Review: Mala Gostionica, Belgrade Serbia

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!

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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!

Starter 'Mala gostionica' with dry beef & pork ham, veal sausage, homemade cracklings, 'kajmak', 'ajvar', cheese in olive oil, paprika in sour cream, Serbian corn bread, 590 Serbian Dinar
Starter ‘Mala gostionica’ with dry beef & pork ham, veal sausage, homemade cracklings, ‘kajmak’, ‘ajvar’, cheese in olive oil, paprika in sour cream, Serbian corn bread, 590 Serbian Dinar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Mixed Vegetables (mushrooms, zucchini paprika, onion, pickled cucumber), 120 Serbian Dinar
Mixed Vegetables (mushrooms, zucchini paprika, onion, pickled cucumber), 120 Serbian Dinar

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.

Vitamin Salad, 150 Serbian Dinar
Vitamin Salad, 150 Serbian Dinar

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!

Meatballs in tomato sauce, 390 Serbian Dinar (Thursday meal special)
Meatballs in tomato sauce, 390 Serbian Dinar (Thursday meal special)

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.

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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.

Two Fast Meals in Nis, Serbia

As I mentioned in my last entry, fast food and casual eateries seems to be the way to go in Serbia and its neighbouring countries. Note that I’m not talking about McDonalds (though a good burger joint is always popular) – I’m referring to bakeries (known as pekaras), pizza joints, sandwich bars, and the such. We had two such ‘quick’ fast food meals while in Nis – the first at a chain called Cezar where the tagline is “different fast food”.

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Bakina pica parce, 150 Serbian Dinar

Takeaway pizza slices seem to be popular with the local teens, but we opted to eat in at one of their few tables. First up was a slice of the bacon pizza, served with a drizzle of chilli sauce on top. Interestingly when you order a slice of pizza at Cezar’s, the staff will ask you if you want ketchup, mayonnaise or chilli sauce drizzled on top. It’s not served as-is the way we have it in Australia. In any case, the chilli sauce gave the pizza a nice kick of flavour, though it hardly needed it with the super tasty and savoury bacon on top.

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Cappricosa parce, 135 Serbian Dinar

We also ordered a slice of the capricciosa pizza (spelt as ‘cappricosa’ in Serbia), though it’s better described as a ham and mushroom pizza as it seemed to lack the artichokes that characterise a good capricciosa. We went sauce-less on the top of this pizza, though this is the one that probably would have benefited from that extra kick of chilli sauce as it was a bit plainer than the bacon pizza. Still, the pizza base itself was cooked well with the type of charcoaling crusting on the base that gives pizza that extra bit of flavour.

On a separate note, I love how they serve pizza with a pizza wheel instead of a knife – it makes so much sense! I told K that on our return to Australia, I intend on opening up a pizza restaurant that offers pizza wheels with every meal. Naturally, this restaurant will be called ‘Wheely Good Pizza’.

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Cezar Salata, 280 Serbian Dinar

Pizza alone isn’t the healthiest meal, so we decided to order a salad as well. The only salad available was the Cezar Salata, a play on the traditional caesar salad. The server asked us if we wanted cheese and sour cream on the salad, and we thought….why not, a bit can’t hurt? This is why not. There’s no such thing as a moderate amount of cheese and cream here – it’s all or nothing! We ended up scraping off most of the cream and cheese off the salad to save our lactose-intolerant stomachs. Unfortunately the salad itself was quite bland and boring, without the fresh crispy romaine lettuce that really characterises a good caesar salad.

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Pomfrit veci, 110 Serbian Dinar

We finished off our meal with a serve of the Pomfrit, or french fries. Not much to say here – they were nice and crispy, and the ketchup on top was a nice touch for me, but less so for K who prefers plain fries.

All in all, Cezar’s is really the type of fast food joint where you stop in for a generous slice of above-average pizza, rather than linger over a longer meal. Try some of the chilli sauce on your pizza slice!

Cezar is located at 47a Nikole Pasica in Nis, Serbia.

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Our next stop for a ‘fast food lunch’ was at one of the many pekaras in Nis city centre, where every local will drop in for a pastry or some burek. We opted for one of the larger pekaras with seating available – Pekara Brankovic – rather than a small takeaway pekara. They have 18 branches scattered around the greater Nis area, but we went to one of the more central locations a mere minute’s walk from Nis Fortress.

