Montenegro cuisine surprised me. While it may not be known outside the country, some of the food in Montenegro was not only delicious but also very unique and fresh.
At the same time, some of the most popular Montenegrin dishes are similar to others found in the Balkans, Greece or even Turkey.
Like with the food in Albania, Montenegrin cuisines has benefitted from centuries of interaction with neighbouring countries and trade, to bring together some great dishes.
So what you will find in the menus in Montenegro are some familiar names and some exclusively local options.
- Montenegro cuisine
- Best food in Montenegro
- Smoked prosciutto
- Njeguski Steak
- Calamari or squid
- Octopus salad
- Grilled fish and seafood
- Ispod Saca – Lamb cooked in an iron pan
- Cevapi – Kebabs
- Pljeskavica – Burger and sausages
- Collard and boiled potatoes
- Cheese and cold cuts platters
- Black seafood Risotto
- Lamb in Milk
- Shopska salad
- Grilled fish from Lake Skadar
- Best desserts from Montenegro
- Best drinks from Montenegro
Montenegro is not a very large country but you can still find differences in the foods eaten around the coastal area, on the Adriatic coast, versus what will fill your plate in the mountains which cover 70% of the country.
Fish and seafood is abundant by the coast where you can find the freshest fish caught daily by the many fishermen. Sit at one of the restaurants right by the beach and enjoy simply cooked, grilled seafood with generous amounts of olive oil, parsley and garlic, just like we eat it in Spain.
In the mountains, meat is the name of the game and, despite the coast never being too far, you will most likely be served pork, lamb or beef.
The animals roam freely in the mountains and the dishes are often cooked for several hours under a metal round cover that is topped with hot coals. The resulting meat is tender, fall-off-the-bone and absolutely delicious.
Both by the sea and in the mountains, Montenegrin meals always include smoked prosciutto ham, from Njeguski, and lots of cheese in several forms. I had both at every single meal and they were good every single time.
Once you’re done reading this article, you can book a food and wine tour of Kotor here where you will get to learn about the UNESCO Sites in a 1-hour walking of Old Town and then taste smoked ham and cheese with a glass of local wine. This tour of Kotor is a bit longer at around 6 hours and passes Cetinje, the old royal capital of Montenegro, and a stop at the 134-year-old restaurant Kod Pera na Bukovicu.
Best food in Montenegro
The best food in Montenegro is simply cooked, made with seasonal ingredients and lots of olive oil.
I am listing below some of the best and most common foods you will find on the menus across the country.
You will find others not listed, but this is a pretty exhaustive list which I compiled through my trip, noting down what was local and common from restaurant to restaurant.
The star of the Montenegrin menu is always smoked prosciutto ham from Njeguski, a mountain village about half an hour from Kotor via a snaking road.
The Montenegrin version of prosciutto ham is smoked in the mountains of Njeguski because it is said that the air and the location of the village and the places where ham is aired and smoked produce a special flavor that is uniquely delicious.
Njeguski ham is eaten sliced, usually served with some herbs and best accompanied with a selection of cheeses and some olives. Because bread is always served on the table of every Montenegrin restaurant, you can pair the ham with bread, fantastic olive oil and the slices of ham.
As the ham has been smoked it is quite different from the Spanish cold cuts, ham and meats, and also sliced thicker.
Burek is a very common pastry in Montenegro, the rest of the Balkans and Turkey. It is a layered phyllo pastry usually filled with cheese but also with spinach and minced meat.
Burek is typically eaten for breakfast, though it makes for a fabulous anytime snack too, especially late at night, like in the image above where we stopped by a street stall to buy a long piece before heading back to the hotel.
You can find burek in restaurant menus but you will most likely buy this Montenegrin food at a bakery where several other pastries can also be found.
Ajvar was one of my most favorite foods in Montenegro. It is a red pepper and tomato paste that is made into a spreadable form and served as an appetiser or snack, often together with some olives, slices of toast, bread sticks or bread of any other kind.
This is a dish that reminded me of the French cordon bleu. It is a pork steak that is filled with kaymak cheese and smoked ham and often breaded and fried. So just imagine how indulgent and filling this dish is.
The dish was invented in 1956 by the famous Yugoslavian former president’s private chef Milovan Mića Stojanović and named Karađorđeva steak. Today is is one of Serbia’s most popular dishes and also Montenegro’s.
The steak is usually served with fries, vegetables or potatoes.
Buzara was a dish that I looked out for in almost all menus on the coast, in particular the white buzara.
The dish is made with seafoods, usually prawns but also squid or any other, that is cooked in a sauce. The white buzara version is cooked with white wine while the red uses red wine and tomato.
They are both great but the white buzara is particularly delicious with a light sauce that has not only wine and olive oil but also onion and fennel. It is so good that I practically drank the sauce left on the plate after eating the prawns.
