July 2021: As Mark and I began our Sarajevo food tour with Džana, we quickly realized that she has a gift for seamlessly weaving together the history of the cuisine with the history of the city. What an unexpected treat!
First, we entered Gradska tržnice, the meat and dairy market housed in an impressive neoclassical building that looks more like a government building than a market. Just inside, to the right, we sampled suho meso, a flavorful smoked beef. As a family business, they have made and protected their secret recipe for over 100 years.
Further into the market, to our left, a dignified cheese vendor with a cheerful navy-blue headscarf plated generous samples for us, motioning for us to try. Our favorite was the delightfully salty Bosnian cheese, Vlašićki sir, prepared with raw sheep’s milk in the mountains and brined over the long, snowy winter months while they are isolated from the rest of the country. Vlašićki sir feels like a close cousin to feta, but with its own distinct personality.
We found a seat overlooking the river at Inat kuća, and Džana ordered for us the Begova čorba (Bey’s Soup). This soup has a chicken broth base with shredded chicken and carrots, okra, parsley, and a lovely dollop of sour cream. Begova čorba is a feast for the eyes, delivered in small metal bowls with lids, called sahans, and uncovered with a flourish. A generous basket of somun (a yogurt-based bread) accompanied the soup, which is made with yogurt like my Na’an Recipe. Somun is excellent for sopping up the last spoonfuls of soup from the bowl.
It was exciting to see burek cooked under a bell at Asdž. This burek is the same beloved meat “pie” that I learned to make with Maja in Mostar. At Asdž, it bakes inside the traditional bell-shaped baker lowered over hot coals and covered with more hot coals. The method is similar to how we buried cast iron Dutch ovens in campfire coals when I was a child. Burek is traditionally served with a side of drinkable yogurt, tangy and thick. At Asdž, they also make a version with yogurt smeared over the top, which is also delicious. I prefer the yogurt served on the side, which leaves the flaky, delicate crust exposed. If you are vegetarian, no problem! Pie (also known as pita) comes with a filling of cheese, spinach/cheese, or potato/onion. These go by other names. Only the meat is known as burek.
Stopping by ASDŽ Aščinica, the staff assembled a “sampler” whose bounty truly astounded. First, Sogan dolma (stuffed onion), Punjene tikvice (stuffed squash), Sarma (stuffed fermented cabbage leaves), and Japrak (stuffed grape leaves) filled a plate. Then, on a separate platter, Gulaš (beef in a tomato-based sauce) swam next to rich, smooth mashed potatoes.
Galatasaray is all about the meat and its famous visitors. The walls showcase pictures of actors and politicians who have eaten there over the years. First, they brought out a fresh salad, followed by a large plate of three types of meat, including Ćevapi (little sausages), a signature local dish.
Art kuća sevdaha
At Art kuća sevdaha (Sevdah Art House), we enjoyed traditional cold drinks prepared with fermented juniper berries (bitter) and rose hips (sweet). That was followed by kadaif (sweet noodles), tufahija (apple stuffed with walnuts), and hurmašica (syrup-soaked biscuit/cookie). It is a sweet lover’s dream.
Caffe Divan serves the hot, thick, milk-based Salep, which we adored. Salep powder is made from the tubers of orchids. For vegans, it provides an excellent eggnog alternative. They also serve Bosnian coffee, which fascinates us.
Tucana Kehava Sehar
Conveniently around the corner, Tucana Kehava Sehar displays rows upon rows of ground coffee. And when I say ground, I mean pulverized into a fine powder. Džana explained that the coffee in the USA is “minced,” which process is similar to a pepper grinder. This coffee is as fine as confectioner’s sugar.
Kazandžijska radnja vl. Hidić Kenan i Adnan
Speaking of coffee, we ducked into Hidić Kazandžijska, where we met Kenan stamping and engraving sheets of copper that ultimately become bookmarks or wrist bands, depending upon the shaping. Admiring his shelves of džezva, I knew right then that I would return to buy one, which we did the following day. Caught in a short downpour, we ducked into his shop, and he instantly recognized us. He offered us chairs and served us Bosnian coffee. After enjoying his kind hospitality, we took our time selecting our džezva, and then Kenan engraved it on the bottom to commemorate the occasion.
And then there is the baklava. All these years, I pronounced it Ba-kla-vaaaaah, only to discover here in Sarajevo that the proper pronunciation is ba-klava. I am humbled. This round version is called Džandar baklava, and its production is fantastic. Imagine those sheets of dough thinned and stretched for burek, but instead rolled and hung until dry for filling. The hanging creates those delightful ripples in the dough that distinguish this dessert.
A Memorable Day
We parted ways with Džana, knowing we have a new friend in Sarajevo. Her knowledge of the city and the cuisine is impressive, and her patience in helping me capture the cuisine names and techniques was most appreciated. Not only did she introduce us kindly to every shop owner for a personal experience, but she also greeted friends along the street. Somehow she made us feel that we were already a part of Sarajevo.
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