ABOUT FOOD AND DRINK IN MONTENEGRO
It is hard to imagine a Montenegrin from the older days caring too much for what he eats. Firstly because- with a few exceptions- he didn't have much to eat and second since, until well into the 20th c,food was considered just as a means of survival, not for pleasure. On the other hand, in search of food people preparing them in many imaginative ways. Bearing this is mind you will appreciate more the traditional Montenegrin cuisine which is all about simply prepared straight-forwards tasty food that keeps you well fed.
The climate and geographic condition split the land into two utterly different zones of traditional cookery: the Adriatic one, restricted to the narrow strip by the sea, and the mountains continental zone. The staple foods of the continental part of Montenegro are potato, corn and cereals but above all the dairy product from sheep and cows, the most precious possession of ever highlander. Since milk was difficult to preserve it was by and large converted into cheese (sir). Domestically prepared cheese from range from softer full fat milk is still the most common type enjoyed all over the country. Its forms are not yet standardized and hence it covers a range from softer ( but not creamy), young cheese (mladi) to semi-aged ( stari), which is never aged to such an extent that it can’t be cut with a fork. Recently, more people have been encouraged to once more produce prljo, a traditional soft cheese that is low in fat. Kisjelo mlijeko (literary “sour milk”) is a kind of yoghurt so thick that is eaten with a spoon; it served with most simple meals or consumed on its own as a refreshing and tasty snack or as a starter. The most cherished dairy specialty is kajmak or skorup, a very fat cream of strong flavor, which is eaten on its own, mixed in many traditional meals but also added to many new dishes as a quintessential ingredient that adds that local feel. One of the old dishes eaten with kajmak is kačamak- a tasty mush usually prepared from cornmeal, similar to Italian polenta; when is referred to as smočani this means that is cooked with melted cheese and kajmak. Similar to this cicvara, where flour is cooked in melted kajmak. When well-prepared both dishes are impossible to resist but to bear in mind that they are also very heavy and that you’ll need to be really hungry to eat a whole portion. Popara or masanica is prepared of stale bread, cheese and kajmak cooked slightly in boiling water; it never caught on as a dish in restaurants but it is frequently eaten at home. These three classic Montenegrin dishes where once considered meals appropriate for lunch but are nowadays eaten also for breakfast or dinner. To drink with these try varenika- cooked milk or grušava, its saltier and fattier version. As the sheep and goats were too valuable for their milk, wool and skin, they were rarely slaughtered for meat, which was eaten only on holidays and by the well-off. Perhaps as a reaction to this forced semi-vegetarian diet practiced for many centuries modern Montenegrins are great lovers of meat, which is often eaten on its own and in large quantities. The meat (meso) most commonly eaten in the interior is mutton (ovčetina) or the highly-praised lamb (jagnjetina) prepared in many tasty ways such as dried (sušena), cooked (kuvana), steamed (na pari), cooked in milk (u mlijeku) or roasted in a pot placed under the smouldering coals (ispod sača). Veal (teletina) is more recent newcomer while chicken (piletina) and pork (svinjetina) play a minor role in traditional cookery but are found in a number of classic specialties from modern times. One thing you should not miss is pršut-ham, salted and then smoked for a long time and served thinly sliced to enhance its delicious taste.
A delicacy which never fails to delight the locals are spit roasts (pečenje). Today they are in demand at almost all celebrations while some restaurants, mostly highway-inns, have built their fame around them, and despite the fact that they offer various meals most of their guests arrive only for this indulgence. The most usual type of spit roast in Montenegro is lamb (jagnjetina) or piglet (prasetina) both ordered by the kilo, which is a bit of a gamble since the meat comes with bones and other hardly edible parts.
Bread (hljeb) in the old times used to be baked out of barley or, later, corn. Today you can consider yourself lucky if you find these, but wheat bread baked in the restaurants, mostly ispod sača, is a delicacy of its own. Proja is tasty corn bread, rich in fat and sometimes with cheese added to it. Another bread-like snack is priganice, a kind of doughnut served with cheese, kajmak, honey or jam. It is almost impossible to imagine a complete meal without the ever popular pies (pite) such as gužvara and sirnica with cheese and eggs, zeljanica with spinach, onions and cheese, krompiruša with potatoes or heljdija from buckwheat-another crop adapted perfectly to the harsh mountain climate. A special kind of pie is izljevuša whose mixed dough is spilled into to bowl and then baked.
