LifestyleMontenegro's high calorie comfort foods: A feast for meat lovers in the mountains

Montenegro's high calorie comfort foods: A feast for meat lovers in the mountains

Traditionally prepared cheeses are the foundation of Montenegrin cuisine.
Traditionally prepared cheeses are the foundation of Montenegrin cuisine.
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Gabi Moisa 2015
2:46 PM EST, January 22, 2024

If you have a hearty appetite, and fruits and vegetables don't typically dominate your meals, head to Montenegro, specifically, to the northern mountainous region. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the local cuisine.

Surprisingly, there are places in the world where counting calories is unheard of, where fat is treated like liquid gold (especially olive oil and butter), and the quality of a meal is measured by how hearty it is. Few are concerned with nutrition pyramids here, and most meals consist of cheese, meat, and flour drenched in fat. This makes perfect sense given this is the traditional cuisine of hardworking individuals, whose fields are high in the mountains. The ability to prepare high-energy meals is their guarantee of survival in these harsh conditions. Now, let's get down to specifics.

Donuts for starters

At the beginning of a traditional Montenegrin meal, you'll find priganice, or cheese-filled donuts. They're not too big, nor too sweet, nor very salty. They are served with honey or jam, and can also be enjoyed with olive oil.

Preparing your stomach for the dishes that follow would mean having a shot of rakija at the start of the meal. This strong, unique alcohol, according to locals, helps digest the food you're about to eat.

Pita in all flavors

After the donuts, it's time for pita. But this is not the dry flatbread we're accustomed to. The Montenegrin pita is much like a baked puff pastry, or phyllo dough, generously filled with cheese, spinach, or even pastes made from bear's garlic or nettles. The dough is moist and heavy, with a flavour that leaves a strong impression. The number of variations on Montenegrin pita is as vast as the number of restaurants and homes in the country.

Kačamak and cicvara

The dishes that most surprise outsiders from the Balkans are smočani kačamak and cicvara. Both have a consistency reminiscent of yellow-white porridge. A spoon inserted into cicvara or kačamak stands upright, making the dish intriguing to serve.

Priganice are Balkan donuts served with honey, olive oil, or jam.
Priganice are Balkan donuts served with honey, olive oil, or jam.© Adobe Stock | Olga Iljinich

Smočani kačamak is a dish made from boiled potatoes and wheat or corn flour. The flour is added to the hot potatoes, which are then mashed during cooking until they've reached a smooth consistency. The mixture is then transferred to a clay dish and generously topped with melted kajmak, which is a very salty traditional sheep's cheese, also known as crust.

A good kačamak is thick, creamy, and fatty.
A good kačamak is thick, creamy, and fatty.© Adobe Stock | ELIZAVETA GALITCKAIA

Cicvara, is a remarkably calorific dish, made from rich cheese, the previously mentioned kajmak, and corn flour. After heating the cheese for several minutes while stirring, corn flour is added once it has melted and is very hot. This yields a tight dumpling surrounded by fat melted from the cheese. Interestingly, cicvara reportedly tastes best with honey, but it can also be served with thick curd milk or jardum, which is a salty beverage made from frothed milk and boiling sheep's milk.

Meat. Lots of it

We are only on the second course of a Montenegrin feast. When you already feel full and are ready to leave the table, your hosts will undoubtedly present the main course, which will definitely consist of meat – likely several types of meat.

It's highly likely you'll be served roasted ribs with onions or kastradina, which is dried mutton, cooked in cabbage. Everything will be drenched in fat and accompanied by thick chunks of roasted potatoes and peppers in olive oil or zucchinis stuffed with feta-like cheese. As a side dish, you may also encounter prebranac, a baked beans dish with onions and occasionally bacon.

Wild cabbage

It's worth mentioning the cabbage – Montenegrins have a particular fondness for raštan, a dark-green, wild variety of this vegetable. It's commonly added to meats, and one of their flagship dishes is raštan on the shank.

Smoked haunch in the mountains

Undeniably, dining isn't the only delight of Montenegrin cuisine. Among the non-dinner specialties is pršut from Njeguši, a long-maturing ham from a pig's haunch, made in the village of Njeguši, located 2950 feet above sea level.

On the slopes of Lovćen Mountain, where the mountainous climate reigns and the mountain air mingles with sea air, the ham is dried and smoked. The unique and specific conditions here give the meat a distinctive, characteristic taste. Pršut from Njeguši, as a tradition is legally protected and can only be produced in this village.

Layered cheese

Other must-try delicacies for tourists visiting Montenegro include characteristic cheese treats, such as listana (or layered cheese) and cheese in olive oil, which are produced in the Kolašin and Mojkovac regions. The former is distinguished by its shape during production - in the form of thin layers, while the latter is a hard cheese cut into cubes, soaked in a mixture of sunflower oil, olive oil, and herbs, and left to mature for at least 60 days.

The ham from the haunch smoked high in the mountains has a unique and incomparable taste.
The ham from the haunch smoked high in the mountains has a unique and incomparable taste.© Adobe Stock | Narsil

The dishes of Montenegrin cuisine described here barely scratch the surface of what you will encounter at the welcoming tables of the northern part of this picturesque country. In addition to these, you would also find a wealth of local wines, a myriad of olive oil varieties, wonderful pomegranate juices, herbal teas with flavors you've likely never tasted, digestif liqueurs made from wormwood and other herbs, and various types of fish, both saltwater and freshwater. You simply have to taste it yourself on-site.

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