An incredible amount of things have been going on over the span of a single month (and a half)! Applying for a new visa, cooking, classes, road trips, fall cleaning and nomming (when there is time!) Here are just a few of the delicious things I have either had the pleasure of making or feasting on over the course of September and into October.
We also had a new addition to the Nomandnommer family and her name is Mooshoo (or Mooshina after we discovered he was actually a she…). While she may look tame and adorable she has a crazy side and is borderline food obsessed, particularly for carbs (go figure) and meat of course. You give them one taste of roasted chicken scraps and they’re hooked. We’ve started to use an old toilet paper roll as a food dispenser so that she doesn’t Hulk it out when she’s finished….so far it seems to be working.
Mooshoo definitely wandered into the right house because she loves to nom on everything….but can you blame her?
Anywho this week I wanted to share with you a shop in Belgrade that doesn’t just think out of the box but actually out of the jar, as well as a cooking course extravaganza that I nommed my way through first hand this past Saturday. Wash your hands and put on your aprons because we’re going to get our hands deliciously dirty for this post!
Before we begin I want to tell you a short story of a recent event that transpired in connection to my never ending visa woes (don’t worry it has a happy ending)!
If you don’t like stories of faith in humanity being restored please feel free to skip over this. Enjoy these photos of adorable animals nomming in the mean time.
As you might know the time when I have to apply for my temporary residence visa is always hectic as there seems to be an endless amount of paperwork involved as well as a decent chunk of change and time spent getting it all together. For this visa specifically I had to make an appointment-only visit to my embassy in Dedinje and obtain a notarized document for the hefty sum of 50 USD. This not being my first time at the rodeo, I was prepared to pay the fee but had planned on taking advantage of their ability to accept all major credit cards to save myself a trip to the menjacnica (exchange office) this time around.
Upon my arrival at the embassy I felt positive and was hoping to get in and out of there and on to the Department of Foreign Affairs to get said document stamped. Mind you the interview for my visa was that Wednesday (it was Monday morning) at which all of my documents had to be submitted. Well as luck would have it, my BOA card has a chip, a chip which they were unable to read. My Banca Intesa card is debit and not credit. I had a total of 3,000 Serbian dinars in my wallet (around 30 USD)….not enough to cover the fee. The man at the counter explained to me that I would have to make another appointment, which I knew was impossible between then and my interview. You can imagine my dismay as a I turned around defeated, bitter and annoyed that all the time, money and effort would go down the drain.
This is when my faith in humanity was restored:
Milos (a guy around my age) had been waiting to be summoned for his visa interview state-side to be with his fiancé. Milos had overheard the conversation between the embassy worker and myself and didn’t hesitate to ask if I needed the money to cover the cost of the document. My heart literally rejoiced. Was this guy for real?! There was one more snafu however when we realized he didn’t have enough dollars or dinars to cover both his fees and mine. Back to square one, damn my luck! But then I realized that we could combine our dinars to the total sum necessary to pay. Of course Milos agreed and with heavy sighs from the people behind the counter, I was awarded my notarized document (with mistakes mind you) and due to time constraints I promised to rendezvous with Milos at Delta City in New Belgrade later on to pay him back.
Long story short, I paid Milos back the money I owed and he informed me that his visa had been approved. Good karma all around. Needless to say I was on cloud nine the rest of the day.
…And so this is where this story ties in with the nom we are about to discover. The first time we visited the complex around Delta City known as ‘Bellville’ was in ‘Weekend bites in BG‘ when we got fabulously fresh squeezed juice at Picolo. This complex is full of other little gems on the floor level of the multiple apartment buildings, one of which had always caught my eye because the concept was something I had seen in the states a few times before.
Tegla’s Salad in a Jar is one of the handful of places in and around Belgrade that serves up deliciousness a la jar. Energizing breakfast jars, luciously layered salads with fresh ingredients, and decadent desserts by Homemade Company are some of the things you’ll find on the menu at Tegla’s. They deliver to venues around the city and are thus more of a healthy grab and go option during a hectic work week.
The day of the embassy fiasco, I had skipped breakfast and was looking for a replacement to my morning over-night oat routine. I knew Tegla’s would fit the bill. Their oatfilled jars are jam packed with familiar flavors like Carrot Crunch, Pina Colada, and Blueberry Crisp. If I had it my way, I would have had one of each but the Banana Bomb whispered the sweet word of my well known kryptonite: peanut butter.
