Top Ingredients You Should Try to Make the Perfect Macedonian Dish

Macedonia is not a very popular tourist location. As such, many people don’t realize that this is one of the most amazing places to visit in the Balkan region. This is large because the country only got independence very recently from Yugoslavia in 1991, and it hasn’t been that open to international travelers. All that is changing now and as people become more familiar with this little European gem, one of the things that stands out the most is the food and the strong values surrounding food in this culture.

Macedonia is a very small country. The total population is slightly over 2 million people, which is much smaller than some of the largest cities in the world. The country has been through quite a lot in its history and the people of Macedonia have a very strong connection with one another. Food is always something that brings people together but in Macedonia, this is at a whole new level.

A couple of things make the culinary experience in this country extremely unique; its location is one of the most significant. Macedonia is neighbors with Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania, it was previously part of Yugoslavia, it is less than a thousand miles from both Turkey and Italy, and it's a very old part of the world. Unlike parts of Northern Europe that are brutally cold most of the year or parts of Southern Europe that are quite warm most of the year, Macedonia has the best of both worlds. This means that the local vegetation and livestock experience both summer and winter, and otherwise it has very pleasant weather. The food, therefore, is designed to meet the needs of all the different seasons and it uses ingredients that are found during certain times of the year.

The country has a mixed history. At times, things were extremely tough which is reflected in how some form of bread is made part of every meal. Some of the hearty meals that are designed to provide a lot of energy and calories in a single sitting also show that this is the fuel of a hardworking nation. Then there is also the influence of powerful rulers who enjoyed the finer things in life as is seen in the different delicacies such as the stuffed pies and carefully prepared finger food.

If you want to get a taste of this Balkan country, these are some things you will need in your pantry.


Macedonians love flour and they use it in nearly every way imaginable. As mentioned, no meal is complete without good bread to go with it. However, they bake it, they fry it, they have it with savory things, they have it with sweet things, they have it on its own, they stuff bread, they layer bread, and the list goes on. However, the most popular kind of flour is standard white flour. Brown bread is not that common nor do Macedonians particularly enjoy multi-grain or sourdough. These kinds of bread are present but they are in the minority and they are mostly brought to life by the younger generation. None of the traditional recipes call for much more than white flour. You’ll just need yeast in some applications.

There is also extensive use of filo pastry in both sweet and savory dishes. Again, if this was being made in a traditional Macedonian household, it would start life as good old white flour and then be processed into fine filo sheets. One of the most popular filo pastry-based dishes is Burek. This is a stuffed filo pastry that can either have a sweet or savory stuffing. The one with cream cheese and thinly sliced sausages is a very popular choice. Modern versions of the dish feature pizza stuffing.

One of the most popular dishes in the country is pastrmalija. Essentially, this is a Macedonian pizza, it is usually oval and the ingredient used here is one you'll never guess - pork fat. The pork fat is believed to make the dough soft and also gives it its unique aroma. Modern versions of the dish incorporate Italian recipes and Western flavors but traditionally that was made with mincemeat and an assortment of vegetables and cheese.

Red Bell Peppers

Macedonians love vegetables. For centuries they have had easy access to completely organic vegetables and agriculture has remained relatively unchanged even to this day. Among the many vegetables that they have, the big, long red pepper is quite popular. This pepper is used in many ways. It is used to make sauces and spreads, it is stuffed with cheeses and meats, it is grilled and made part of salads (a bit like a salsa), it is chopped up and added to curries, and it can even be dried and eaten on its own as an accompaniment to a meal. The local red peppers have a very mild flavor, nearly sweet, and they go great with both bread and meat. If you don't have access to traditional Macedonian red peppers, you can get away with any other large red pepper if you want to stuff it, and small ones will do if you just want to make sauces and spreads.

Polneti Piperki is a popular pepper-stuffed recipe in which the vegetable is stuffed with ground meat and rice and baked in an oven. Ajvar is a famous pepper and eggplant spread that is made in large batches and stored. It is applied directly to bread and is eaten as is, for breakfast, as a quick snack, or as a starter. Ajvar is notorious for being a very time-consuming dish to make but it is a signature dish of the Macedonian culture and people love investing their time into making it.


Cabbage is easily one of the most common ingredients in foods around the world but in Macedonia, it has a special place. Macedonians use cabbage in a variety of ways. They cook it, wrap things in it and then cook it, they pickle it (which is what you get when you buy sauerkraut), and they use fresh cabbage in salads. Salads in general are an important part of the Macedonian culture. It is a norm for people to have a bowl of salad known as Shopska Salad and some traditional fruit spirit known as Rajika before a meal.

