There is not one traditional Bosnian food – like the rest of the country, its cuisine is also a mix of different influences and cultures. You will find Ottoman influences, Middle-eEastern touches, and Austrian and Hungarian traces on tables all over Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, some traditional Bosnian dishes might look or sound strangely familiar, such as baklava.
But Bosnian cuisine has developed over the years and dishes adapted from other countries are interpreted and prepared differently.
Even though Bosnian cuisine is quite heavy and relies on meat dishes a lot, vegetarians will not starve. The country offers many delicious veggie options, and fresh and seasonal produce makes these dishes extraordinarily delicious.
In this guide, I'll dive into the basics of Bosnian cuisine but also go a bit deeper and present Bosnian food you might have yet to hear of. I recommend you eat your way through the country beyond Bosnia's national dish, Ćevapčići.
After years of living in Sarajevo, I can say with confidence: there are so many delicious meals and treats to discover that will make your taste buds happy.
The #1 of Bosnian Cuisine: Ćevapčići
Undoubtedly, Ćevapčići is the national dish of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are so popular that each region and each city has its own recipe. Ćevapčići is basically little, grilled sausages from minced beef or other minced meat.
In Sarajevo, they are traditionally served with a kind of sour cream (kajmak), raw onions, and somun bread – a flatbread specific to this city. When you order, ensure you get the entire thing plus a yogurt as it goes perfectly with the salty meat.
Pita: A Traditional Bosnian Dish
Pita is probably my favorite Bosnian dish – especially filled with feta cheese and spinach. Just a heads up: this traditional Bosnian food is not the same as the pita bread you might know.
In Bosnian, Pita means "pie" and is a flaky pastry (yufka) with various fillings.
Depending on the filling, the names differ. Burek is filled with minced meat, Sirnica is cottage cheese pita, Zeljanica is filled with cheese and spinach, and Krompiruša with potatoes. In the fall, you'll also find Tikvenjača, pumpkin pita.
The best place to buy your pita is a Buregdžinica – a traditional restaurant serving only pitas. Even though the name might imply they only sell Burek, you can get all other kinds too.
Cooked Bosnian Food: Dolmas
Dolmas, stuffed vegetables, is one of those traditional dishes that probably came to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Ottomans. You find stuffed vegetables with different fillings throughout the Balkans, the Middle East, and Turkey.
Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they are real comfort food, slowly simmered, hearty and juicy. The places to enjoy them are called Ašcinica and are kind of canteens with ready-made dishes made fresh each morning and sold until they run out.
You can find a lot of different stuffed vegetables in an Ašcinica; the following three, however, are the most popular ones.
The most popular among all dolmas are definitely stuffed peppers. The green bell peppers are filled with ground beef and rice and simmered in the oven or a slow cooker until soft and juicy. They usually come with sour cream and mashed potatoes on the side.
Sogan dolma is stuffed onions with minced meat and rice filling. They are much harder to make than stuffed bell peppers; therefore, Bosnians say you only make them for people you love. As the onions get cooked in tomato sauce for a long time, they absorb the natural juices of the meat and are tender and almost sweet when done.
My absolute favorite Dolma is sarma. This traditional Bosnian food has two versions: One is made of stuffed grape leaves and gets served in summer and the other is made from pickled cabbage leaves filled with minced meat and rice. Many families eat the cabbage version for Christmas. Together with mashed potatoes, it's the perfect winter soul food, and I love it.
Yummy Bosnian Stews & Soups
Soups are a big part of Bosnian cuisine also. It might sound like it could be more exciting, but trust me, you want to make sure you get those filling plates on your table, especially in winter!
A very traditional Bosnian dish is Begova Čorba, the Bey's soup. It came to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Ottoman Empire and commonly served as a starter. Bey's soup is made from chicken, vegetables, sour cream, and the main ingredient, okra.
In addition, you might like vegetable dishes such as Grah (bean soup) or Pea stew with freshly cut bread if you don't eat meat. Sataraš is another vegetable stew made from bell pepper, tomato, and onion, typical for Southern Europe.
If you are not a fan of soups, you might like Bosanski lonac (Bosnian pot). It is one of the many traditional dishes for which every family has their own recipe. The main ingredients are meat and different vegetables that get layered in a clay pot and are then cooked slowly until tender.
I also cannot leave out Klepe – Bosnian-style ravioli when discussing cooked dishes. They are served in paprika sauce, with a dollop of sour cream and lots of garlic, and are absolutely delicious. My mouth is watering just thinking about them!
Bosnians & Their Love for Grilled Meats
Bosnians love their barbecue! They use a unique tool to make their dishes extra juicy and tender: The sač. A sač (or peka in the Hercegovina region) is a large metal lid shaped like a bell under which different dishes are prepared. Hot coals are placed on the bell and ensure that dishes prepared in the sač are cooked at an even temperature and retain their juiciness and flavor. You will find this cooking method in many Balkan countries and in Turkey. As you can see again, Bosnian foods are heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine.
