Britain is brimming with culinary delights from all over the world, but ask people on the street what they fancy for dinner and you'll probably get pasta, pizza, burger or curry. There are incredible foreign cuisines at our fingertips, but we simply don't hear about them. I'm on a mission to highlight some of my favourite world foods, starting with the lesser known Macedonia.
As a fervent foodie myself, and after many years working in food and drink PR, I felt compelled to help put a deserving spotlight on a gastronomy everyone simply must try.
Influenced by the Balkan palate, boasting characteristics of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, and reaping quality produce from its rich soil, Macedonian food is bursting with flavour and diversity. Yet with all this, it remains humble and honest.
Many recipes have been prepared the same way for centuries, passing on age old customs and secrets that are now available to us at the drop of a hat.
Here are a few classic Macedonian dishes that will talk to your tummy and sing to your soul. And then probably have you slumped over on the sofa for a well-earned food induced shuteye.
OK, so this isn't actually a dish, but this local brandy-esque tipple is so important at the dinner table that it simply had to make an appearance. It's widely considered the national drink and people across the country make their own versions of Rakija to suit their own tastes, using local nuts or fruit to play with different flavours and aromas.
Stuffed Ohrit Trout
If you visit Macedonia, make a note to visit Lake Ohrid and try the local Salmo Letnica - or brown trout. It's a specialty in Macedonian gastronomy and is commonly used in soups, stews, and other dishes. A real showstopper is to stuff the whole fish with spinach, cheese, sour cream and egg and grill it in tin foil. It won't have quite the same wow factor, but you can give it a try with Rainbow Trout.
This is very famous in Macedonia and is actually considered the national dish. As bean lovers ourselves, if ever there was an international recipe that Brits could fall in love with, this is it. Tavce Gravce, which literally means 'beans cooked in a skillet' is a hearty bean stew mixed with vegetables, spices and all important Macedonian paprika. It's vegan, gluten-free, easy to prepare and super healthy. Serve hot, either on its own or as a side dish with meat. I recommend enjoying it just as it is with a side cabbage salad.
A little like an artisan pizza, Pastrmajlija is a speciality oval shaped baked bread pie. It's usually layered with salted lamb or pork cut into small cubes, and is sometimes served with two fried eggs on top. This dish is so important to Macedonians, that they honour it at the annual festival of 'Pastrmajlijada.'
This may not sound like your Friday night go-to dish, but trust me, it will be once you've tried it. Quite simply, it's made of minced meat, veggies and local spices wrapped in cabbage leaves and cooked in a tomato based sauce. Traditionally, the cabbage leaves are pickled for two or three months giving this dish a truly magical experience. It's proper comfort food that takes a decent effort to make - even without the pickling - but is worth it when you watch everyone hoovering it up in a matter of minutes. Sarma is gorgeous served with a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt.
A filo pastry piece of heaven. This delicate pie has a flaky yet fragile crust and is typically loaded with feta cheese, leeks, eggs, spinach and ground meat. Enough said.
And after a massive feast on any or all of the dishes above, there's only one way to sweeten the tooth and it's with Macedonia's favourite dessert, Tulumba. These small, ridged, tubed fried dough rolls are soaked in honey and are sometimes sprinkled with crushed nuts. Um, yes please!
Stay tuned for more of my favourite world cuisines that deserve a little extra dash of PR.