Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch. - Orson Welles

After a few months in Sarajevo, I am ready to talk about one of the most important questions that many of you have about Bosnia. What's for dinner? While this is not a definitive post on the subject, I am ready to share some of my impressions. 

When in Doubt...Start with Chocolate!!!

When we first met our friend, Senada Pekaric-Muratovic, she told us that she lived in Pennsylvania for several years and that she loves American food; especially our pizza. She and Dionne even had a little bonding moment talking about, of all places, Applebee's (Burke Walker would be proud). But Senada made a point to inform us that American's have failed dramatically in one of the most important areas of life; chocolate. She then proceeded to share some European chocolate with us. And I have to agree with Senada. The chocolates in Europe are amazing. I do not think we have gone a day without a bite or two.

We have been in some supermarkets that have two full aisles devoted just to chocolate. 
As an activity during senior's conference in October, we were given a lesson on how to best appreciate a bite of chocolate. Think "wine tasting" for chocolate aficianados. Hold the bite in your mouth and let it melt there. Do not be in a hurry to chew. If it is good chocolate, it should begin to melt in your mouth after a few moments. Let's just say I've never seen anybody do that with a Mr. Goodbar!

While I am talking about candy, I want to mention Haribo. My high school German teacher used to hold an annual fund raiser by selling Haribo Gummy Bears. This was before they became common place in the U.S. These were imported from Germany so they were more rubbery than the softer U.S. ones. I grew to really love these candies and have been on a mission to try all the Haribo products since arriving here. I am about 15 versions deep into this mission. I generally love the "gummy" products but am not a big fan of the "marshmallow" type ones. I know this is tough work but somebody has to do it.

One of the many Haribo products that I have sampled
With the weather turn, I now have two new missions. The first is to find the best topla čokolada (hot chocolate) in Sarajevo. Bosnia is a kava (coffee) town. Bosnians love their coffee more than any Starbucks addict I have ever met. Come to think of it, I have not seen a Starbucks here in Sarajevo. But they are also quite good at hot chocolate. Served with a healthy dose of whipped cream, I always wonder if I am drinking a "cold" drink or not. But once I get to the chocolate, it is always wonderful. Sometmes it is "pudding" thick, sometimes it is a warm milk chocolate, and sometimes it is a dark flavored chocolate. But it is always very good. My favorite so far it at the raspberry flavored served fireside at the BBI centar. So good.

Bosnians love their cafes. They usually sit, drink coffee, and just chat. 
My other mission is to find the best "lava cake" in Sarajevo. Lots of great candidates I am happy to report! I have high standards for lava cake. When my family traveled to Rome a few years back, we took a cooking class and a lava cake is one of the desserts that we learned how to bake. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to replicate the cake we made in Rome. And I have never had a really good lava cake in the U.S. (despite the surge in popularity the past few years). But I have found two here in Sarajevo that pass the muster. And I am hoping to find more.

Lava cake disguised as a "souffle" (false advertising!)

So How is the Diet Going?

By starting my discussion on chocolate, you can probably guess how the diet is going. Now comes the double whammy. The word "pekara" means bakery. And they are everywhere here in Sarajevo. Little bakeries that make their own delicious wares. I love their model. Most of these bakeries have their own unique set of baked goods; not the standardized model so popular in the U.S. So I feel obligated to try as many different pekare as I can. 

European creme (aka as chocolate of course) inside this pastry.
A related form of Bosnian fast food is called Burek. This is a pie-like pastry that is "filled" with either meat, spinach, cheese, potato, or something seasonal. The second day here I had meat-filled burek and wasn't sure if I liked it (more on this later). But ever since I have fallen in love with the spinach, potato, and cheese filled varieties.

Krumpir (potato) filled "burek"
My mom would love how these are wood burning ovens. I happened to run by the kitchen where they cooked my krumpir and they showed me the oven it was cooked in. So cool.

I suspect that Bosnians have been making Burek this way for many, many years. There is nothing noticeably modern about this kitchen!
The other famous Bosnian fast food is called ćevapi; a sausage shaped meat patty served on pita-like bread. In the Federation, these are generally small sausages (and order will include 5 to 10 of these) served with onions, cheese, or creme. In Srpska, they are often bigger and served individually. Simply put, you can spend more than a day in Sarajevo without seeing a Pekara, Burek, and Ćevapi. 

After a long day of work at Riders of Hope, a ćevapi party breaks out.
Going Vegetarian

For the most part, Bosnia is land locked. Bosnia is meat country. This means beef, veal, chicken, and lots and lots of lamb. Since Muslims are the minority, pork is harder to find. 

Lamb is everywhere. Smoked meats are almost always lamb based. Many of the salami like products are the same. Ground meat is a mystery to me but I assume it is also lamb. This is the meat, I assume, that was in the first burek that I ate. Let's just say my palate is not quite used to it yet!

Anyone want some lamb? Dionne was looking for something to put in a roast. She took one look at the meat counter and had to walk away. I think we ate vegetarian that night.

Probably the worst thing I have eaten so far is a piece of "turkish" pizza. The picture on the menu looked great. Some hot peppers on top of a boat-shaped piece of pizza crust. The reality was bread covered with this ground mystery meat. While I ate most of it, it is the only time I going to order turkish pizza.

The onions were the only things that made this Turkish pizza bearable.
On the other hand, Dionne has found some meatballs that she loves. And I had this dish at a restaurant called Pino that was quite tasty. 

Three meatballs in creme sauce.

