Hello everyone, hello mid August, hello Summer Olympics in Rio, hello to all of the wondrous noms I have eaten up until this point! Over these past few weeks I have been shamelessly eating while at the same time soaking up the sun in and around beautiful Belgrade. On a sort of whim, Milan and I decided to plan a multi-day trip to Zlatibor and Mokra Gora so that we could escape the bustle of the city, do a bit of hiking and breath the truly fresh air of western Serbia. But first, I had the pleasure of not only visiting breathtaking nature but also to witness and attend a full on Serbian style wedding.
Just so we’re clear…this was a bonafied nom-cation.
So sit back and savor some traditional Serbian specialties like komplet lepinja, kiselo mleko, zlatiborski sir and much more!
During the glorious months of summer, blushing brides, walking wedding parties and honking cars decked out in purple and blue bows are commonly seen (and heard) throughout Serbia whether you like it or not. I had unintentionally crashed a wedding ceremony last year at the capital’s head Orthodox church (Arhangela Mihaila), a ceremony so beautiful it could bring a complete stranger to joyful tears. Since then I have been perplexed by Serbian weddings and was exceedingly excited on Easter when I found out we had been invited to Milan’s cousin’s wedding later in the summer.
In case you hadn’t gathered from all of my previous posts, Serbians are amazing people in all sense of the word, but they can also be pretty crazy (I mean this as the highest compliment). When it comes to weddings, naturally both of these attributes increase ten fold, and luckily for us so do the noms!
There are many procedures that take place during the course of a full day Serbian Svadba but I will provide you with the hyphenated version. On the way to the village the morning of the wedding we passed by the groom and his row of honking cars heading in the opposite direction towards the bride’s home to discuss the price on her head. Of course the actual demand of dowry is not intact in the present day, however it is part of old Serbian culture and is thus ‘reenacted’ in modern day weddings.
Once the groom has properly negotiated for his bride to be, they then drive directly to the church where the rest of the wedding guests are already waiting and the extensive ceremony begins. Candles, crowns and choirs, Orthodox weddings are uniquely beautiful. Unlike a western style wedding, the guests stand throughout the ceremony in the open space of the church and are free to come and go as they please.
With the church ceremony completed, the party then follows the bride and groom back to the groom’s home where the celebration begins by toasting with rakija and continuing the traditions such as throwing corn kernels on the roof and carrying the bride across the threshold into their new home. After that music and socializing with people you may have known since you were a baby or those whom you have never met, either way they treat you like one of their own, another incredible Serbian trait.
Luckily for us the reception took place just a few doors down from Milan’s grandfather’s house and we could already smell the wafting aroma of roštilj and whole roasting lamb on the spit. By the time we sat down at our table we couldn’t wait to eat but knew we would have to pace ourselves if we were to survive the night. We munched on mezza while the bride and groom posed for their thousands of photos, then sipped on a hearty soup as they graciously accepted the copious amounts of gifts. After this the music begins and Kolo or traditional Balkan dancing begins and would continue until the morning. Free flowing rakija, wine and beer could be found at every table as we began the real feasting with sarma then moved on to mountains of grilled meats and kupus salata (coleslaw).
The food just seemed to be endlessly arriving in front of us, if one plate was diminished, another one came shortly after. By the hour it was time to cut numerous cakes I wasn’t sure there was any space left in my stomach. But of course I did, and of course I had two pieces. At around ten in the evening, to my naïve mind however just when I thought the nomming was winding down and the waiters began to clear the plates of the remnants of food…they brought out freshly made plates of lamb and even more kupus just to be sure those who were drinking heavily had something to nibble on. I was shocked and a bit drunk and relieved when we decided to accompany Milan’s grandfather home. My first experience of Serbian wedding had been an experience to say the least and I can’t wait for the next one (no hint there, I’m purely a spectator for now)!
The next day was a bit of a recovery but I woke up feeling pleasantly refreshed. If you can remember around Easter in my post ‘Orasnica & Orthodox Easter’ I had mentioned that the cats at the house had both been expecting kittens and now three months later the little mewing balls of fur were getting into all sorts of mischief. As timid as they are, they had no problem climbing onto my lap and having their breakfast and a warm body to curl up to.
