The clocks have officially changed over here, though I’m not sure if loosing an hour of sleep is a good or bad thing but I know I am happy that Spring is upon us which means summer is eminently close! Before we know it, orthodox Easter will have come and gone and it will be Summer. Jedva čekam (can’t wait)!
This past week has been special because Milan’s parents flew in for Easter and as always there is a lot to be done in the little time that they are able to stick around in Serbia. This being their native country, I am automatically in pupil mode, learning and listening to everything they can shed light on…and unanimously partake in the delicious foods which they have been away from. When the whole family is together, it’s one of the tastiest weeks of the year!
Before I retell our weekend in Selo (village), there is one nom I would like to remark upon. If you have been in or around Belgrade I am sure you have seen a popular Pekara whose title you will see in all Cyrillic ‘скроз добра пекара’(in latin: Skroz Dobra Pekara) or in English ‘Totally Good Bakery’. Ladies and gentleman the title is true, it really is a totally good bakery.
Similar to the title, all of the labels within the bakery are in Cyrillic, excellent for those practicing but horrible for those practicing yet don’t do well under food choice pressure such as myself. The above pictured ‘pizza croissant’ was a happy gamble though and satisfied my Thursday lunch cravings. Beneath the flaky buttered crust was a savory mixture of cheese, light tomato sauce and bits of ham, top this all with cheese and seasonings and you’ve just had yourself a pizza croissant. Wishing they served this at your local Starbucks? Well I hate to break it to you…we don’t have those here, so looks like your only choice is to buy yourself a one way ticket to Skroz Dobra Pekara!
Now back to our featured nom.
The trip to the sleepy little village where Milan’s grandparents live is roughly around 3 hours outside of Belgrade. You can get there by bus but since Milan now has a car, this is always the more preferable mode of transportation, especially for a speedy weekend trip.
Per usual, our journey on the road began at a highway gas station / cafe (super fancy right?) so that we might survive the rest of the trip without our stomachs eating themselves alive. Cappuccinos all around, Bureks with ‘zelje‘ (greens) and cheese, and a sandwich for Mr. Milan. His mother informed me that this is the time of the year for specific greens such as swiss chard, nettle and spinach, all of which you might be able to find growing wild in your backyard. All three are packed with vitamin E and other essential nutrients so why not spruce up the classic cheese with a little natural Serbian greenery (and I don’t mean the psychedelic kind). Zelje is also extremely nom taboot!
Properly satieated we continued on the lengthy stretch of motor way. By car or by bus, the scenery leading towards our destination always creates a buzzing inside of me, like I’m leaving the real world behind and heading into uncharted territories. For someone coming from Boston, it seems a bit like a mix of the Midwest and northern Maine with miles upon miles of farming fields until you reach once mining mountains hiding tiny villages within. It’s not your stereotypical European scenery but it’s certainly beautiful none the less.*Even more so during summer when there are endless fields of sunflowers!*
With a few more stops along the way we arrived at Milan’s Deda’s house later in the afternoon but no time was wasted, it was time to catch up and eat! Every time I go to any member of Milan’s family my appetite starts tingling because I know that something incredibly nom awaits. Lunch is the most important and largest meal of the day in Serbia, so the table had already been set with mouthwatering dishes prepared for our growling bellies. We began with Domaća Supa or Home-made soup, a simple warming soup consisting of broth, assorted vegetables and small noodles to ready your stomach for the main course to come. Don’t be shy to ask for seconds but be very aware of the noms to follow.
Special visitors call for a special meal and luckily for us the main course consisted of a succulent roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots, accompanied by….sarma. Oh sarma, how I adore thee. Juicy ground beef and rice typically wrapped snugly inside of sour (or not) cabbage leaves. The cabbage leaves are marinated for months in nothing more than salt and water, kept outside in a sealed contrainer until they achieve the desired ‘sour’ flavor and are then used throughout the winter months for special meals, Slavas and holidays. Sarma truly is the epitome of Serbian comfort food and can be found next to the definition of nom in my dictionary.
After you have eaten the contents of (at least 3) rolls, you must use your bread to ‘motch’ up the left over juice, basically the Serbian version of licking your plate clean. By doing this you also assist whoever is responsible for washing the dishes post meal so o do them a favor and make sure no trace is left (not that this is something to worry about), though if it were socially acceptable to use your tongue, you would.