Other than the ground mystery meat, we have enjoyed the meat here. One of the first nights in town we found a small restaurant called "Piano." Dionne decided to order the T-bone steak. The waiter looked at her a little funny but did not say anything. Turns out the T-bone is generally shared by two people since it is nearly 2 lbs and is served on a large cutting board. We have since returned several times and the Elders have taken and passed the T-bone challenge.

Elder Rasmussen and Elder Morgan taking the T-Bone challenge. It took Morgan about 1 1/2 hours to get the thing down; Rasmussen about 15 minutes. 
I have found that my American taste buds prefer the veal over the beef here in Europe. Veal is much more common in the grocery stores and restaurants. Dionne has ordered pileci filet (chicken filet) at least 15 times so far; typically served with french fries. 

A "plank" from a restaurant called Woki. 

While available, seafood is not as common in Bosnia since it is generally imported. There are rivers and lakes so fresh water fish are more available. It Split Croatia, Dionne was excited to order a shrimp dish for the time in a month. She was not expecting a stare down with her dinner!

Though tasty, Dionne decided that this dinner was not worth the work.
So How About Some Home Cooking?
It might seem like we eat out quite often. Quite frankly, we do. A lot. Probably at least one meal per day on average. The reason we eat out so much is because of how inexpensive the food here is in Sarajevo. Let me give you an example. We went to lunch with our attorney Emir Kaknjašević to one of his favorite places. Nothing fancy mind you, just really good Bosnian comfort food. They like stews, fresh salads, long cooked meats, etc. The total cost of the meal for three of us was about 12 KM; or $7. That is total, not per person. Dionne and I often eat out for less than $10 total. A very expensive meal is $20 total. 

Contrast this to a lunch in Italy we had the other day. We did not eat that much (although I inadvertently ordered the porsciutto plate) and the total bill was $70. We could have eaten out in Sarajevo 7 times for this one Italian meal!

All I did was asked about this porsciutto dish...and somehow in my Italian I must have made the request. It was good but pretty darn pricey!
Two of my favorite types of prepared foods are pizza and soups. We have found plenty of both here in Sarajevo. The pizza is tasty but toppings are a little unique. No pork means no pepperoni. Lamb based salamis are not just the same. And at least initially due to my language struggles, I was not completely sure what I was going to get when I ordered a pizza. 

The meat is lamb based and the eggs were interesting. 
Pizza really is one of the basic food groups here in the Balkans. The most unique thing they do is to pour ketchup on top of the pizza. 

More ketchup please!
We have found several pizza restaurants that are phenomenal. Wonderful crusts, great toppings, different sauces. All of the things that make a great pizza restaurant. But alas, we have to travel out of country to get our pepperoni fix!

Treating Elder Garza to a white chicken pizza at the Pizza Company!
Like in the U.S., soups in Bosnia have many different names. There are soups, chilis, stews, goulashes, broths, etc. I went four meals and did not eat anything other than a soup. I once accidentally ordered two soups back-to-back at the same restaurant (I got some strange looks by the waiter this time). My favorite so far is begova čorba, a chicken-based soup that has many complicated flavors. 

This is a mushroom barley soup that we ordered at Lake Bled in Slovenia. 
A Better Way of Thinking About Food

Bosnia seems to have a better way of thinking about food than the U.S. does. So much of U.S. food is processed, prepackaged, filled with preservatives and corn syrup, and designed for convenience. Food in Bosnia is market-based, fresh and rarely imported, natural, and not filled with preservatives. As I documented in another post, many grow their own food in gardens and green houses. The fundamentals of this type of diet have not changed much for centuries. 

There are lots of peppers, cabbage, and potatoes grown in Bosnia. 
Open air markets are found through Sarajevo, along the roadsides, and in every small town and village. Bosnians buy their food fresh. 

Bird's eye view of an open air market. It is orange season. These are mainly imported from nearby Croatia. I loved watermelon season ($2 for a large seeded watermelon).
Even their sugars are usually natural. There are many beehives in Bosnia with honey sold at roadside stands throughout the country. Cheeses are also a local speciality. Vlasič cheese is a spreadable cheese that is great to put on bread, meats, and even for french fry dipping. 

Vlasič sir (cheese) which we put upon a "scone" like bread. 
Speaking of french fries, imagine our surprise when we found the Utah staple -- fry sauce!  Tastes about the same as the Arctic Circle variety.

This was one of the biggest surprises in Sarajevo.
Seasonality is important in Sarajevo. Grape season, for example, means bottling "grape syrup" for juice. We met a woman who had just picked these small apples and was planning on making apple cider vinegar from them. Vegetables like cabbage, peppers, and cucumbers are pickled. 

Vinegar bound apples
Street vendors are also seasonal. I assume you've heard the Christmas line "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." The street vendors started roasting chestnuts about a month ago. They smell tremendous but taste a little bland (Dionne likened the taste to sawdust). But there is something nostalgic about eating hot roasted chestnuts.

A bag of roasted chestnuts is about 50 cents.
Despite all of this great food around us, Dionne and I are sometimes our own worst enemies. We eat too many U.S. imports. I am drinking too much Coca-Cola. We found an American store in Ljubjana Slovenia and came home with Dr. Pepper, red beans and rice, pumpkin pie filling, Reese's Peanut Butter cups, Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce, and Tootsie Rolls. I think we will be healthier and happier if we can adopt more of a Bosnian diet. We are slowly becoming converted to many of the wonderful tastes here.  

Unfortunately McDonald's is just a few minutes from our apartment.

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