Wherever you may find yourself in the Balkans, be it in Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, or elsewhere, you’ll rarely be far from a bottle of rakija. This fruit brandy, also spelled rakia, is ubiquitous throughout the region, and most people know someone who makes it at home.
Rakija is a brandy that can be made from various fruits. Depending on the fruit used, the name can change to denote a specific type. Plum rakija, known as šljivovica, is the most popular. Other fruits used to make rakija include peaches, pears, apples, cherries, figs, blackberries, and quince. After distillation, some producers choose to add more flavor to their rakija by adding herbs, honey, sour cherries, or walnuts.
Most rakijas are about 40 percent alcohol, although some homemade varieties can reach 60 percent. Rakija is normally served in a small glass, but it should be sipped rather than downed at once. Apart from getting you happily drunk, rakija is also considered a cure for a variety of ailments, from colds to aches and pains. Some people even massage rakija onto their chests as a cure for sore throats, coughs, and fevers.
Need to Know
You can buy rakija in supermarkets and stores all over the Balkans, but locals will insist that homemade rakija is infinitely superior. And pretty much everyone makes it at home, sometimes from the fruit in their own orchards. And if they don’t make their own rakija, they probably have a brother or uncle or cousin who does.