Last month I visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where east truly does meet west!
Ok, Reader, I know I can’t keep making excuses but I just didn’t have the time this past week to get up my usual posts. This one has been sitting in the back of my head for a while, so in the spirit of What I Ate Wednesday, here are some of the things I ate while visiting Bosnia in June!
Before getting to Sarajevo, I didn’t know much about it. I did enough preliminary research to know it sounded like an intriguing city a few years ago on study abroad while planning trips. Since I didn’t end up getting the chance to go then, I figured I could hit it this time around. I’m glad I did! While traveling through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, I learned so much about the history and culture of the region.
Sarajevo has changed a lot in recent years. It was under siege from about 1991-1995 as the country fought for independence from Yugoslavia, cut off from water mains and electricity. What’s there now is a fascinating mix of east and west. The different empires that ruled Bosnia left their mark on the city in the architecture of the buildings–the oldest section of the city is Ottoman, just outside that are the 19th century buildings erected under the rule of Austria-Hungary, and on the outskirts are the mid-late twentieth century structures built under the communist regime. I stayed right in the old city center, across the street from the main square of the Ottoman section, and explored some of the culture through food.
One of my favorite things to eat in the Balkans when on a budget is pita or bürek. I think I’ve mentioned bürek before, as I try it in every country that has a version (it’s kind of like Bulgarian banitsa). In most places it’s called bürek, but in Bosnia it is only called bürek if it is filled with meat, otherwise it’s called pita. Pita is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese, spinach, or potato, usually baked in a large pan and afterwards cut into manageable(ish) slabs for selling. To buy pita and bürek you usually have to go to a special shop called a buregdzinica.
Another staple of Bosnian cuisine, cevapi, is also best purchased at its own specialty restaurant. Cevapi (or cevapcici if they are small) are grilled minced meat sausages. Typically cevapi are served with onions, a cheesey spread, and a traditional bread called somun. Cevapi make a quick meal and can be purchased at one of many cevabdzinica. Around lunch time everyone in the city seems to be sitting at a cevabdzinica chowing down!
To end with dessert (always), among the many souvenir shops, coffee shops, and restaurants in the old city center, there’s a small baklava shop, aptly named Baklava Shop. Baklava, like pita and bürek, are also made from flaky phyllo dough, but that’s where their similarities stop. Baklava are super sweet, stuffed with nuts, soaked in honey. It took me a long time to like baklava because of the intense sweetness and almost overpowering honey flavor. What I liked a lot about the baklava shop was that there were so many different flavors. I tried three: pistachio, chocolate, and walnut. Each cost 1,50 KM. Of the three I tried, I was most disappointed by the walnut, which had good flavor but an odd texture. I was impressed by the chocolate baklava, which tasted like a brownie soaked in honey. Definitely something I had never seen before! Unfortunately I can’t tell you the name of the street where you can find the baklava shop, as the streets in old town are a complete maze BUT I do know if you wander just off the main square, Bascarsija, you’ll find your way there!