Greek food is one of the best and most popular cuisines in the world. From Mediterranean trends to the fact that it's usually healthier than many others, there's a steadfast following behind its flavors. When visiting Greece, most people expect the usual, traditional Greek dishes such as spanakopita and baklava. While this isn't entirely incorrect, it's certainly not all that Greece has to offer.
Much further north from the country's hottest summer destinations in the region of Macedonia. This mountainous section of Greece is home to even more traditional foods with flavors that are very different from what one might find on the coast. Those who have had the pleasure of trying it, however, might even argue that it's even better than many seaside dishes...
How Does Macedonian Food Differ From The Rest Of Greece?
Macedonia's unique cuisine has been influenced not only by the region in which it was created but also by the various peoples who have lived there. These groups were responsible for bringing flavors from all over Eurasia where they blended into the melting pot of flavors that we know today as Macedonian food. Some of those influences were Turkish, Bulgarian, Sarakatsani, Vlach, Thracian, and Pontian. This means that any one dish could be inspired by Asia Minor or a destination as far as Russia. The latter is where many main ingredients, such as eggplant, red peppers, and leeks came from. Eastern influences were responsible for the variety of spices that are used throughout many Macedonia dishes, as well as pickled foods and kebabs.
In terms of various regions, Macedonia is a large enough place that each major city (and even small town) is known for its variations on certain dishes. Some might echo the frugality of early life in that area, while others are rich in flavor, reminiscent of wealth and the accessibility to higher-end ingredients. Overall, Macedonian cuisine is rich in both body and flavor, as its mountainous region dictates hearty, filling meals.
Macedonia's Most Well-Known Dishes
Whether one is staying at a quaint inn or a high-end hotel in Macedonia, they're sure to run into its cuisine at some point or another. While traditional 'Greek' food might be on the menu, there will also be dishes that are unique to the region. For those visiting one of Macedonia's many mountain towns, these dishes should be on the radar.
Maznik & Sweet Bougatsa
Starting off with something sweet, these two pastries are both must-tries when visiting North Macedonia. Sweet Bougatsa can be found throughout Macedonia as a whole and is essentially a sweet custard pie. Interestingly, it's also one of few Macedonia desserts that can be found throughout the country, as well. It's that popular!
Maznik can be found in the northern region and is characterized by its classic coiled shape. The light phyllo dough pastry is filled with either a sweet or savory filling. Savory fillings include mild white cheese, cheese curds, eggs, spinach, leeks, or minced meat, while sweet fillings include pumpkin or grated apples. In order to get that crispy top layer that phyllo is so well known for, it's brushed with oil prior to being baked off.
Pinđur, Lyutenitsa, & Ajvar
These three look fairly similar but are different in both flavors, ingredients, and origins. They're all condiments but the similarities end there. Pinđur has strong Balkin influences and resonates with flavors that are present in Albanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Bosnian foods. This dish has a base of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, to which garlic, salt, and pepper are added. It's commonly used as a spread or a dip, depending on which meal it's eaten during.
Lyutenitsa is used similarly as a spread or dip but is also reminiscent of a chutney. It has a base of tomatoes, red peppers, chili peppers, and onion, and is seasoned with salt, sugar, and oil. The result is a well-balanced addition to any meal, and it's found more commonly throughout Macedonia than pinđur.
Ajvar is the most common condiment in Macedonia, though, and can even be found throughout the Balkins and Eastern Europe. In Macedonia, specifically, this condiment is made with roasted red peppers, ajvarka peppers, eggplant, hot peppers, vinegar, and salt.
Pites (Savory Pies)
Macedonia is most famously known for savory pies, which can be found throughout the entire region. One of the most popular pies is called zelnik, which is traditional in North Macedonia. It's filled with simple but fresh ingredients such as spinach, cheese, meat, eggs, leeks, and sometimes cabbage. The entire pie is brushed with butter to finish, resulting in a brown and crispy top crust.
Pispilita Pie is an open-faced pie (meaning there's no top crust) from North Thessaly. The crust is uniquely different and is made with cornmeal rather than phyllo, resulting in an entirely different flavor and texture than most Macedonia pies. As for what it contains, this can change according to the season - each ingredient is seasonally based, but usually always consists of the freshest greens.