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Between the two of us we ordered a spinach and cheese pie (100 dinars), a French pastry with ham and cheese (80 dinars) and a palacinke with Eurocrem (65 dinars). Don’t even bother with ordering palacinke (pancake) from Pekara Brankovic – our was extremely underdone and disappointing. Palacinke is really something you need to order fresh from a small stall on the street, not something you get from a bakery. The pie was a much better choice with a good amount of spinach and salty cheese inside, and as an added bonus it wasn’t as oily as burek normally is.

For a full list of Pekara Brankovic locations in Nis, visit their website.

We tried the two different types of fast food that Nis is most famous for from two different eateries. Pizza slices are definitely my pick over the usual bakery/pekara fare – I think it’s a lot easier to find a tasty pizza slice, than it is to find a good pastry. Unfortunately healthier fast food options are less readily found in this area, and I did find myself craving a green juice and a coconut chia seed pudding to cleanse my palate after the heavier and oilier meals in Nis!

Review: Night and Day, Nis Serbia

Many of the articles and advice I had read online suggested that the small-ish spa town of Nis in Serbia was a food destination in the country, with particular reference to their excellent pizzas and Italian restaurants. Fast-food pizza joints are common where you can buy pizza by the slice, but we opted to try a more formal sit-down Italian restaurant around the corner from our B&B, called Night and Day.

When you enter, make sure you ask to be seated in the back room which is a no-smoking zone! It means you can sit away from the groups of people chain-smoking in the restaurant as they drink their cocktails and share a pizza. As an added benefit, the TVs in the non-smoking room are constantly tuned to the Serbian TV network 24 Kitchen which runs international cooking shows day-round. It’s quite an addictive network, even when you can’t understand what the presenters are saying and can’t read the subtitles either!

Thai Salad with Beef Sirloin Steak, 480 Serbian Dinar
Thai Salad with Beef Sirloin Steak, 480 Serbian Dinar

We ordered a Thai Salad with Beef Sirloin Steak to share – I missed my healthy fresh Thai-style salads! Unfortunately this one didn’t quite live up to expectations, with the ‘Thai’ element present only in the slight use of chilli in the creamy mayonnaise dressing and a scant scattering of peanuts on top. The beef had been sliced then over-grilled, resulting in tough leathery pieces of meat, rather than the tender pieces of beef that should top a Thai-style salad. The main benefit of this salad was how ample it was – more than sufficient as a meal for one person, and a good serving to share between two people. Mea culpa – next time, we’ll know to order something simpler like a caprese salad!

Soup of the Day with toasted gouda sandwich, 220 Serbian Dinar
Soup of the Day with toasted gouda sandwich, 220 Serbian Dinar

We also ordered the Soup of the Day – a creamy mushroom soup served with toasted cheese sandwich triangles on the side. I liked the mushroom soup – despite its name, it actually wasn’t as creamy as I thought it would be, and I think the texture comes more from an abundant use of blended mushrooms than it does actual cream. Unfortunately the gouda in the cheese sandwich wasn’t melted the way it should be in a good cheese toastie – a definite no-no in my book as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the cheese toastie.

Prosciutto crudo e Night and Day, 650 Serbian Dinar
Prosciutto crudo e Night and Day, 650 Serbian Dinar

We finished off with a pizza – a Prosciutto crudo e Night and Day. Honestly we probably didn’t need to order this pizza as the first two dishes had already filled us up sufficiently. However given the reputation for fine pizza in Nis, we buckled down and bravely ate a few slices each. The prosciutto was quite salty and with the number of olives on the pizza, it proved to be a bit too strong for me – I ended up picking the olives off my slices. I liked the slightly doughier pizza base, but unfortunately it wasn’t cooked as well as it could have been on the base, with no sign of charcoal crusting at all. I found this pizza a bit hit and miss to be honest.

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All in all, our meal at Night and Day didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the numerous articles I’d read extolling the virtues of Italian food in Nis. Perhaps we should have moved away from the more formal sit-down restaurant and tried Night and Day’s more casual takeaway pizzeria just down the street? Casual takeaway dining definitely seems to be more of a trend in Nis – I’ll talk more about that in my next blog entry!

Night and Day is located on the first floor of 31 Obrenoviceva in Nis, Serbia.