As most of you know from previous posts, my wife and I went to a few of the countries that used to be part of Yugoslavia. I’ll be writing several posts roughly reflecting the chronology of our trip. The posts in this series, in keeping with the blogs theme, will be primarily about the food we enjoyed (or not) but I’ll be sprinkling in tidbits about the places and things we saw and, of course, anything that begged for smart-ass commentary.
We started out in Sarajevo (my wife, Joan, thinks I have an unhealthy attraction to war zones, past and present) spending 3 nights there. We stayed at a little place called Pansion Stari Grad that is right in the Old Town. This is not surprising since “stari grad” means “old town”. It was only 50 Euros/night including European breakfast which was pretty decent with hard boiled eggs, toast, jam, cheese and, my favourite, little packages of stinky pate (no, not a head…I just don’t know how to make an accented e on here) the smell of which, unfortunately, made my wife somewhat nauseous. The staff was really friendly and all spoke English. Don’t ya hate it when you go to a foreign country and they don’t have the courtesy to speak your language?
Money….It’s a Drag
You’d think after all they’ve been through in the recent past, Sarajevans would be an adaptable lot. The fact is, however, that they do not handle change well. That is to say, no matter what you are buying and what bill or coinage you are paying with, the vendor will be unable to make change. Buy two gelatos for 1 Convertible Mark (BAM)each, hand over a 5 BAM coin and the whole transaction teeters on the edge of collapse unless you or your wife can come up with exact change. I tried to pay and 8 BAM coffee/beer bill with a 50 BAM note. The waiter went to the goddamn currency exchange place next door and even they couldn’t change it. What the hell? My wife couldn’t buy a 15 BAM purse with a twenty. This happened over and over again. These guys are selling stuff all bloody day…where do they put the money the take in? We found ourselves constantly trying to hoard our coinage and small bills just so we’d be able to buy something. We even started making multiple withdrawals from the bank machine (eg. one withdrawal of 20 and one of 30) so we wouldn’t end up with a fifty BAM note.
Now, many of you are probably wondering “how much is a BAM worth?. Well, this is where the genius of the Bosnian government really shines through. You see, unlike many currencies which change value independently, the BAM is tied to a specific, static value relative to the Euro. This value is the very convenient and easy to calculate 1.95 BAM:1 Euro. Yeah, pegging it at 2:1 would have been fucking stupid.
Fast Food – Bosnian Style
The old town is awash with two types of restaurants: Cevabdzinica and Buregdzinica. They serve two traditional Bosnian dishes, Cevap and Burek. Cevap is a grilled minced meat dish usually served with a large flat bun. Burek is a type of meat pie in which puff pastry is rolled around meat into a long log shape then laid in a spiral in a cast iron, lidded dish and cooked over coals and served with sour cream. I loved the burek.
Unfortunately, old town doesn’t offer much of anything else beyond Burek and Cevap except for the ubiquitous pizza which became a bit of a fallback dinner for us throughout the trip as I’ll document in a later pizza post. Sure there are a few other restaurants but the menus are almost all the same and, often, the non-Burek, non-Cevap meals we ordered were not available.
While the Bosnian cuisine wasn’t extremely varied, two things it had going for it were giant portions and meat-centricity. Joan had a perfectly breaded and grilled chicken breast while I had the stuff at right. This meat dish, called god knows what, was carnivorilicious. Basically it was spiced hamburger with an egg on top served with a massive flatbread. The care the chef took to avoid even the hint of vegetables in this meal is eye-watering.
It’s Brewery, Stupid
Being a bit of a beer fanatic, I convinced my non-beer drinking love that we must visit the Sarajevska Pivara (brewery). I insisted it was purely an educational visit to see this historic site. During the Siege of Sarajevo, there were only two manufacturing facilities that operated continuously through those horrific 46 months, the brewery and the cigarette factory.
The interior of the bar was incredibly ornate with dark woods and giant beams. I had an excellent beer while Joan had the house wine which did not make her gag. She’d been served Croatian wine everywhere else and it had been hideous so this was a nice surprise although even the most unsophisticated sommelier would consider “not gagging” as faint praise indeed.
I was well into my second or third large ale when I had the brilliant idea that we should have dinner there. After all, they had a pretty extensive, non-burek/cevap menu and looked pretty fancy so how bad could it be? Answer: Pretty bad. Well, I don’t go to a ball game expecting quality beer so why did I go to a brewery expecting quality cuisine? Answer: Because they had beer (same reason I’d go to a ball game, actually).
We started with appetizers. Joan had a gigantic mound of not-very-good seafood risotto while I had something that I didn’t write down and don’t remember…along with a beer. For our mains, I had some adequate fried squid with incredibly bland, poorly cooked potatoes. Joan had something that we chose to pronounce “Chicken Frisbees” which she thought may be similar to the wonderful chicken breast she had the day before. The name should have warned her off. They were indeed bits of breaded chicken shaped like miniature Frisbees. Yes, they were goddamn chicken nuggets.
Even if some of Joan’s meal bordered on inedible, there was really no chance she was going to starve. They brought us enough bread to feed scores. We’re pretty sure the bread is getting recycled between tables. No sane person would bring this much bread for two people. Maybe, on his way to the table with rational amount of bread, the waiter began channeling Jesus as he replayed his greatest hits. I don’t know…but I’m glad I didn’t order the fishes.
Park Princeva – Where the Glitterati Hang Out (when we’re not there)
On our last evening in Sarajevo we went up to the Park Princeva Restaurant. It’s high on the mountain overlooking the city. Apparently, this is where Bono and other famous people (probably that damn Richard Gere, whom I will deride in a future post) hang out. Of course, we were all atwitter imagining the celebs we would see…which turned out to be two rather quite businessmen at one table and a loud, chain smoking American guy with a bored, chain smoking European guy whose communicated “Ugh, you Americans are so gauche” with every dismissive, smoke-trailing wave of his hand. The view, despite the rain and clouds (both the meteorological and carcinogenic kinds), was awesome.
The food was pretty damn good. The most awesome thing were the donuts we had for an appetizer. That’s right, we had donuts before our meal. They were only slightly less sweet than regular donuts and reminded me of Tim Horton’s filled donuts without the filling. They were served with two types of cheese, feta and a thick sort of sour creamy kind. We ate lots such that our main courses (veal and a fancy pants cevap) were sort of anti-climatic and unwanted when they arrived.
Bosnian cuisine isn’t too varied but it’s generally pretty good, especially if you like grilled meat and don’t eat at breweries.
“Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?” – Homer J. Simpson