(Mainly Serbian, mainly something you don’t want to miss)
By Sonja Nikcevic
I have given myself a complimentary long weekend, and have glorious plans for it. These include seeing everyone and anyone (preferably in my favorite coffee place), dressing up and eating wedding cake, oh, and eating some of the best food in the world. Now, because many have asked, and because everyone needs to know, here are some of the most mouthwatering gems of Serbian and Eastern European cooking.
1. Kajmak & čvarci (repeat after me: kaymak & chvarcy)
I’m starting with what I just had for breakfast, also one of my favorite combinations in the world. I’ll elaborate, though both are a disaster to explain. Kajmak is a dairy-based spread, but richer and creamier (and with more percentages of fat) than you can imagine. It’s the lovechild of churned cream and home-made whipped butter, with just a hint of cheese.
Cvarci are pork rinds with a twist. They are the crispy pork bits that Wikipedia defines as ‘a rustic countryside specialty’, and that I like best in their ‘tobacco’ form – duvan cvarci. Now don’t get confused, it’s not something you smoke, but these types of rinds are wispy rather than crispy and resemble processed tobacco. They contain all of the salty flavor and none of the fat of the original cvarci and go GREAT with kajmak and a little smoked ham.
2. Ajvar (Aivar)
Some of my international friends have tried this and are smitten, as am I! Ajvar is what we here call a ‘winter salad’. It’s a red pepper-based, spicy, spread-like perserve that I’ve heard people call ‘the salsa of the Balkans’, which is not a bad way to define it. The best, long red peppers mature in late August, they are then roasted, peeled, chopped up and preserved, and – if you make enough jars- they’re there to last the whole winter.
P.S. Because of ajvar, early September doesn’t just remind me of new notebooks and sharpened pencils, but of the smell of peppers roasting throughout the whole city.
Sarma also falls under the ‘winter food’ category. It’s salty, warming, filling and rich in calories – there to help you make it through the most freezing of temperatures. Sarma is made up of sour cabbage leaves (don’t you dare wrinkle your nose, it’s amazing) that are then filled with a mixture of minced meat and rice and rolled up into little bundles. The more bundles, the better. They’re then cooked (for hours) in a pot with smoked meat, there to give them extra flavor. Yum!
4. Ćevapi ( Chevapi, or their form of endearment – chevapchichi)
See? This one is so amazing it even has a form of endearment that basically means ‘sweet little ćevapi’. Now, since we are a nation of meat-eaters (have you noticed?), especially grilled meat, ćevapi are high on the favorites list. They are specially-spiced, rolled up ‘fingers’ of minced meat. You usually order ten at a time, with some bread, kajmak and chopped up onion on the side.
5. Prebranac (Prebranatz)
This is a bean side dish that goes amazingly with ćevapi. Beans often don’t sound too appetizing (unless they’re the Mexican kind!!), but these are an exception. Not too much explanation goes in this one – it’s baked beans with A LOT of onions, and quite a lot of grease, there to make the flavor explode in your mouth. My grandfather’s version is also the absolute best.
Hungry yet? I hope you are, and that this gives you another reason to come traveling to our part of Europe soon. We’ll even try and be understanding if you say you’re a vegetarian.
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