Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Balkan Hamburger

You will not find a single McDonalds in Sarajevo. No Burger King, Denney’s, or Pizza Hut. Not a single Starbucks. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single chain restaurant here of any kind. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a hamburger, pizza, or coffee in this town.

Bosnian’s love their coffee, but they prepare it the Turkish way. The coffee must be ground to a very fine powder. The powder is steeped in very hot – but not boiling – water until it foams up. The process is repeated several times and the result is wonderful, but very strong coffee that they serve in tiny cups. In Bosnian restaurants it also involves a great deal of smoking along with the coffee. They do not have the Surgeon General’s health warnings on cigarette packs here and there is no such thing as a smoke free restaurant or even a non-smoking section.

Pizza (pice in Bosnian) is very popular here and is on the menu of most moderate restaurants. I haven’t been able to translate all the toppings yet, but we have had pice with four cheeses and with mushrooms. Because of the large Muslim population, pork is not widely served, but they smoke beef and will serve bits of smoked beef in place of bacon on things like pizza or in polenta or risottos’s. The second time we ordered pice I realized that we had committed a faux pas – we ate it the American way, cutting it into wedges that we ate by hand. In Bosnia, pice is eaten with knife and fork.

You will also frequently find Hamburger listed on menus – spelled just the same, though they rarely understand me when I pronounce it the ‘American’ way. I had lunch in a nice café recently and ordered a Balkan Hamburger. The meat patty was made up of ground veal and lamb, topped with tomato,  cabbage coleslaw, and a poached egg! The bun must have been a custom baked small round bread. It was wonderful. I would go back and order it again, but my luncheon companion ordered a shishkabob that looked delicious and  I would love to try that next.

There are also many small eateries like the one advertising their offerings on signboards like this one. This is the real "fast food" in Sarajevo. In the downtown area you are likely to see 3 or 4 on every block, even away from the center of town, they are not hard to find. Most are about the size of an average American closet. In Portland, they would probably be street carts. I have not yet tried the hamburgers for sale at these small stands, but at just 2.50KM ($1.75) it's a cheap meal or snack. The top item on the menu is a Bosnian specialty. They are made up of ground meat - most likely a combination of ground veal and lamb - mixed with spices and formed into finger shaped meatballs. They are usually served with pita bread and are delicious. This menu also offers chicken fillet or chicken leg, kebabs and juices as well as some other food items I can't translate yet. Nothing on the menu is over $7.