Calamari or squid
Calamari is one of the most common foods in Montenegro and you will find it on every menu in several forms, especially by the coast.
They are most commonly grilled or fried, but can be both a starter or a main, served hot or cold in a salad. No matter how they are, they are always delicious, tender and flavorful.
Like with calamari and squid, octopus is a very popular seafood in Montenegrin cuisine.
You will also find it varying forms, sometimes grilled (even whole like in my picture below!), other times fried with copious amounts of olive oil, parsley and garlic, even in ceviche, thinly sliced and on its own.
Octopus salad, served with tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, is a delicious starter that you can find in pretty much any menu in Montenegro.
You will find the octopus to always be tender, and probably caught that morning, this is what makes food in Montenegro so great: how fresh it is.
Grilled fish and seafood
So now you know that grilled seafood is a very popular and delicious food in Montenegro but it is not limited to calamari, squid or octopus, you can find all sorts of other seafood, most notably prawns, lobster, crayfish, tuna, shrimps, etc.
You can never go wrong with grilled seafood in Montenegro. We ordered one seafood type or another at every meal we had in Montenegro and it always turned out great. So fresh you can still smell the sea.
Ispod Saca – Lamb cooked in an iron pan
This is a dish more commonly found in the mountains of Montenegro and much less common by the sea.
This is a heavy meat-based dish cooked in an iron pan topped with a hollowed out cover called sac and hot coals.
The meat is cooked slowly until it is so tender it falls off the bone, literally. It is so delicious I salivate just thinking of it now. You definitely cannot miss this Montenegrin dish.
Ispod saca can be made with several types of meat but is most commonly made with lamb, the most deliciously baked potatoes that glisten in the fat of the meat, onions and maybe some tomatoes.
This is a dish that is less commonly found along the coast but which will magically appear on menus the moment you escape to the mountains. Make sure to order some bread to dip it into the gravy, totally finger-licking good.
Cevapi – Kebabs
Like in other countries in the Balkans, Middle East, North Africa and even Asia, kebabs are a popular food, usually pretty affordably sold in Montenegro.
Kebabs can be made with different types of meat, from chicken to pork, lamb or beef, which is chopped and skewered in between slices of onion, peppers and other vegetables.
Pljeskavica – Burger and sausages
Grilled meats are a Montenegrin specialty you are likely to find across the country. While this may come in the shape of a kebab (like above) or in sausage or chop form, one of the most common ways to eat grilled meat in Montenegro is minced and in burger shape.
This can sometimes be served on its own or with half a pita, and not very commonly in a bun like we are used to seeing in the West.
Collard and boiled potatoes
Not necessarily a dish per se, but boiled collard, which is a type of chard, and potatoes have to be the most common side dish in every meal. You will see them next to any meat dish you order and, contrary to what you may think, they are pretty delicious, so give them a try.
Cheese and cold cuts platters
Did anybody say cheese? Montenegrins love theirs and it comes in many different shapes and forms. More cured or younger, sheep or cow, dry or aged in olive oil.
Cheese in Montenegro is mostly eaten as a starter rather than as a dessert and served with bread, olives, dried fruits, nuts and grapes or figs. It can also be ordered with smoked ham.
Every restaurant will have its own range of cheese available from the several villages in Montenegro.
One of the most commonly found ones is poludimljeni cheese, olive oil aged cheese which is a drier version and is aged in pots filled with olive oil.
Another very popular Montenegrin cheese is the yellow, mountain air cured Njeguski cheese which is left to age in the cool mountain air before being eaten.
Kaćamak is a type of porridge that is eaten across the Balkans and even in Turkey, not just in Montenegro.
It is usually made with with potatoes and other flour, like marize, and is eaten topped with cheese or lard. It is the Montenegrin version of French mashed potatoes and requires quite a lot of strength to beat all the ingredients together to form a smooth mix.
It is believed that this was a dish eaten by the farmers because it provided them with enough energy to go about their day out working in the fields. You may usually get Kaćamak with a side of yogurt.
Black seafood Risotto
Black risotto is quite popular by the sea. It is cooked with squid ink and other types of seafood, normally shrimps or crab.
Black risotto is very tasty and creamy, despite the color that might put some people off and you need to make sure not to have any important appointment afterwards unless you can brush your teeth!
The seafood version of risotto, minus the squid ink, is equally delicious and cooked with tomato sauce instead.
Lamb in Milk
As the name indicates this is literally lamb cooked in milk for a long time until tender. The milk makes the lamb meat come off the bone and the root vegetables that usually accompany give some more earthy flavors.
This is a dish that is common of other countries where lamb is the norm like Jordan or Italy, and is one of the most commonly found and enjoyed dishes in Montenegro.