The most typical vegetable (povrće) in Montenegro is the potato (krtola or krompir) which was introduced in the early 19th c. and from that time on enhanced the diet preventing famine in difficult years. Another well- known vegetable in Montenegro is collard greens (raštan), a plant of cabbage family but of somewhat wilder appearance and taste. Cooked with potatoes and dried mutton it makes a meal of distinctive taste. A dish of similar taste to this one is japraci where veal and rice are rolled in leaves of collard greens. Nettles are also consumed as delicacy, enjoyed mostly in the form of soup (čorba od kopriva). Beans (grah or pasulj) are consumed in several varieties- as thick soup with dried meats (čorbast pasulj) or roasted with lots of onions (prebranac).
Fish (riba) plays a minor role in Montenegrin continental cuisine since most of the areas were far from sizable rivers. However, the vegetarian fare carried through the long and strictly observed fasts proscribed in Orthodox Church was enhanced by river and lake fish. From the native river species trout ( pastrmka or pastrva) and sprout ( mladica) are the only ones to make it to restaurant menus. The situation in continental Montenegro differs only in region around Skadarsko Lake which is incredibly rich in fish, primarily bleak (ukljeva) , carp (krap or šaran) and sneep (skobalj, rarely consumed these days). The traditional way of preparing bleak is to dry above the fireplace (dimljena) before grilling it, while carp is often fried together with prunes or consumed smoked.
In contrast to continental part, the popular diet in the meantime region was always based on fish from the sea. The range of fresh sea fish in any decent restaurant is wide – hake (oslić), mackerel (skuša), red mullet (barbun), bass ( brancin), gilt-poll (orada), dentex (zubatac), groper (škarpina), eel (jegulja), sole ( list) etc. Sometimes they are priced by the kilo and you can choose a fish proportional to your appetite. The larger fish such as swordfish ( sabljarka) or ray (raža) are served by the slice without bones. The simplest way of preparing, but also the best to retain the taste of the fish, is to grill it smeared with spiced olive oil ( na žaru or more unusually sa gradela). As a side dish with these you can try risotto ( rižoto) sometimes also colored by squid-ink (crni rižoto), chard ( blitva) with potatoes or a simple potato salad. The other ways to enjoy your fish are pržena-fried in olive oil, vinegar and spices, then pohovana-fried in breadcrumbs, or typically for Montenegro –from a pot kept under the coals (ispod sača) . Fish soup (riblja čorba) is prepared from various kinds of fish cooked for the longer the better, with every day chef keeping his ingredients and their proportion a secret. Other fruits of the sea are also frequent on menus –squid ( lignje), scampi ( škampi), rose shrimps (kozice of gambori) and lobster ( jastog) being the usual selection.
Octopus (hobotnica) can be prepared in several tasty ways but is most popular as salad ( salata od hobotnice) served as starter. Mussels ( mušlje or dagnje) are as a rule eaten na buzaru-stewed in a tasty sauce of wine, oil, garlic, and parsley. The second most important ingredient of maritime cuisine are olives (masline), still grown in many areas along the coast ( mostly around Bar to Ulcinj as well as on the Luštica peninsula) and their oil, the only oil as far as the chefs of the Adriatic are concerned. One of the specialties here is the old, ripe cheese kept in olive oil (sir iz ulja). As with all the other delicacies from the seaboard, this mixture is also seasoned with aromatic herbs which grow in abundance on the hill-sides, such as rosemary, sage, parsley, etc. These are also an important ingredient in creating pašticada, a beef stew served with makaruli-macaroni of black wheaten flour. Two specialties specific to the town of Ulcinj are banje (okra) served with veal , and imam bajedi-eggplant braised with onions, garlic and tomato and spices.
