It is easy to jump on the ‘Serbia is purgatory for vegetarians’ bandwagon, but it simply isn’t the case. It certainly hasn’t always been easy for veggies in the country, but those mimicking the famous Everything Is Illuminated potato scene when describing Serbia and vegetarians are doing the state a disservice. Just because something isn’t common doesn’t mean it is non-existent.
Serbia has always been a land of fantastic fresh fruits and vegetables, and the markets of Belgrade and beyond have long done a roaring trade in natural produce. Green markets are well and truly back in fashion in the 21st century, and more and more young people are heading to Kalenić, Bajloni and the rest to stock up on colourful ingredients. This has been beneficial for both buyer and seller.
Which leads straight on to the next reason why vegetarians are currently in luck in Serbia. The incredible rise of self-evaluation via social media has created a generation of people who take their physical health extremely seriously. Glutton is out the window and has been replaced by colourful meals and nutritional variety.
Many modern restaurant owners live and die by their ability to keep their fingers well and truly on society’s pulse, and many of Belgrade’s eateries have taken the trend on board. There has never been more variety in the way of vegetarian options in many of the city’s best restaurants. Sure, many will steadfastly stick to grilled vegetables and salads, but just as many are adding a bit heterogeneity to their menus.
It probably isn’t best to use the word ‘invasion’, as some nationalist elements in society might jump on it. Even so, Belgrade has always been a truly international city. It was the border between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires for centuries, before becoming the capital of an important state in between the US and the USSR. Foreign food isn’t new here.
It might not be new, but in terms of sheer variety, these are great times to be eating in the White City. The old town has added Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants to the roster in recent years, and there has been a general increase in the number of Middle Eastern spots in the city. This has been a great boon for vegetarians, as each new cuisine brings a whole new range of meat-free dishes to be devoured.
Certain portions of Serbian society might be somewhat resistant to change, but that accusation can’t be levied at Belgrade’s finest chefs. We once visited a restaurant that served sausages and nothing else, only to find that we had a vegetarian in our group. We informed the chef, whose eyes lit up as he immediately ran out to the market. Ingredients were purchased and an excellent meal was put together. In short, the chef saw it as a challenge as opposed to a problem.
The best chefs love a chance to flex their gastronomic muscles, and an increase in the number of vegetarians has led to exactly that. New dishes are being created out of what resembles thin air, thanks to the imagination of the chefs and the fabulous ingredients of the local markets.
Is Serbia an easy place for a vegetarian to visit? Of course not, as the national cuisine still lends itself to carnivores and a fine array of grilled meats. Is Serbia an exciting place for a vegetarian to visit? Absolutely. You’ll be shocked at the range of options available, although that shock should be lessened by the 600-plus words that have just caused your taste buds to stir.