Kafanas are one of the most famous tourist attractions at the Balkans and they have the ability to take you a few hundred years back, to the turbulent past of these countries. One of them is a kafana with an unusual name – “?” (Znak Pitanja = Question Mark).
This kafana is the oldest preserved kafana in Belgrade, located in one of the oldest houses in Belgrade, right across St. Michael’s Cathedral, in the heart of the old part of Belgrade. This is one of the few objects in Belgrade that kept their original looks of a typical city house from the 19th century. It was designed by an unknown Greek Architect.
The kafana changed its name many names, including “Kod Saborne Crkve”, which means “Near the Cathedral”. However, the church considered this name to be inappropriate, so the owner just put a question mark instead of a name, which remained until today.
A “kafana” is a national restaurant in the former Yugoslav countries, where you can drink a lot of alcohol and try many traditional dishes from these countries full of history. The most popular drink in these restaurants is rakija – a strong alcoholic beverage that can be made of different types of fruits.
“Znak Pitanja” was built in 1823 by Naum Icko, according to an order from Prince Milos. Naum Icko was a merchant consul and the son of Petar Icko, a trader from Ohrid, who was one of the organizers of the First Serbian Uprising and one of the creators of the Icko Peace from 1806.
After the death of Naum Icko, Prince Milos gifted the house to his personal doctor, Ecim Tomi Kostic, as a thank you for his credit in the Second Serbian Uprising, when he took care of the Prince and other wounded soldiers.
“Znak Pitanja” was meant to be a place where families gather and it’s right opposite the church, so Prince Milos strictly forbid smoking inside and in front of the object.
The kafana was especially popular at the beginning of 19th century when it was described as a unique and beautiful place by many famous city faces who were visiting at the time. One of them is Vuk Karadzic, who is considered as the reformer of the Serbian language.
During the middle of the last century many people tried to buy the kafana, but the owner at the time, merchant Ivan Pavlovic, resisted all the offers because he wanted to save its originality and turn it into a museum of antiquities. He was the owner until 1959 when the kafana became a state ownership.
In 1946, “Znak Pitanja” was proclaimed as a cultural monument. Since then, the object has been repaired many times, but its original purpose was never changed – it remained a unique mark of Belgrade and a gathering spot of many important people.
“Znak Pitanja” is still one of the most popular places in Belgrad, holding its traditional spirit. The bistro still has a menu that used to be served many years ago. Guests come to try different types of cheese, ajvar, kebabs, different meat specialties, and many other tasty dishes. The kafana also has a special menu that is served four times a year – a fasting menu. These dishes are served in times of great holidays when the Orthodox believers have fasting periods. Most of the visitors want to try kebabs and rakija.
The kafana also has special requests when it comes to waiters. All the waiters must speak English because a lot of tourists come to visit this cult place. Most of the visitors come from the Balkan area, but there are also many Russians and Chinese. All the waiters must wear uniforms and behave according to the rules of the kafana.
If you are starting your day at “Znak Pitanja”, we recommend trying the traditional breakfast menu with lepinja, zeljanica, or gibanica, combined with sour milk. If you prefer soup, the restaurant offers excellent fish, veal, and monk soup. A dish you certainly need to try is dense beans with sausage, a favorite dish of many people who live at this area.
If you are a meat lover, you mustn’t miss Karadjordje steak or Sumadijska steak, and of course, the specialty of the house that you will discover once you visit the place. The menu also offers many fish dishes and grilled meat.
Finally, you can’t go home without a desert. Try a domestic dry pie, tufahije, or orasnice. If you don’t want to experiment with traditional deserts, “Znak Pitanja” can offer you some delicious pancakes.