In the last century Montenegrin cuisine outshone its previous simplicity. Dishes from neighboring lands were adopted and others were created from local ingredients in a more modern fashion. The traditional dishes which are found all over the Balkans became familiar in Montenegro to such an extent that nobody considers them foreign any more. One of the most popular is sarme, sauerkraut rolls stuffed with minced meat and rice, they are prepared mostly at home in large quantities and people live on them for days as it considered that they got better with time. Punjene paprika are bell peppers stuffed with minced meat, rice and tomatoes. Djuveč is a rich casserole in which you will find meat accompanied by potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, onions, eggplant etc.
Pilav is a dish of oriental origin with sliced chicken baked together with rice and onion. Sauerkraut ( kisjeli kupus) is also featured as a popular winter salad sprinkled with hot paprika. Turšija is a name for various kinds of of vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes) which are pickled in brine and eaten during the winter. In the summer, fresh garden salads of tomato, cucumbers, onions and peppers are often consumed. The most popular amongst them is a relative newcomer from Serbia –šopska salata, combined out of all these vegetables and then covered with soft cheese. A popular addition to many dishes is ajvar- a pasty mix of baked peppers, eggplant and garlic similar of salsa. The most popular soup is restaurants these days is teleća čorba, a creamy concoction of vegetables and veal the melts in the mouth. Similar to it is the mushroom soup ( čorba od pečuraka) while pileća supa is clear chicken broth.
The most-loved new arrival is grilled meat (roštilj) called commonly leskovački, named after the south Serbian town from which it gets its distinctive form and excellent taste. Almost all of the places in which you can eat will have some specialty from the grill, and though these can considerably vary in quality they are very tasty. Grilled meat Leskovac-style is also the base for many fast food eateries and kiosks on which the young population can live for days. In smaller towns the kebab grills (ćevabžinica) are more or less the only kind of places to sit down and enjoy a meal. The most popular of the grilled dishes are ćevapi-small minced meat rolls ( usually ten of them) , pljeskavica- a minced pork and veal roll sprinkled with spices, ražnjici- slices of veal and pork grilled on skewers. All of these are eaten with large amounts of cropped onions ( crni luk) but in simple places that is all you will get with them so you should opt for a salad on the side.
There is an enormous number of Italian restaurants in Montenegro and on top of this usual non-national type of restaurants also bases its menu on various pizzas, pastas or lasagna. Note that many of the original Italian recipes have been remodeled slightly to suit local taste better, which in most cases means more meal at fat. Others are more fully out of local specialties such a kajmak, kulen ( spicy sausage), pršut etc. and offer an interesting crash course in the flavors of Montenegro. The new dishes prepared with traditional ingredients are a regular feature of all menus. Njeguški stek is veal filled with njeguški pršut ham and feta or some other cheese. Similar to it are popeci (sometimes additionally labeled podgorički) –veal stuffed with cheese and ham, fried and breadcrumbs.
The list of deserts in most restaurants is not particularly inventive: ice cream (sladoled), fruit salads (voćni kup), pancakes ( palačinke) and similar. The situation is better in pastry shops (poslastičarnica) where you will find a mix of sweets influenced by Vienna and those oriental origin ( baklava, kadaif, tufahija …). In older establishments you will also find boza, a refreshing drink made out of corn flour.
Bakeries (pekara) in Montenegro have grown out into a distinctive brand visited in the morning, at midday or late at night primarily for the reason of obtaining a cheap and tasty snack. Bakeries served almost exclusively a wide array of salty pastries, though some might have sweet ones too. The major test of any bakery is its burek, a greasy round pie with meat, cheese, mushrooms or with no feeling consumed traditionally with yoghurt sold on spot. Other snacks found here are pogačice (small leafy breads ), pite ( classic pies in many variations as well as croissants, sandwiches or even slices of pizza.
Considering all eating habits in Montenegro vegetarians will not have an easy time. Only the better restaurants will have a vegetarian menu, in some you will be able to compile a meal of salads and side dishes, and in others, especially in smaller establishments and in far flung places, trying to order a non-meat dish is going to raise eyebrows or will even be considered as next to impossible.
