This exciting country boasts enchanting and evocative landscapes, green mountains, relaxing spa towns, and cultural itineraries that inspire and invigorate the mind, as well as cuisine in all its guises, from street food to Michelin-recommended restaurants for families, couples and indefatigable globetrotters alike.
Serbia is a country that’s just waiting to be discovered – the perfect destination for anyone looking for unusual touring itineraries that will refresh both body and spirit. One of the most interesting places to visit for food-lovers is the city of Belgrade, which has been the focus of incredible creative energy over the past few years. This is definitely a “digital” and extremely well-connected city, but it also boasts a history going back centuries which can be experienced in the many art galleries and museums that bear witness to its long and fascinating traditions. And when it comes to food, chefs in Belgrade do not just limit themselves to sourcing local ingredients – they also have a firm eye on the future, as they re-write the script for new Serbian cuisine.
One of the city’s most interesting restaurants is Iva New Balkan Cuisine, a welcoming and bustling restaurant in the heart of Belgrade, and an excellent choice for anyone in search of “new wave” Balkan cuisine offering excellent value for money. This multi-functional space is open from morning to night, and is overseen by owner-chef Vanja Puškar, who has spent years carefully selecting local ingredients and listening to the interesting stories of the people behind each product. As a result, he takes great delight in offering guests countless opportunities to taste local produce and learn more about the region’s small producers.
“We are a young and highly motivated team”, explains Puškar “and what unites us is our determination to showcase small producers and their specialities, which are the result of hard work and incredible passion. Local cheeses, aromatic herbs, meat and wine are all precious natural resources, and all their different varieties need to be protected. Our ambition is to create a sustainable model in which producers feel as though they are an integral part of our team; with this in mind, we want to create a virtuous circle between the land and our food. I am constantly on the move looking for new producers. For example, a few years ago I discovered that a small goat farm in Ranilović, a village about an hour from Belgrade, had been bought by a young married couple who had decided to leave the city to live in the countryside. They fell in love with this life, and, after much trial and error, they have created an incredible array of cheeses through highly distinctive maturing and ageing processes, and have succeeded in introducing cheese production techniques from other countries, such as France, to our local milk. Today at Iva we have several dishes inspired by their cheese, such as our Baked cheese with raspberries and truffles, in which each ingredient is sourced from a small Serbian producer: the brie (a young creamy cheese with a white mould) from Ranilović farm; the raspberries from western Serbia, where most of the country’s raspberries are grown; and the fine truffles from central Serbia”.
“We have a strong and unbroken connection with our environment and its community.”, Puškar continues. “New Balkan Cuisine is the name that we have given to this new approach, which combines the use of local ingredients alongside modern cooking techniques in order to create a new style of Balkan cuisine. At first, we felt it was quite difficult to define exactly what constitutes Serbian cuisine. So, in order to create our “New Balkan cuisine” we studied the region’s traditional recipes and cultural influences which we then adapted using zero-kilometre ingredients and adding a touch of imagination. This has resulted in dishes full of striking, authentic flavours which not only appeal to the tastebuds but also tell a story.”
This is particularly evident in dishes such as Beef tongue with goats’ milk, lettuce, olive oil, lemon sauce and walnut salad; the Crispy fried beef shank with polenta, cheese, baby lettuce and a mustard and garlic sauce; and Oxtail with veal brain gnocchi, glazed onions and seared carrots. The meat comes from animals which have been raised with respect, treated with dignity and lovingly cared for throughout their lives.
One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is Baked sweetbreads with mlinci, a type of local pasta made by hand. “This is one of the dishes that I most enjoy cooking – I love seeing how the sweetbreads change shape and consistency as they cook, and how such a rustic ingredient can become so refined and elegant. Although sweetbreads are considered to be a “humble” ingredient, if they are prepared properly, they can be truly delicious. I really like the idea that we can change public perception of an ingredient through cooking, thereby overcoming negative connotations and prejudices. One of the fundamental and ethical aspects of a chef’s work is to rediscover ingredients that would otherwise be forgotten and overlooked.”
Iva also offers an excellent choice of vegetarian options, including dishes such as Crispy lentil hamburger, roast chilli peppers, fresh kajmak (a type of soft cheese), lettuce, mustard sauce and toasted bread; Baked cheese with raspberries and truffles served with herbed crostini; and Cornflour cream with kajmak, grilled Miroč cheese, tomato sauce and aromatic herbs.
Guests with a sweet tooth will also be in their element thanks to tempting desserts such as Plum gnocchi with prunes, vanilla cream and ice cream; and the Goat’s cheese tart with honey, thyme, figs, walnuts, ice cream and vanilla cream.
Behind each of chef Vanja Puškar’s culinary creations is a story of people, passion and a love for Serbia. “Each of our dishes takes guests on an incredible journey through our country”, concludes the chef. “There’s so much to discover, and we are here, standing shoulder to shoulder with our local producers in order to breathe new life into our historic roots.”