Serbian Christmas Eve or badnje vece wouldn't be the same without an alcoholic drink known as vruca rakija (where vruca means "hot" and rakija means "brandy"), often referred to simply as rakija (rrah-kee-yah) or rakia.
Rakija is typically as clear as water and drunk at room temperature or cold but, when simmered with caramelized sugar and water to become a potent hot drink (vruca rakija) for Christmas Eve, it develops an amber color.
Every family and church group has its closely guarded recipe. After the traditional Christmas Eve vespers service and Yule log or badnjak burning, a great meatless meal is enjoyed by the faithful with a sip of vruca rakija. Here is a larger photo of St. Sava church (Merrillville, Ind.) members cooking up a batch of vruca rakija.
For more about rakija, see the information, below, after the directions to this recipe.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups slivovitz (plum brandy)
- 3 cups water
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed stainless-steel pot, sprinkle in the 1/2 cup of sugar. Allow the sugar to melt, stirring occasionally, until it is completely liquid and a nice brown color, watching it constantly.
- When brown and caramelized, but not burned, immediately remove from heat and CAREFULLY add 1 1/2 cups slivovitz and 3 cups water.
- Return to heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil and the sugar is completely melted.
- Be careful that this does not boil over. It requires constant watching. Serve hot.
More About Rakija
Rakija is a powerful brandy made from the distillation of almost any fermented fruit each with its own specific rakija name. Slivovica (plum rakija) is the most popular and the strongest and is used to make vruca rakija. But you can find apricot, peach, grape, fig, quince and even juniper. Each has its own flavor that can be subtle or in your face.
Rakija is to South Slavs as vodka is to Poles or Russians.It’s especially popular in Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro, and it's creeping its way into the hearts of non-Slavic nations like Romania, Albania and others.
This powerful drink is crystal clear but when combined with caramelized sugar and water for Christmas Eve, it takes on a golden amber color. It definitely warms a person from the toes up.
The best rakija is homemade. Serbians take great pride in making their own and, we can attest, it's far superior to bottled rakija which often contains preservatives. If you want to try the real thing, get your hands on a batch of homemade hooch.
The alcohol content is typically 50% to 80% but many like to produce it as high as 90%
Serbian Hangover Cure
After a night of drinking rakija or other potent potables, my Serbian friends swear by a strong cup of Turkish coffee. But burek and a cold glass of kefir also are popular cures. Here is more about Eastern European hangover cures.