Tastes of Serbia
Pljeskavica, cevapi, ajvar and urnebes, gibanica, kajmak, muckalica, skembici, proja, sarma, soup, veal under the bell, prosciutto and roasted meat, đevrek, zu-zu, prebranac, rakija… and of course, homemade coffee.
Ehhh, my dears… these are for me the most expensive words. The most expensive! They are hard to understand, because each of these words carries a much wider and deeper meaning, and yet everyone who comes to Serbia actually first speaks this language-the language of food. And indeed, foreigners cannot penetrate so deeply into the background of their meaning, but they can certainly feel our culture and temperament through the explosion of taste.
My friends, originally from European countries, are people immersed in globalization. And that’s not something that’s bad or good, it’s just the way it is. Who has globalization bypassed? No one. Well, maybe some distant islanders we don’t know about… and Cuba. Globalization has brought us better connectivity in terms of communication but has disrupted our food habits. Home-cooked and organic food is a luxury. Yesterday, by coincidence, two of my friends were present when I opened a package of food that my parents sent from Serbia, fearing that I would get sick “eating plastic in Europe” as they say. What can I tell you, I didn’t even get to try any of that food, they all snatched it up from me.
When you come to Serbia, you notice two things in a very short time – that the food is excellent and that people are smiling. I think there is no need to point out how these two things are connected.
Serbia is a small agricultural country without access to the sea, with a small population that has an exceptional sense of culinary skills. In Serbia, everything is mostly organic. In Serbia, every field is neatly lined up, every greenhouse is built with a lot of love. In Serbia, people, unlike their European neighbors, are privileged because they enjoy authentic flavors of tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, raspberries, chard, homemade meat and cheese… When you buy bread in a bakery in Serbia, it hardens after two days because there are no additives. I have to say that bakeries are sacred places for Serbs, perhaps more so than boulangeries are for the French. Bakeries are warm and nicely scented. In a bakery, you can buy a lot for a little money. Bakeries are on every corner.
The next sacred place is the markets! Serbian markets are something that should be protected as a cultural heritage. These are places where you can actually understand the essence of the Serbian people. Serbs love to go to the market and prepare for a trip to the market almost as much as for a Sunday liturgy. First, you go to the liturgy to thank God for everything He has given us, and then head to the market to spend money and bring back “catch” for the family table.
Every market is in fact a small map of Serbia with its eastern, western, northern and southern parts of the country. When you enter the market on the left side is Vojvodina – Vojvodina is located in the north of Serbia and is considered its granary. People from this area are masters of dough, great gourmets, so at the market you can find various strudels, pastries, but also sauerkraut from Futog, which is ideal for pickling. Vojvodina is also rich in vineyards and wineries where you can try indigenous grape varieties – tamjanika, traminer, and bermet.
And the same can be found on Belgrade’s markets, just in a smaller format. Next, we come across stalls that offer products from Western Serbia. Zlatarski cheese is the king of cheeses that no one remains indifferent to: Zlatarski cheese is worth its weight in gold. But nothing makes me as happy as kajmak. I’ve never been able to explain it properly: yes, it’s a dairy product, with a texture similar to a mixture of cream and fresh cheese, but I can’t explain how it’s possible that kajmak is equally good both as a spread and when eaten with a spoon. I like it best salted, but it doesn’t have to be. Kajmak is best served with prosciutto, and among the best prosciuttos in Serbia is the one from Zlatibor. It’s dried and smoked, not boiled like the ones I’ve come across elsewhere. A table without prosciutto is unimaginable. Next, there is sujuk. Although it is not a traditional Serbian dish, sujuk has taken on its own version in Serbia. It is a sausage with a specific taste, slightly spicy and fatty, but indispensable in any thoughts of Serbian cuisine. Wild blueberries from the base of Mount Golija can also be found in this part of Serbia, from which the best homemade juices are made. Raspberries from Arilje, like blueberries from Golija, represent a sweet source of health. In the southern part of the map of Belgrade markets are peppers from Leskovac and ajvar – Serbian caviar made from these same peppers, always served with warm bread and young onions, and for Serbs, ajvar is more expensive than gold. In this group, you will also find spicy peppers from Leskovac, which are used to make a dry seasoning called aleva paprika, and every homemaker in Serbia has it in her arsenal of spices. It gives a special flavor to traditional dishes and a beautiful red color. The south is also rich in plums! And from plums, as well as from other fruits, a magical drink is made – rakija, which gives Serbs magical powers after consumption. In traditional medicine and beliefs, rakija helps with removing fever, curing sore throat. But forget about medical properties, we don’t have scientific evidence of that. What is true is that rakija, if consumed in normal quantities, can cheer up a person. The East brings us the opportunity to try honey from Homolj on the market. With honey, instead of sugar, in Serbia we often sweeten tea from Rtanj, or some other. In the east, from the Danube, anglers catch catfish and white fish, from which another specialty is made that we are proud of in Serbia: fish soup! The best fish soups require more types of fish in one soup.
I regret starting this blog about Serbian food, the box that was full of delicacies yesterday is now empty. They ate it all. And that’s okay, they probably needed it more. God bless them!