Milan hit me mid mouthful during our main course when his aunt passed into the other room with the highly anticipated poslasticarnice (desserts) and excitedly informed me that he saw (or believed he had seen) the unicorn of the Serbian dessert world : Princes Krofne.
Krofne as we learned from my last post ‘Weekend Bites in BG’ are considered donuts; Princes Krofne you might imagine are donuts fit for a princess, however this is not the case. They are actually more of a fabulous cross between cream puffs and profiteroles, delectable custard cream stuffed between two pieces of pastry, typically topped with powdered sugar. In our case the family has since been aware that Milan dislikes said sugary dust so it is omitted but nothing is loss, except a few calories! I could die and go to nom heaven this moment and eat only Princes Krofne for the rest of eternity. Light but dense, crispy but soft, sweet but a tinge salty, like I said a unicorn.
Milan’s aunt had also prepared a cake roll with a layer of apricot jam for those who are unable to delve head first into the creamy sweetest of the krofne (unlike Milan and I). After a few pieces I felt as though my belly might burst but that is how you know you are in a proper Serbian home. Sit back, unbutton your pants and keep eating.
At this point it was a little after 5 in the afternoon but the nomming wasn’t going to stop there. Across town, Milan’s Baba’s Gibanica was already in the oven, something I learned to make per her instructions the first time I met her three summers ago and something I will never forget. Gibanica is similar to Burek with the exception that it is considerably more dense and usually in the form of a round pie, unlike the cylindrical snake like shape of Burek. Made simply with cheese,eggs and layers upon layers of phyllo dough, Gibanica is the pillowly pie of your dreams, and it will be for the rest of your life.
After a cozy night next to the roaring wood stove, we woke up and grazed on whatever we could get our hands on, bread, dried meats, butter and honey. Milan’s family remembered it was my Easter (Orthodox easter being celebrated on the 1st of May this year) and so they greeted me with colored eggs which we used to ‘egg fight’ and then ate with the remainder of our breakfast (and fed tid bits to the deda’s kitties of course).
Mid afternoon we returned to Baba’s for Domaća kafa (perhaps better known as Turkish Coffee but don’t refer to it in Serbia as such!). This powdery form of ground coffee cooked in a Džezva , packs a much needed caffeinated punch to most people’s mornings in the Balkans. I can’t say I would drink it every day because I am still a noobie when it comes to strong brewed coffee but when I do there is always something magical and historical about it. I have actually ordered it at a cafe in Santa Monica, California so if you consider yourself a true caffein connoisur it’s a must try.
Because Milan was due back at work on Monday morning, the two of us were scheduled to go back to Belgrade with the bus a little after lunch that day. Knowing this didn’t stop me from eating the left over Gibanica that Baba so adimantly offered to me after our coffee. Cold Gibanica is like cold pizza, to some maybe even more nom than the night before. As I said, I’m just going with the flow so of course I happily ate our quick yet delicious lunch of soup followed by meaty pork chops, potatoes, carrots and some ‘boston lettuce’ sprinkled with vineger. By then I was pretty much set up for a nap on the bus ride home.
Or was I? Milan’s aunt who happened to be accompanying us back packed Smoki so naturally my half awake self nommed that up to. What? Didn’t I say this was normal? Judgement free zone here people! You would do the same if you were in my expanding pants, and to be honest if you didn’t you may not even last half a day in this country…take my word for it. This. Is. Serbia.
Once Milan’s parents’ returned the following day, they brought with them 50 eggs, giant jars of home-made Ajvar, fruit preserves, hazelnuts from Deda’s farm and a whole buschle of apples. Hard boiled eggs, fritatas and micelaneous baked goods every day for the next few weeks anyone? I think so.
So there you have it, your first trip to an authentic village in Serbia. I don’t think it’s truly possible to gain the full food experience in this country without dining with an actual Serbian family but I understand that not everyone has that luxury. There is a solution though if you do end up here: meet at least one Serb during your travels and be invited to lunch for life. It’s that simple. Serbians are some of the most hospitiable people on the planet and at times I feel overwhelmingly lucky (and overwhelmed with food) that I have landed in such a phenomenal place.
I sincerely hope this post caused you to reminice about your own family traditions and cultural background, especially when it comes to cuisine. Every culture has some sort of culinary bragging rights (even my family of Scots and French Canadians) so whatever yours may be EAT IT WITH PRIDE!
This upcoming week of noms looks like it might very well be full of special surprises unknown to myself but I’m ready for it, the question is…are you?
Skroz Dobra Pekara : Follow Link to see locations all over Belgrade!