The best known drink of the Balkans is rakija, a generic name for a potent spirit distilled from various kinds of fruit. Making one’s own at home is still a matter of pride for any respectful rural household, resulting in a great variety of tastes depending on the quality and skills of the maker. In the region where vine is cultivated one makes lozova rakija ( called simply loza by those who feel more familiar with it), prepared from grapes and similar to Italian grappa. The distinctive taste of Montenegrin lozova comes from the indigenous grapevine variety vranac but those made of other grapes can be equally tasty. The one brand synonymic with Montenegro is “Crnogorska lozova rakija” produced in large quantities by “Plantaže” from Podgorica and found all over the country. You can’t really miss it and, in any case, to spend your holiday in Montenegro without savoring this drink would be a great pity. Two more prestigious brands from the same producer are “Previjenac” and “Kruna”. Two other well know shops are “Sjekoloća” from Crmnica and “Institutova” produced by the Biotechnical Institute, but both are out of reach for those with a lighter purse. Other rakijas made in Montenegro are šljivovica from plums, kruškovača from pears and kajsijevača from apricots.
None of these are branded but they can still be found on the menus of many restaurants. Climate favorable for growing vineyards is found only in coastland and around Lake Skadarsko. The most popular region that kept its production is Crmnica, around the town of Virpazar on Skadarsko Lake, though its output is also only a fraction of what it used to be. The two domestic sorts native to area dominate-vranac and kratošija. Vranac (“the black one”) in particular has grown to be associated with Montenegro. It is a wine of dark ruby color, with a robust and fully-bodied aroma. This is also the wine offered in many restaurants in this region under the name domaće ( “domestic”). The main producer of wine in Montenegro is the one state-owned “Plantaže” company with is huge vineyards in Ćemovsko polje south of Podgorica. Here they produce an array of red wines such as the “Crnogorski vranac”, “Crnogorski cabernet” and “Crnogorski merlot”. White wines are represented by the native sort of this warm, lowland area “Crnogorski krstač” –which is grown nowhere else in the world- as well as “Crnogorski krstač”- which is grown nowhere else in the world-as well as by “Crnogorski Chardonnay”, “Crnogorski Chardonny”, “Crnogorski Sauvignon” and “Podgoričko bijelo” . The 0.7 bottles are filled with premium wine while those one liter are quality wines. The large production of these fine wines fully covers the needs of Montenegro and you will find them in all shops and restaurant.
“Trebjesa” in the town of Nikšić is the only brewery in Montenegro but its “Nikšićko pivo” beer is of such quality that one tends to look no further. Apart from this palatable lager it also produces an excellent tamno ( dark) variety as well as premium “Nik Gold” and light “Nik Cool” .
The origins of medovina (mead) go back to the early middle ages when this alcoholic beverage of fermented honey was made and consumed by the old Slavs, who were celebrated as the most skillful beekeepers of Europe. The high pastures with their many aromatic flowers are still ideal for bees and the recipe for mead has not been forgotten. This sweet but refreshing drink is found in many national restaurants but you can also savor it from many individual producers. If you purchase a bottle of two of medovina pay attention because unless kept refrigerated the fermenting process will continue and it will become fizzy and eventually undrinkable.
A drink inseparable from a friendly chat in a street café or at home is coffee ( kafa) which is as a result drunk in large quantities all over in Montenegro. Coffee is also the drink you will be offered upon entering someone’s house and with which each meal is usually rounded off. Until not long ago, when ordering “ a coffee” you would without any doubt be served a strong, black coffee, called turska ( Turkish) or just crna ( black), made out of grounded coffee beans added a boiling water in small copper pots called džezva. Upon ordering, it is customary to specify the quantity of sugar you want in-slađa for sweet, srednja for medium, gorča without any sugar-otherwise you will get sugar to sweeten it yourself. In cafes caring for old time customers the coffee will be accompanied by a glass of cold water and in some places even with piece of Turkish delight. Nowadays it has become more fashionable to drink espresso and you will find that many trendy cafes and restaurants won’t go to the trouble of preparing Turkish coffee. Nes ( kafa) is generic name for all types of instant coffees, regardless of the brand ; you can order it hot (topli) or cold (hladni).
Montenegrins are very fond of mineral water (kisjela voda) and there are several domestic brands around like “Rada” from Bijelo Polje. The mineral water will often be served with glass or rakija of coffee. Asking for water (voda) will usually get you tap water and to order bottled water ask for flaširana voda.
Montenegro Hostel Team