Another very popular, cabbage-based meal is Sarma. These are stuffed cabbage rolls made with fermented cabbage leaves. The fermentation makes the cabbage leaves translucent and also makes them very pliable so that the meat and rice stuffing can be filled and then the leaves can be formed into rolls. This is a must-have winter dish in Macedonia and can either be eaten on its own, usually served with sour cream, or it can be a side dish to the main course. It is a very hearty meal and just a couple of rolls will have you feeling warm and full on a cold winter day. In the summertime, they make a different version of Sarma that uses vine leaves instead of cabbage. Some people also make vegetarian sarma which replaces meat with leek.


As Macedonians love hearty meals and all kinds of comfort food it is no surprise that they also use potatoes a lot in their meals. Whether they are making a stew, baking some meat, or just looking to add aside to the main meal, potatoes are usually the go-to ingredient. One of the best dishes is Turlitava. This is a slow-cooked stew that is usually made with pork or beef together with potatoes and carrots. Though some people add all kinds of other vegetables, the traditional recipe just calls for some form of meat and some potatoes.

Another popular potato dish is Moussaka. This is like lasagne but potatoes are used instead of pasta. It's part lasagne and part shepherd’s pie. Mincemeat and fried onions are stuffed between layers of thinly sliced potatoes and it is baked in the oven for a few hours. The result is a hearty meal that needs nothing more than a good appetite and a few slurps of Rakija to get ready.


Meat is a big part of the Macedonian diet. Drawing from dishes in neighboring countries, the Macedonian culture has developed a number of interesting dishes that are slight modifications of recipes found elsewhere and, in some cases, are completely unique creations that are only found in this region. The one thing that isn’t too common in Macedonia is barbeque. Most of the dishes either call for the meat to be cooked as part of curry with some vegetables or other additions or the meat is cooked very gently in an oven.

However, one very popular form of grilled meat is the Kebapi. This is a sausage stuffed with minced meat and is usually cooked outdoors over a blazing fire. A slight modification to this menu uses the same minced meat, but without the sausage covering it. It is instead loaded onto a skewer and grilled, a lot like a shish kebab. When the meat is minced it is spiced with red paprika, salt, pepper, and onion is also added to the mix to make it more tender and add moisture. Unlike western sausages, these don't use any kind of processed meat and they are long and thin rather than being short and stout.

The most common kinds of meats that are used are beef, pork, and chicken with chicken being the least popular. If chicken is used, it is usually an organic chicken that has slightly redder meat and the bones are longer and thinner than farm-grown chicken. The poultry is rather tough, but it is cooked till it falls off the bone and has a very meaty taste to it.

Pork is also a local favorite. It is commonly combined with beans in a dish known as Tavce Gravce. This is a very traditional and very old dish consisting of boiled beans and pork that are placed in a clay pot and then baked. It is a classic and quite organic version of modern baked beans. Usually, it is made with pork, but some people also use the traditional sausage or beef ribs in this dish. It is served with bread and is a popular Friday lunch.

White Cheese

One of the main ingredients in the popular Shopska salad is cheese. This is a local white cheese that has a slightly sour taste. It is crumbly and has a very creamy texture. It's similar to Greek salad with the exception that it doesn’t have any lettuce, onion, or olives. It does have plenty of cheese which is similar to Greek cheese, olive oil, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. White cheese is also paired with sour cream when stuffing red peppers and it is also used on pizzas. The traditional pizza doesn't have cheese, but modern variations do. Cheese is also used as a spread for bread and can be incorporated into many different dishes if the chef so wishes.


Fruits are a huge part of the Macedonian diet, not solely because people like eating them, but because they are used to making Rakija, the traditional alcoholic drink. However, more than just being a beverage to get the party started, Rakija has a special place in the culture. It is believed that Rakija has healing properties and also acts as a disinfectant. Usually, people will make Rakija at home in very large batches, hundreds of gallons at a time, and then store it. This is used throughout the year to treat muscle pain, sore throats, fevers, and colds, and is also used to disinfect wounds. In fact, a lot of Macedonian moms use Rakija to disinfect the house when they are doing major cleaning when the seasons change. Also, in the wintertime, people will warm up the Rakija by adding some sugar to it and then enjoying the drink. It is a norm to eat Shopska salad with some good Rakija before a meal. Some people do enjoy some Rakija after a meal too as a digestive.

Macedonian food isn't very spicy though it can be heavy with all the macronutrients. Meals are usually quite simple. Traditional recipes generally consist of a single course while salads and spirits are used as starters. The desserts themselves can be quite heavy with plenty of crispy pastry, creamy fillings, and moderate sweetness. It is very common for neighbors to invite each other over for some Rakija and salad before dinner time. Many of the meals that are cooked throughout the year are the same meals that are used for celebrations, with just a few tweaks. Overall, the food itself is worth a trip to Macedonia.