Lamb in milk is often cooked in the same sac used to make other lamb dishes but not necessarily.
This is a version of the Greek salad with much of the same ingredients but instead of feta cheese most commonly eaten in Albania and Greece, the cheese is grated and of the white brine type.
Shopska salad is sometimes referred to as Bulgarian salad too and found across the country’s menus. It is one of the most pervasive Montenegrin dishes, especially in the summer months when all of its ingredients are in season and the weather calls for a cold, crunchy starter.
All of Montenegro’s summer foods are combined to make a healthy dish. You will find tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (sometimes roasted), onions and topped with the grated cheese.
A shot of rakia may also be enjoyed by the locals along with the salad, or you can order your own too for a more authentic experience.
Grilled fish from Lake Skadar
Although food in Montenegro very much follows the seasons and the country’s geography, with fish more present by the coast, the country also has some wonderful lakes inland which provide an additional source of fish.
Lake Skadar has delicious fresh water foods like trout or carp, best enjoyed grilled with olive oil and some tomatoes. Find a restaurant by the lakeside and order this lake delicacy. This is as fresh as fish can get.
Best desserts from Montenegro
Like other countries in the Balkans and southern Mediterranean, Montenegrins have a sweet tooth and enjoy rich desserts.
Kolači – Cake
This is a wide encompassing range of Montenegrin desserts which have a cake-like shape. Every house and chef has their own cake which can be made with any type of ingredient and they will always be called Kolači.
As strange as it sounds, the menus will usually just say cake, and maybe you will have some information about the ingredients too, like apple or pear.
Baklavas are a common dessert staple across the region and in farther away parts of Northern Africa, Central Asia or the Middle East. They are made with copious amounts of honey, syrup and nuts, usually pistachios or almonds, layered between crunchy phyllo pastry.
In Montenegro, baklavas are pretty common and easy to find in the dessert menus. They are an incredibly sweet dessert which I enjoy for the first two bites. They are a great companion to strong tea or coffee and a very sweet ending to any meal in Montenegro.
Palačinke – Pancakes
Palačinke are humble pancakes elevated with wonderful fillings like chocolate, or simply some sugar or jam. They are very much like the french crepes but instead of serving them in folded triangles, they are rolled like cigars.
Best drinks from Montenegro
Montenegro is starting to be known for its wines and for rakia, the distilled brandy from grapes. You cannot leave the country without trying some of the best of both so let me give you some suggestions for drinks to try in Montenegro.
You may have never heard of Montenegrin wines before but they are quite unique and definitely worth trying if you are visiting the country. And this should be easy because they are widely available in local menus.
But let me share some more facts about Montenegrin wines.
Montenegro has the largest vineyard in Europe belonging to Plantaze and measuring 2,000 hectares. The vineyard and cellars are located towards the southeast, near the capital of Podgorica and the border with Albania.
Plantaze was the only winery during Yugoslavia times and it is still owned by the government of Montenegro. You can actually visit it on a tour and try some of its wine which is quite a fascinating experience.
What is more, one of their cellars is located in an former military airport carved into the mountain which used to hide 21 aircrafts before a fire destroyed them all. The cellar spirals 300m into the mountain and is quite a sight.
Aside from Plantaze, there are several other wineries in Montenegro with wonderful wines but in all cases, the most important autochthonous grape variety is Vranac which is a local Montenegrin word for black horse and refers to the feisty and strong red grape.
I very much enjoyed Vranac wines and tried to look for it in all menus. While Plantaze wines are pretty common and usually sold at restaurants in 187ml individual bottles like the ones served on planes, other wineries are far less common and not easy to find beyond Kotor, Podgorica or some of the higher end restaurants along the northern parts of the coast.
Some other wineries to look out for are Savina, located very near the border with Croatia and perched above the hills near the monastery of the same name, with pretty artisanal wines. The winery can also be visited on a pre-booked tour.
Radevic Estate produces Aman Sveti Stefan red wine on top of their own brand, and as you can imagine of the country’s most luxurious hotel, the wines are as premium as the black bottles in which they are sold.
The local sommeliers suggested Milovic Winery (no website) as one of the best in the country. Small and family-run, it seems to be the choice of the wine experts in Montenegro.
Rakia is a very popular grape brandy commonly found across the Balkans with small variations in spelling. It is clear and does not have much taste, unless you buy the fruit variations which tend to have a bit more flavor.
Rakia is made from distilling grapes and has a very high percentage of alcohol, sometimes well above 50% so you have to be careful when drinking it.
While rakia is drunk with dessert, it is also enjoyed by the locals with their salads or starters and always gulped down in one shot.
While wine and rakia are the most common drinks in Montenegro, at least with food, beer is also pretty common and the local Niksicko is a good options for those who like European pale ales. It is usually served in half a liter glass bottles.