out and when you cut it with a knife, the juice of the meat leaks out. It is a good choice for those who prefer their meatballs this way. As I write this, I can still remember the smell of the meatballs. Cevapi is also very nice, but I am still dreaming about the juiciness and bold flavor of pleskavitsa meatballs.
Not shepherd’s salad, shopska
If you are going to eat meatballs in Skopje, a shopska salad will usually accompany the dish. It’s actually not that different of a salad. Grated cheese and olive oil are added to the salad prepared with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and onions. In Skopje, where dairy products are of high quality just like their meat products, the cheese adds a lovely element to the salad.
Shopska, which is similar to the shepherd’s salad made in Türkiye, is actually a Bulgarian salad. If you look at the colors, it really reminds me of the Bulgarian flag. However, as in many parts of the Balkans, this salad is very famous in Skopje.
Queen of milk sweets, tres leches
In the Balkans, you should definitely have tres leches as dessert, which has become very popular in Türkiye recently and is known as trileçe here.
The meeting of caramel, milk and sugar can only be so beautiful. Allegedly, the homeland of “tres leches” (meaning “three milks”) is Latin America. I don’t know how it came to the Balkans and became a regional dessert, but I think it found its homeland. This dessert should definitely be tried on Balkan lands.
The main feature of this dessert, as the name suggests, is the use of three types of milk: cow, goat and buffalo. I also heard that the original recipe uses different consistencies of creams in addition to simple milk, I guess that’s what makes tres leches different here. This wonderful dessert is amplified by pouring caramel over the cake made with cream and milk. This dessert calls for caramel in its original recipe but also comes in a blackberry variety. You should definitely try the caramel, but if the blackberry winks at you, don’t say no.
Although it looks like a heavy dessert, on the contrary, it is a light dessert that you can eat over heavy meals and it does not tire the stomach.
In Skopje, I definitely recommend you try the dessert because it is very different compared to the ones found in Türkiye. My husband and I thought that the dessert would be heavy and ordered a single portion to share, but I realized it was nothing like what I ate at home. It is so light and delicious that you can hardly keep yourself from ordering another.
Dried beans in stew, tafta grafca
I think the answer to the question of what to eat in Skopje, after meatballs, is definitely “Tafta grafca,” or dried beans. In this cold geography, dry beans, which are cooked in casseroles by adding Macedonian red pepper, are a favorite dish. You can find it in almost all restaurants in Skopje that serve meatballs and it is often served alongside meatballs. You will find that the beans cooked in the casserole are quite large. I have no doubt that the taste of these beans cooked on a coal fire with a very thick consistency will linger on your palate. Here’s a suggestion for you. In my previous article, I wrote that they sell the famous Tetova beans in the market located in the Turkish Bazaar in Skopje. When you go, you can visit the market and buy this famous bean variety to cook at home all year long. Of course, don’t forget to buy Macedonian peppers too to flavor your beans. Bon appetit in advance.
In Skopje, the dried meat culture from the past continues today. You can find dried meat being served as an appetizer or snack rather than the main course.
If you went to Skopje and returned without adding “lutenitsa” and “ajvar” to your shopping bag, I think you should be upset. These two wonderful condiments are generally used as a sauce spread on bread for breakfast. Although these two flavors, which are always the crown of my breakfast at home, are very similar to each other, they are different due to the ingredients added to them. Roasted eggplant and capia peppers are added for the ajvar, while tomatoes, capia peppers, eggplant and carrots are added to the lutenitsa. Actually, the difference is that lutenitsa also contains tomatoes and carrots. Although it looks like tomato paste, when you taste it, you will not believe how wonderful this mixture of ingredients can be. Although they suit breakfast, I think they can be eaten at any meal of the day. I’ve heard of people using them as pasta sauces, but I think both ajvar and lutenitsa are good when spread on bread. Actually, I think that’s the rule for eating them.
Healing tank boza
A voice that reminds me of my childhood, that warms the cold winter nights and illuminates the dark streets: “Bozaaaa!”
Boza, which you can find in many countries, has a different consistency and taste in the Balkans. Unlike in Türkiye, it is more fluid, pinker in color, sourer and generally made from corn. At the same time, boza is also a perfectly refreshing summer drink in Skopje. In a nod to the deep-rooted boza culture of the Balkans that still continues in Skopje, you should try this traditional drink.
Apart from all these local foods, I would not be lying if I said I ate the best pizzas and ice creams in Skopje, even though it is not known for its pizza or ice cream.
As you can see, Skopje, the shining star of the Balkans, winks not only at travelers but also at gourmets.
It has great flavors to offer you for every moment of the day.
Frankly, I look forward to the day when I get to eat these wonderful delicacies once again in Skopje, the crossroads of different cultures, in the fertile lands of Vardar. I’m sure you can’t wait to try them either after reading this for yourself.