Tegla’s Banana Bomb really is the bomb. Complete with oats, greek yogurt, soy milk, bananas, walnuts, honey, crunchy muesli and of course peanut butter…this jar was everything I needed after an emotional morning and without the guilt!
The best part about Tegla’s is that you can keep the jar and use it for something else or I have heard that if you are a frequent customer and return ten jars that Tegla’s will hook you up with something on their menu gratis! My plans for returning to try the rest of their products just skyrocketed. I can’t keep the lid on about these phenomenal jars, so get out there and try it for yourself…you’ll never want to eat from a bowl again!
This past Saturday, Milan and I began our endeavor to learn more about the art of preparing and cooking traditional Serbian dishes, most of which we were already familiar with (by ways of nomming) and were determined to find out how to make in the comfort of our own home. We know just how much heart and soul goes into Serbian food and I have dabbled a bit here and there by creating my own interpretations of Serbian classics simply by watching the domacis around me (remember proja and stuffed peppers?).
I discovered ‘Foodart’ or ‘Serbian Traditional Cooking Experience‘ by none other than the wonders of Instagram via a guy I follow who had posted a prep photo and thus I obviously became interested in taking the course myself. After checking out their website, I signed Milan and I up for a course the following Saturday, only semi knowing what we were getting ourselves into…but that’s half the fun.
Here was the menu for that day’s course:
- Šopska salata (Cucumber, Tomatoe, Onion, Cheese Salad)
- Burek sa meson i Burek sa sirom / spinacom (Burek with meat and Burek with cheese/spinach)
- Ćevapi (minced meat rolls)
- Knedle sa sljivama (potato dumplings with plum)
Although it might seem minimal this is because many other traditional Serbian dishes take longer than four hours to make, more than the amount of time planned for the course. These items however take skill on their own but with a bit less waiting time (and more nomming time!)
When Saturday rolled around we met our foodie guru Vlad Gurbaj, a professor, musician, world traveler and lover of all things food in the heart of Zemun. He took us around the huge Pijac (open air market) in Zemun’s center, something I had walked past but never really wandered throughout. As we ventured through the endless aisles, Vlad filled us in on how he came to create the course. My Serbian practice was on its A game. We were also hunting for pecans which we came out empty handed because neither of us has ever seen one in Serbia. (Anyone know otherwise?).
After strolling around the older streets near the quay, we headed to Vlad’s house not far from the center. Typically during the summer he holds the courses for the most part outdoors in the lush garden in the backyard. However because of the cold weather he recently transformed the garage into a foodie haven. The cozy kitchen prep space is made whole by the large wooden tabletop, colorful lighting and scratch maps of all the places Vlad’s been lucky enough to visit.
We were joined by Vlad’s sister Marija (Maria) who was home for a short while from Singapore. Upon our arrival she was prepping the dough that would soon be stretched into Burek. Being the gracious Serbian host Vlad was, we were given coffee, tea and of course Domaća rakija (brandy). After toasting, Vlad brought out a platter of savory mezza to munch on while we chatted about our lives.
Soft bread and lepinja with Serbian favorites, ajvar (red pepper relish) and kajmak (clotted cream) with sliced meats, boiled eggs and something that always reminds me of Serbia in a nutshell, Čvarci (a variant of pork rinds).
Marija popped in to show us the process of making the dough for the Burek, even though we wouldn’t be using it because it needed resting time, it was still fun to feel how the dough should feel when kneading it.
Next we learned how to form the Ćevapi , something I was always curious about because of the perfect size of these succulent meat rolls in all the good restaurants. The meat was prepped (I won’t tell how because you’ll have to take the course to find out!) so Milan being the man he is proceeded to use a tin cylinder to form rows of minced meat. Vlad and I worked on cutting them to size and rolling them in a bit of oil.
In the meantime, Vlad had already prepped the potatoes for the dumplings and proceeded to mash them into the dough, all the while explaining ingredients and telling stories. The dough is primarily composed of potato and flour, very basic things almost everyone has in their house.
The dough is then rolled out and cut into squares to be snuggly wrapped around each juicy purple plum. We put those aside to focus on the dish that would take the most amount of patience and skill, stretching out the dough for the burek.