I excused myself for breakfast of my own where we nommed on fresh slanina, tomatoes, bread and yogurt to which of course I fed the left over fatty tidbits to my new little family members. Later in the afternoon we were greeted by the groom’s father who had thoughtfully brought leftover meat and cake from the wedding for the house. As grateful as I was, I had to take a break from roštilj and was lucky enough to try Deda’s home made heavenly pasulj (which I will recreate soon), a tasty white fish with rosemary and garlic and heritage corn straight from the back yard.
I know I mentioned how much I missed corn before but forget what you know about sweet corn and corn readily available at the farmers market or in the store. This corn isn’t at all sweet, in fact it has the consistency of beans but with the taste of comfort. I loved it, love, love, loved it. Unfortunately the season is short and I have to wait until next year to nom on it again.
The next morning, packed up and ready to go (with 20 eggs, a giant bag of peppers and apples) we started our five hour journey west to Zlatibor. The drive is relatively painless despite rain and roadworks and once you begin to feel surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, the magic of Serbian nature starts to kick in. A year round tourist town, Zlatibor attracts the likes of athletes, musicians, travellers, families, and nommers like myself because of its relativity to numerous mountains, lakes, rivers and farms. There is something for everyone here in Zlatibor.
Much like our trip to Niš, once we arrived Milan and I searched for a quick and comforting bite to quell our grumbling stomachs. Pizza and beer seemed obvious. This was a nom-cation remember? Plus we were planning on hiking the following day! We found a café at the end of the small pond in Zlatibor’s bustling center and unwound after a long day of travelling.
Margherita, Capricciosa and cold Lav. For some reason I always keep the slogan of this domestic beer in mind whenever I am nomming: ‘Ili jesi ili nisi’… ‘either you are or you aren’t’. Always a fitting line for any occasion in my opinion.
Much like the Christmas markets in Germany there are rows of stands in the main pedestrian street where you can find all the noms your heart desires including palačinke, waffles, grilled corn, tornado potatoes, ice cream, and much more. After the pizza I convinced myself I would hold off until the following day while Milan delved into a meter long palačinke while we watched Serbia play France in the men’s basketball preliminaries…but that is another story.
Despite the overcast weather we woke up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed to visit the monument outside of town dedicated to partisans shot in the area in 1941. Many tourists with their families walk up the paved path as well as others who choose to do so by horseback. After our warm up, we headed on to our own hike uphill at Tornik a popular destination for skiers during the winter months. The view from the look out hut was extraordinary even with all the fog and we patted ourselves on the back and promised our bellies a well-earned meal once we reached the bottom.
Due to my unwillingness to sit down post sweat in a café or restaurant, we ventured onto the parallel alleyways of Zlatibor’s main street where savory roštilj options can be found and with ease we decided on fresh grilled belo meso. When all else fails go with belo meso (chicken breast) because you can add your fixings of choice, I personally like ljuto (paprika and feta spread), tomatoes, cucumbers, kupus or greens and eat it either with or without toasted bread of your liking. This time I couldn’t pass up the lepinja (being in Zlatibor and all) and was pleasantly surprised that we could add the condiments ourselves.
For a total of 4 USD you can get a relatively healthy sandwich (better option than McDonald’s that’s for sure) that is always satisfying. Grills or roštilj joints can be found on almost every corner in Serbia so try everything at least once and you’ll never be left hungry.
We went to recuperate at our apartment and watch a bit more of sporadic Olympic games until we were ready to go back into town for something I was very anxious to try. Naturally I had done a bit of research before our trip and had seen a palačinkarnica of particular interest that seemed to rival the likes of Hari’s Creperie in Belgrade. Of course we had to go and…. ‘investigate’.
Feniks (Pheonix) Palacinkarnica and Poslastičarnica are well established in Zlatibor and have a popular customer base. Their creperie is small however their crepes and waffles are just the opposite. While looking through their menu I was hypnotized by the visuals and the description of each delectable possibility. Each option they had for their massive pancakes could also be created into a spaceship sized Belgian waffle. Because I chose the crepe we would split, Milan then had the honor of choosing the waffle.
And you thought we nommed a lot already? It’s just getting started.
And so we were introducted to ‘El Presidente’. A fluffy waffle draped in both strawberry jam and Eurocrem, topped with freshly cut strawberries, whipped cream and waffer. Talk about wow. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? When the polls open in November, I think I’m going to vote for with this waffle, El Presidente to be the head of State, not Trump or Hillary. Four more years of nom!
