One of the absolute highlights of our time in Belgrade was the extremely cheap tickets to some world-class performances at the National Theatre of Belgrade. While I know the city is primarily known as being a cheap party city for many Europeans, for me it was all about the ballet and the opera while we were there.
How could you turn down two tickets to the ballet or the opera for only $7.50 AUD? It’s an absolutely preposterous price, especially considering that similar tickets in Australia will easily set you back $150 for two of the cheapest tickets or up to $400 for better seats. I’m only disappointed that we only managed to see the ballet Coppelia and the opera La Traviata – I would have liked to see more performances during the five nights we had in Belgrade, but the other performances didn’t suit us. We aren’t the right audience for plays performed in the Serbian language!
A good pre-theatre meal is always important so we visited Mala Gostionica, or the ‘Little Tavern’, around the corner from the National Theatre before we attended the ballet. It’s relatively quiet when we arrived at 6pm (7.30pm show), and we grabbed a table in the small non-smoking section of the restaurant. Unfortunately this section isn’t actually divided with any physical partitions from the smoking section, so there’s still a noticeable haze of cigarette smoke surrounding us. Ah well, such is life in Serbia!
Rather than order two heavier main meals, we decided to start by sharing a larger entree and ordering only a single main meal with a few sides. The entree we ordered was the Starter Mala Gostionica, essentially the house entree showcasing a few of their delicious house-made cured meats and cheeses.
My favourite amongst the cheeses was the simple cheese in olive oil – it’s a heavier, creamier crumbly cheese like feta but without the cloying mouth-feel that a bad feta can leave on the palate. I also liked the peppers stuffed with sour cream, as they had a surprising amount of spice and heat to them which was cooled on my tastebuds by the cream.
The ‘homemade cracklings’ was not unlike Chinese-style pork floss, though much less dry meaning a more intense and denser flavour. You can count me as a fan of this crackling – eaten in conjunction with the cheese, it was quite a savoury flavour explosion! I found the beef ham a bit strong for my liking (though K really enjoyed it), but the veal sausage was much more palatable.
The cheeses and cured meats were served with some Serbian corn bread on the side, not dissimilar to American-style corn bread though this had small clumps of cheese baked through. They were a bit on the dry side, but went well with the small pot of ajvar served on the platter – you can’t go wrong with a garlicky capsicum spread!
The Mixed Vegetables was the first of the sides that we ordered. Honestly, I thought there would be more of this when I ordered it – there’s barely enough to split between two people and we would normally eat three times the amount of vegetables if we were eating at home. Still, what was there was quite tasty albeit a little bit limp from being over-stewed.
We also ordered a salad to share – a strangely named Vitamin Salad. Made up of shredded lettuce, carrot and tomato with a few slices of cucumber thrown in for good measure, it’s quite a simple salad with nothing particularly noteworthy about it – other than the fact that it was actually a healthy serve of vegetables for a reasonable price!
The main we shared was the Meatballs in tomato sauce, the daily special. They do a different special every weekday, including options such as beans, sauerkraut, sausages and dolmas. The meatballs were served with a healthy amount of potato mash that was actually quite soft – not the type of solid mash you can eat with a fork! I particularly loved the rich tomato sauce that the meatballs were served in – just the right amount of tomato tang to go with the mash.
As it’s quite centrally located, you might be fooled into thinking that Mala Gostionica is a tourist trap. However, it really benefits from its location on a quieter side street, and you will find yourself in the restaurant with locals dining there for the weekday special rather than other tourists. Meals are hearty and filling, and the selection of entrees is to be particularly recommended. An excellent stop for a pre-theatre meal if you’re lucky enough to catch a ballet or opera performance on your visit to Belgrade.
Mala Gostionica is located at 6 Dobracina in Belgrade, Serbia.