Once upon a time last summer when I was alone in the house I decided to attempt to make Burek from scratch. Having made gibanica and used phylo dough before, I thought how hard can it be to make your own? The answer to that it…..harder than you think. So having only seen this technique on Youtube before I was thrilled that we would actually be learning how to stretch out the readied dough to the thinness of paper and the size of the entire table.
We gently pulled at the elasticy dough with our fingertips (you can see the edges on top of the white table cloth), stretching and stretching until Marija was satisfied with the size. Despite there being a few tears near the end, it in no way would compromise the finished product and heck nothing is perfect.
After that we sprinkled the minced meat mix on one end while Marija used cheese, egg and spinach on the other end. When that is done the part that blew my mind came to fruition:
She made it look so easy!!
With the Burek transferred into the oven to bake, Vlad had fired up the grill outside so that we could cook our Ćevapi and get some fresh air. Their backyard is really something wonderful. I’m kind of bummed we didn’t know about this course during the summer because it’s the perfect outdoor cooking and barbecue space.
Vlad gave the seal of approval once the Ćevapi had browned with traces of crispy golden color, ready to be nommed. We had made the salad earlier on, basic chopping with Vlad’s way of properly marinating the flavors of onion, tomato and cucumber. Even seemingly fool proof dishes like Šopska salata have their secrets!
The perfect juiciness of the Ćevapi was like being transported to your favorite kafana but the accomplishment of having prepared it yourself made it ten times nommer. We used the kajmak from the mezza spread alongside to enhance the traditional flavors. Meat and butter together? Yes please.
Marija had mentioned that it was virtually impossible to find the type of cheese used for this salad in Singapore so she always fills her suitcase with the creamy goodness before she takes off. Since Milan’s family is spread on different continents, they can all attest to the fact that traditional Serbian cooking spans the boarders but sometimes improvising ingredients that aren’t available can’t beat the original.
Our Burek emerged from the oven, crispy and golden to perfection. It’s not often that I go to pekara or eat baked goods that aren’t made in the house so this was particularly special for me. Also it’s rare that by the time you get the Burek and leave the pekara that it’s piping hot like ours was. The meat created a soft coating on the inside, complimenting the crunch of the roll. Sigh, it was nomtastic.
Finally we were ready to move on to our dessert. The dumplings were prepped to be submerged in boiling water to cook throughout and then coated in a mixture of bread crumbs and butter to create an ascetic and delicious tasting exterior.
Already full from our lunch, the steam from the boiling pot of knedle wrapped the entire room in a cozy almost sleepy like atmosphere. I don’t know about you but the smell of boiling potato anything always has that effect on me.
Hot from the coating pan, the plum dumplings were like warm little balls of all things considered good. Out of all Serbian confections, I would consider knedle sa sljivama to be the least sweet which is why you sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top before you take that much anticipated bite into nomness. They were magical, really.
Does this look like a success to you? I’m not sure about how good my mental memory is when it comes to facts or things to do but I can assure you that my stomach’s memory is unlike any other. But just in case it ever failed me, Vlad was nice enough to print out the recipes we used during the course for reference.
Milan and I left the course not feeling like we had actually even been in one. It felt more like we had made new friends and the cooking happened to be taking place at the same time. You couldn’t have asked for better people to show you some traditional Serbian dishes. I’m no longer daunted by the thought of having to make my own Ćevapi instead of just buying it at the butchers, or the next time I’m alone and feel like making burek, I most certainly will…or at least I’ll try!
If you’re reading this post and passing by Belgrade or plan on extending your visit, do yourself a favor and sign up for this class, you and your stomach definitely won’t regret it. Plus you’ll get to hang out with amazing Serbian locals and eat the food that has graced their tables for generations. It’s a hands on experience not to be missed.
It was a Saturday well spent, if I could spend the next Saturdays of the rest of my life like that, the world would be a truly happy place.
Tomorrow I will go to get my visa and see if they gave me longer than the usual three months. During the day long process I plan on setting myself up at Krajl in the morning to work on my lesson plans and have my ‘visa cappuccino’ (or two). I’m seriously in the mood for falafel (can you be in the mood for something a week in advance?) so I might go to Tel Aviv or check out a new place in the Slavia area….videćemo (we’ll see).
I currently have a long list of places I want to visit this fall but am just waiting to see where my appetite takes me. Tune in next time and as always thank you for reading!