In common with other Balkan countries, Montenegrin cuisine is overwhelmingly dominated by meat, though the coastal region offers plentiful opportunity to indulge in some excellent fish and seafood. Many inland dishes manifest a heavy Turkish strain, while others reflect the country’s Austrian influences. Along the coast, Mediterranean and in particular Italian flavours dominate.
Traditional starters (predjela) include pršut, a delicious air-dried ham, a rich array of different broths (supa), typically veal, beef or chicken, and čorba, a thick soup of Turkish origin. The fish variety (riblja čorba) is especially tasty.
Alongside the most popular grilled meat dishes – čevapčići, pljeskavica (best enjoyed stuffed, with cheese and mushrooms) and ražnjići – the most common main dishes (gotova jela) are sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, often served with kajmak); less commonly, japrak (grape leaves with the same filling); pasulj (a thick bean soup with pieces of bacon or sausage); and the gut-busting karađorđe snicla, a breaded veal cutlet, rolled and stuffed with cheese. While all the above are pretty much Balkan staples, there are plenty of authentic Montenegrin foods to enjoy with domestic cheeses (sir domači) to the fore. Njeguški sir is the most renowned; preserved in oil, it’s typically served with the equally delicious air-dried ham from the same village. In a similar vein, there’s cicvara (stewed corn meal in salted cheese) and kačamak (buttered potato, corn meal and cheese), while the ever-popular kajmak (a thick sour cream) is often served as an accompaniment to grilled meat dishes.
The most common street snacks are the ubiquitous čevapčići (rissoles of spiced minced meat usually served in groups of five or ten), pljeskavica (basically an oversized hamburger) and ražnjići (shish kebab). All of these are available from street stalls or kiosks (usually around €2–3), but you’ll equally find them on restaurant menus countrywide. Also popular is burek, a greasy, flaky, Turkish-style pastry filled with cheese (sa sirom) or meat (sa mesom); it’s best eaten with a glass of thick yoghurt (joghurt). Pizza slices, topped with cheese and salami and smothered in ketchup, are another common staple. Montenegrin ice cream (sladoled) is particularly good, and is sold on the streets almost all year round.
Restaurants (singular: restoran) vary in style and quality, from the down-at-heel to the very smart. Generally speaking, the classier, more contemporary establishments are to be found in the more popular and/or upmarket coastal resorts. There are as yet few really top-class international restaurants in Montenegro, though Čatovića Mlini at Morinj on the Boka Kotorska is a notable exception, as are those restaurants in resorts such as Aman Sveti Stefan and in the new developments like the Chedi Hotel on Luštica and Porto Montenegro in Tivat.
Throughout the country, you’ll also come across a more traditional-style establishment known as a konoba, a rustically themed inn often bedecked with folksy décor. Similar in style, but generally only found in the more remote northern parts of the country, is a savardak, a cosy, alpine-style lodge serving basic but hearty, meat-heavy dishes. Almost non-existent in Montenegro are foreign restaurants: even in the capital it’s virtually impossible to track down a genuine ethnic eatery.
Drinking generally takes place in cafés (singular: kafana), most of which tend to double up as bars. They offer coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages alongside the full range of alcoholic drinks but very few serve food of any description. Most places open around 10.00 or 11.00 and close around 23.00 or midnight, though in the capital and in the more popular coastal resorts, it’s not unusual for cafés to stay open until 01.00 or 02.00 and often later in the summer. Generally speaking, most cafés are relaxed, welcoming places and receptive to children, although, like many restaurants, they can get quite smoky.
Few Montenegrins get by without a strong cup of coffee (kafa) to kick-start the day. Traditionally this is served Turkish-style (black, thick and with grinds at the bottom), though many people now opt for an espresso or cappuccino, the quality of which can be very hit and miss. Tea (čaj) is usually served straight (sometimes with lemon). Fruit juices (vočni sok) come in various guises, including gusti (a natural dense pulp), and flavours, such as orange (narandža) or apricot (kajsija).
The national alcoholic drink is rakija, a ferociously powerful brandy that is served neat; the most common variety is the plum-flavoured šljivovica. A glass ofrakija is the standard gesture of welcome when you visit a Montenegrin house. Loza, the grape-based variety, is no less popular. Another popular drink is pelinkovac, a bittersweet aperitif-type liquor based on wormwood.
Montenegro produces a good, though not particularly extensive, range of both red (crna) and white (belo) wines (singular: vino). The best of these is Vranac, a dry, dark ruby-red variety primarily cultivated in the Crmnica region in between Lake Skadar and the coast. Its full and fairly intense taste makes it an excellent complement to smoked and grilled meats and strong, mature cheeses. Pride of place among the whites is Krštac, a fruity, light tipple from the same region.
Montenegrin domestic beer (pivo) is among the best in the Balkans. Most notable is the hoppy Nikšičko, from Nikšič, which comes in both light and dark (tamno) forms; it’s best sampled in its draught version (točeno pivo). While the craft-beer market has yet to make real inroads into Montenegro, the Fabrika brewery in Risan currently produces a terrific range of craft ales.