Meanwhile, on my side of the table…I had a date with the ‘Blues Brothers’.
Nom-cation, nom-cation, nom-cation. The Blues Brothers was everything you ever wanted in, on and around a crepe: filled to the brim with Nutella, banana slices and hazelnut bits, drizzled and topped with even more Nutella, hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, whipped cream and again adorned with crispy waffers. That moment my eyes grew ten sizes as well as my stomach, I was both lucky and vexed that I had to share it with Milan but the half that I did eat would be in my memory bank of noms forever.
This being technically our dinner, we took a long walk around the center afterwards to digest the food babies we had just been impregnated with. There is still much to do at night in Zlatibor and the family friendly atmosphere is relaxing compared to that of Belgradian nightlife. I reminded Milan though of our plans the next day to visit a special place tucked beneath a hill the following day and so after a beer, we retired to ready our stomachs for what was yet to nom.
The hidden gem I am about to share with you is a must visit if you ever come to Zlatibor and there is a very good reason why. Have you ever traveled somewhere and eaten something that you could actual taste the culture in every bite? This is why Krčma Gaj cannot be missed. This is why Nomandnommer went to Krčma Gaj to get something completely Zlatiborian if you will, Komplet Lepinja.
Look like someone’s back yard? Around the corner as you can see is a small rustic patio, just large enough for a dozen tables, overlooking the fantastic farmlands below. It is something out of a story book. We arrived at Krčma Gaj around eleven in the morning for more or less brunch and there were numerous families already enjoying their authentic meals and tranquil scenery.
Their menu is limited for a reason, they specialize in things that can be grown and bought around you primarily dairy and meat, things that are traditional to this part of Serbia. This being our first time, Milan and I both ordered tea, Komplet Lepinja (in fear that if we would regret ordering anything else) Zlatiborski sir (white cheese native to Zlatibor), and kiselo mleko (soured milk). Why on earth would we order sour milk you ask? You’re about to find out.
Our chai came first, complete with little bags of honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice on the side. We sat and discussed our plans for the rest of the day, all the while eying up the delicious looking breakfasts people were delving into around us. When the kiselo mleko came I was enthralled because it came served in two small decorated clay jars, the authenticity was already off the charts. Kiselo mleko is difficult to explain to those who have never had it. It’s not exactly sour cream (well because it’s sour milk) so unlike the creamy velvety texture of sour cream, kiselo mleko has the consistency of firm yogurt with a tangy flavour similar to the prior but unique to its own, especially when made fresh like at Krčma Gaj.
Promptly our Komplet Lepinja and cheese arrived and it could be said that I may or may not have been drooling on myself as our waiter set them down on the table. I immediately gave Milan the ‘oh my goodness’ look when I saw how many pieces of cheese there were, way too much for just two persons, but then upon looking at the star of the meal I was swept away to nomtown, population…me.
Komplet Lepinja is as you might have guessed named ‘complete’ for a reason. In between a fresh loaf of lepinja you will find a mixture of egg and kajmak, made complete with thin pieces of Pršuta which is then all together toasted (and probably slathered with more egg and kajmak) on the grill. If there ever was a true Serbian breakfast, this would be it.
There are things you eat in your life time that have ranks you know? Krčma Gaj’s Komplet Lepinja is not only on my ranking for top ten savory breakfasts but top ten best things I have eaten in my life this far. Crispy on the outside, practically oozing on the inside, it was a whole new experience for my taste buds, half of them screamed ‘this is too much!’ while the other half screamed ‘this should never end!’ Both of them were right, it was too much but I never wanted it to end.
Add all of this to the sensationally mellow Zlatibor cheese and kiselo mleko and I was on the moon. In all honesty we should have ordered just one kiselo mleko because both Milan and I only managed to finish a little more than half of each jar but now we know for next time. The price for a truly authentic meal like this was stupidly cheap (maybe around 14 USD for the both of us) and the view that comes along with it is priceless. We left Krčma Gaj feeling like we had experienced a genuine slice of Zlatibor, and by slice I mean the whole cake.
