Macedonian Food and North Macedonian Cooking

Macedonian cuisine

Macedonia is an ancient country, with history dating well before the kingdom of Alexander the Great. With Serbia and Kosovo to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south and Albania to the west, it’s a great place to explore. Although a small country, Macedonians have a lot of spirit. Their food remains rustic and unassuming. With fresh salads and soups in spring and summer, and stews and braises in autumn and winter, the diversity is endless.

Baked goods such as breads and cakes are beloved, as well as street food like pastrmajlija – Macedonian pizza, a popular late meal after a night of dancing.

Fruit, veg and herbs are bountiful and robust. Macedonia is known for grapes, which make award-winning wines that are beginning to receive global acclaim. Macedonia’s wine history can be traced to around 1300 BC, about 700 years before grapevines were first cultivated in France. Rakija is another fruit spirit, typically made with white grapes and anise.

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Peppers are a popular ingredient, with many varieties – most notably, the heirloom Rezha Macedonian pepper. These are incorporated into many recipes, and often roasted with oil, garlic and salt as a side. Ajvar, a dip made with roasted peppers, is another speciality. Beans play a huge role in the cuisine and are highly regarded for their quality. Tavce gravce (savoury baked beans) is Macedonia’s national dish.

Pilinja pecheni (braised quail)

This Macedonian recipe sees quails pan-fried in butter, then simmered and roasted in a rich red wine and onion stock. If you can’t find quails, it is possible to substitute poussin or chicken thighs. Serve with a rice pilaf or roast potatoes.

A close up of a quail casserole with small white onions and green herbs

Susamliji (sesame cookies)

These celebration cookies are made by Macedonian families for special occasions. Finish this simple braided, butter-based biscuit with an egg glaze and a scattering of sesame seeds.

A baking tray topped with long swirled sesame cookies

Tarrator (chilled cucumber soup)

This cold, refreshing soup is popular in Macedonia during the hot summer months, often served with bread and a crisp salad. A finishing swirl of cream balances the tartness of the yogurt and lemon juice.

A close up of a bowl of white soup topped with a slice of green cucumber and sprig of dill

Find recipes for the above dishes in Macedonia – The Cookbook by Katerina Nitsou (£20, Kitchen Press).; photos by Oliver Fitzgerald

North Macedonian cuisine

North Macedonia is a part of the Balkan region, surrounded by Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia. Having been under Ottoman Empire occupation for over 500 years, its food is a melting pot of Turkish, Mediterranean and Slavic flavours. Seasonality governs how we eat and defines our food traditions – agriculture is huge and there are farmers’ markets around every corner, selling local cheeses, cold-pressed oils, produce and herbs.

There are a few key ingredients native to the country that you will find all year round, such as fresh, creamy brined white cheese, most commonly made from sheep’s milk, and bieno sirenje – which translates as ‘beaten cheese’ – a hard, dry, cow’s milk cheese, naturally fermented in the sun and absolutely delicious cooked on the grill. There’s also vezeni piperki, a type of pepper that looks as if it’s been embroidered, which are tied up on strings and hung out to dry – they have a deep, smoky flavour reminiscent of chipotle.

The very act of eating is relished by all: long, lazy meals in kafanas (our tavernas) or putting on an absolute show when you’re having guests over. Tables are abundant with pastries made from super-thin dough, breads dusted with sesame seeds, cheeses, bountiful salads, grilled meats, stews, pickles, preserved fruits and much more.

I named my book Doma (home), not only because I wanted to deep-dive into my other culture and open up the discussion on having two, but because our character as Balkan people is to host, to be hospitable, to feed and to love all that walk through our door.


From the Turkish word havyar and the Persian xaviyar, which are both used to describe caviar, the name ajvar (pronounced ayvaar) represents just how precious this red pepper and aubergine relish is to everyone from the former Yugoslavia. As with other traditional recipes, it’s so routinely made and eaten that we could all argue how it should be made until we’re blue in the face. Should you use aubergine? How long should you cook it for? How much oil goes in? I’ve gone for a time-saving recipe that requires a little less effort and smaller quantities but still evokes the same feelings of dipping fresh bread into the bottom of the pot and falling so in love with it you’ll make sure it’s always on the table.

Avjar on a plate


I won’t give you all the keys to my pastry castle but by using shop-bought filo pastry you can make a savoury pie that comes pretty close to Macedonian burek (pronounced boorek). You can swap the minced meat for pretty much any filling you like, just avoid anything that’s too wet or the pastry will become soggy. I use a 23cm round cake tin but you can use any size or shape, just bear in mind that the thinner the tin, the less cooking it will need.

Burek on red and white checkerboard paper

Zelena salata

I so appreciate this green salad (pronounced zelehna). I particularly love it with lasagne and chips, lamb chops and butter sauce, or on the side of a huge leek-heavy straight-off-the-grill Macedonian sausage. If it’s on the menu and it looks like the restaurant might give it the attention it deserves, I’m ordering it. So much more than just lettuce, a good green salad can be served throughout the year, confidently holding its own against any meal.

Butterhead lettuce salad with crunchy fried onions in a bowl

Recipes extracted from Doma by Spasia Pandora Dinkovski (£22, DK). Photographs: Caitlin Isola. Recipes are sent by the publisher and not retested by us.

Get a taste of Macedonia

Ajvar, £3.45/200g,

This sweet roasted red pepper paste is popular throughout the Balkans, and is often used as a condiment for grilled meats or served with bread and cheese.

Tikves Cuvee Methodius Vranec 2019, £9.99/75cl,

From one of Macedonia’s oldest vineyards, Tikves, this showcases the dominant grape of the region, Vranec. Full of black fruit, cocoa and plum flavours, with gentle tannins.

Macedonian giant beans, £5.17/500g,

Make the national dish of Macedonia, tavce gravce, with these quality dried giant beans.

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