Ten things you’ll find in every Balkan supermarket (which you should definitely pack for a picnic)


Sunflower seeds, the favoured snack of every man aged over 55, at least in warm countries where you can sit in the sunshine and hull them with your teeth, leaving mounds of shells around park benches, a kind of compostable calling card if you will. There’s a technique to opening them which involves cracking them between your front teeth, but if you value your dental integrity you could buy some pre-hulled ones (definitely cheating though).

A tub of chocolate spread the size of a pot of emulsion paint, and something to dip into it or spread it on. Or an enormous spoon and a taser to keep flies/bears/fellow chocolate lovers away from your sweet, sweet treasure.

A jar or two of ajvar, a delicious sauce made from roasted peppers and sometimes aubergines too. It’s perfect spread on crackers, used as a dip for crisps or mixed into pasta for a quick and tasty sauce. There are as many varieties of ajvar in Balkan supermarkets as there are brands of jam in a British supermarket, so maybe just pick the cheapest or one with a particularly eye catching or rustic design on the label.

Wafer biscuits in sizes not usually seen outside of builder’s merchants (you could probably lay a flagstone floor with them, if you didn’t mind having an ant problem). Another fabulous thing about the biscuit situation in the Balkans besides these enormous wafers is that you can often buy loose biscuits and chocolates by weight, like a pick’n’mix but much better as they’re usually behind the counter, and therefore less likely to have been nibbled or pawed at by small children.

Burek, of course. This flaky, savoury goodness comes in a myriad of flavours and different shapes, depending on where you purchase it from. The cheese and spinach filled variety is ideal for those pesky veggies like myself, but if you’re feeling particularly creative and have access to an oven, most supermarkets sell ready-made rolls of the pastry so you could try making some unorthodox varieties: marmite and spam flavour anyone?


Drinking yoghurt in HUGE bottles. Not to be mistaken for milk, with which it’s usually displayed. It’s also available in small cups with foil lids in pretty much every cafe. It’s thinner than greek yoghurt but thicker than a yakult or actimel, and sometimes comes in different flavours.

Vitamin drinks. These fruit flavoured powders are found in individual sachets in bars and cafes, big tubs in the supermarkets or in portable form: a bottle of water with a clever lid that releases the powder into the water when you open the cap. They taste a bit like those dispersible vitamin tablets you had as a child, but in the hot balkan climate they make an enjoyably refreshing drink, rather than something you’d drink through gritted teeth so as to avoid a telling off from Mum.

Cockta, a herbal cola drink that could be the rogue Balkan lovechild of Dr Pepper and Dandelion & Burdock. It comes in both glass and plastic bottles, and it tastes delicious (if you’re a fan of root beer you’ll probably enjoy it). It goes flat quickly though, so drink up fast!

A flask of hot water and some instant coffee sachets. You can get them in every flavour imaginable, and they make ideal travel companions (although they will keep you up at night). Two-in-1 sachets will have coffee and sugar in them, three-in-1 sachets will also have milk powder or coffee creamer.

Rajkia, the drink that also doubles as paint stripper, disinfectant and lighter fluid (maybe). The best stuff is sold on the side of the road in reused soft drink bottles, and sometimes water bottles (always check before swigging), but there are versions of if in the supermarket too, if you prefer to know the alcoholic content and other such details. It can be made from different fruits but I don’t think you’ll notice the flavour, only the burning sensation. Be sure to pack some shot glasses and learn the local term for ‘cheers’!

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