After a quick pit stop at the apartment for supplies, we were back on the road towards Sirogojno Staro Selo, an outdoor historical museum recreating the homesteads of Serbians in the 1700’s. The sun had decided to come out and the walk around the miniature town was much needed. It reminded me a bit of Plymouth Plantation with the exception of reenactors playing the role of a Serbian Squanto. We did learn some interesting things about how Milan’s ancestors thrived during that time and concluded we needed a giant brick pizza oven in our backyard too.
Along the way I had spotted road signs for natural waterfall Gostilje not far from Sirogojno and since we didn’t have a pressing schedule decided to check it out. Located in the middle of two hills and hidden away in the lush forest was a picturesque waterfall that spanned down the length of the hills on either side. We sat by the water for a bit and snacked on chocolate biscuits, soaking it all in. We never thought it would have been something we would have unintentionally stumbled upon, but we were very glad we did.
Once back in Zlatibor, and me still completely full from the komplet lepinja, I decided to skip dinner and go straight to dessert. Not wanting to cut our last night short, we strolled around looking for souvenirs and eventually ended up at Feniks again, except this time at Feniks Poslastičarnica . Their extensive selection of gelato was calling my name and upon Milan’s insistence, I chose three scoops one chocolate, one walnut and one Jaffa.
Yet again, Feniks managed to win over my stomach and heart (not that it’s all too difficult) and I nommed my way through the perfect flavor combination. I enjoyed the Jaffa but my favorite was the intense richness of the walnut. I had the odd sensation that I must be getting old since I now favor ice cream with nuts…(butter pecan, maple walnut were always popular with the senior citizens who visited the ice cream store I worked at)…but then again, maybe I’m just nuts.
Unfortunately the next day, the temperature had dropped to that of late fall and the rain clouds began to form just as we were packing up the car to leave. We had planned on taking the scenic train through Mokra Gora that morning but because of a late start were unable to secure a spot. But with unlucky circumstances come rewards as we found ourselves warmly inside a cozy lodge in Drvengrad (0r Wood town) just up the road from the train station. This small ethno selo also known as Küstendorf or Mećavnik was built as the set for a Serbian movie and has since been used for film and music festivals as well as doubles as a hotel and open air museum. After we strolled around and bought some local honey, we settled in at the wooden lodge café and ordered Serbian style hot chocolates, complete with whipped cream. A little rain never stopped any noms.
With our time line now free we had little problem getting back on the road to Belgrade. But wait, the noms aren’t over yet! Because of the long drive we stopped for lunch in Kragujevac and I used Instagram to the best of my ability to weed out a place for a quick afternoon bite. I settled on Snack Bar Angolo primarily because I saw they had actual swings in seating area, yes swings. Plugged into the GPS, we found Snack Bar without a problem, ordered our food and sat on the aforementioned swings while we waited.
Milan apparently having never eaten in his life ordered an entire pizza (cappricosa of course) while I feeling less than hungry ordered a salad and small sandwich. I love tiny little places like Snack Bar because they are deliciously random, they are places I hope stay in business because of their delightful randomness. Remember Fabrikaukusa in Nis? Like that! My chicken salad with sesame dressing was tasty and despite Milan’s displeasure, the pizza was….really good. I mean really good. For reasons completely unknown to me it reminded me of eating pizza in the states (possibly even more so than PizzaBar!). Also for reasons unknown to me, Milan didn’t like it. I was in shock but agreed to help him eat it, as well as later that night and the day after since he clearly had left overs.
And so ends our nom-cation. After being stuck at the toll booth into Belgrade for literally an hour, we were sad yet relieved to be home. With all of the eggs and peppers sent home from the Deda’s, I decided to make Serbian stuffed peppers with cheese the following day, a recipe which I intend on sharing in my next post because they are incredibly nom!
Wow, that took a lot out of me but honestly every time I sit down and write a post I feel overjoyed that I get to relive all of the food I have eaten, not to mention feel guilty about it, hooray guilt! I don’t feel guilty about sharing it with you all though because now you know a bit about Serbian weddings as well as a hot year round vacation spot that still remains true to its authenticity. So please, come to Serbia. If not for the Komplet Lepinja then for other reasons yes?
I will be on a bit of a hiatus from nomming out in order to straighten out my eating pattern (not in a diet kind of way but in a way that my skin is seeking sweet revenge on me). There are however acceptable places to eat clean in Belgrade which I intend to explore further so don’t think I’m turning my back on you, good noms are coming!