Another grilled specialty is roasted lamb.
The whole animal is roasted on a spit, and you order meat by kilogram. It then gets served with grilled vegetables, potatoes, and bread. Bosnians, however, like grilling all kinds of meat, and you can order grilled chicken or beefsteak at almost every restaurant. Be aware that Bosnians are no fans of medium rare, so even beef steaks are almost always cooked through!
Bosnians are not crazy creative with side dishes, so you will mostly get bread, rice, or potatoes with your grilled meats. However, make sure to also order a Šopska salad on the side – the Bosnian version of a Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumber, and feta-style cheese.
Typical Bosnian Starter: Mezze
Another culinary tradition with Turkish origins is mezze, different small starters on a big plate for the table to share. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will often get Uštipci, fried dough balls, smoked meat, cheeses, and in the South also, olives, almonds, and fruit. I love the tradition of sharing a plate with friends and snacking away with a glass or two of delicious Bosnian wine!
While the Muslim regions of the countries serve mainly Sudzuk (beef sausage) or Suho Meso (smoked beef), Bosnians in other areas consume pork, so you might be served prosciutto.
Sugary & Decadent: Bosnian Sweets
I don't know many other nations with such a sweet tooth! Sweets are a big thing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and every city has countless pâtisseries (called Slastičarna in Bosnian).
Bosnians love something sweet with their coffee. You will soon come to realize that Bosnian desserts are heavily influenced once again by the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian rule and are very, very sweet.
A traditional dessert you will find everywhere in the country is – you might have guessed it – Baklava! The difference to the Turkish version, however, is the nuts: Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they mostly use walnuts, which makes the baklava a little less sweet. Another Bosnian treat you'll find in Turkey, too, is hurmašice, a syrup-drenched pastry.
We covered the Turkish influence, but what about the Austrians? If you have ever been to Vienna, you might know that pancakes (Palatschinken in Austrian-German) are an Austrian staple dessert. And they are so in Bosnia and Herzegovina also. You will find Palačinkaras in every city – restaurants solely dedicated to pancakes and all shapes and forms and varieties: with nuts, with chocolate, with fruit, or all of it together.
Let's end with a Bosnian dessert I have yet to see anywhere else: Tufahija. This is an apple cooked in sugar water, filled with chopped walnuts, and topped with whipped cream. It's delicious and not as sweet compared to the other desserts.
Traditional Bosnian Coffee
First things first: Bosnian coffee is not Turkish coffee!
Even though traditional Bosnian coffee is prepared almost similarly to Turkish coffee, there are differences in the roast of the coffee beans and the actual preparation method. While Turkish coffee is boiled with sugar, Bosnian coffee is served with sugar cubes and Turkish delight. The sugar cube is then dipped into the coffee to make it sweeter in your mouth.
Bosnian coffee is the backbone of society and is drank any time of the day – you will even see crowded cafés and people sipping away on little espresso in the late evening.
Traditional Bosnian Drinks
Except for coffee, other traditional Bosnian drinks cannot go unmentioned. I am talking about the rakijas, of course! Those fruit brandies come with around 40% alcohol; believe me, they might finish off even an experienced drinker. That is also why rakija is never downed as a shot. Instead, it is sipped with a glass of water on the side.
You get a lot of different rakijas, the most popular one being Šljivovica, plum spirit. Other popular flavors are Kajsija (apricot), Dunja (quince), Kruška (pear) and Višnija, made from fermenting sour cherries.
It might surprise you that Bosnia and Herzegovina has some excellent wine. It's so good, in fact, that during the Austro-Hungarian rule, the emperor had his own vineyards that exclusively produced wine for the Austrian court. And those vineyards are still producing wine today.
You'll find some international grape varieties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the exciting part is two autochthonous varieties that only grow in the Mediterranean Herzegovina region, easily one of the best places to visit in Bosnia.
The white Žilavka grape is fresh and aromatic and makes for a perfect summer wine. And the red Blatina grape produces a ruby red, fruity, and velvety red wine that makes you want more. In fact, I didn't even like red wine before trying Blatina – but this wine changed the game for me.
There are countless little boutique wineries scattered throughout Herzegovina, and they are sometimes very well hidden. Undoubtably, Herzgovina wines and mezze are best enjoyed with a guided wine tour showing you the very best of the region.
Eat Up on a Budget
Let me end with another pleasant surprise: You can try everything on the list and it won't break the bank. Moreover, those traditional Bosnian dishes are affordable since they are everyday staples in many people's lives.
No need to look out for fancy restaurants either. The best food can be found in the small, inconspicuous places where you can see old men quietly spooning their soups.
Just bring along a big hunger and be curious to try something new when visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina. Prijatno – enjoy!