I’m in Bosnia, helping out a non-profit with their worthy project that involves keeping the family on the farm through agricultural tourism. My assignment: transcribe traditional recipes from the farm, demonstrate to Bosnian farm women how to teach cooking to tourists, and document traditional food ways.
Today was my “orientation day” in Sarajevo. Farouk Helac was my official guide, along with Boris Trogrančić who works for alterural. We sat in the shade across from the Mauresque City Hall, which is in the final stages of being rebuilt after its complete destruction during the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo. A gorgeous building, it is just one sign of the many cultures who once peacefully inhabited this mountain-ringed city and included Jews, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Catholics.
Despite Sarajevo’s fraught history – among other things, Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia were assassinated in front of a sandwich shop here, an act that sparked the beginning of World War I, and the crippling siege– it is a vivid and vibrant place. Crowds pack the streets of the old town, there to stroll the cobbled streets where everything from traditional copper coffee pots to hand-made leather sandals and purses are sold.
The air is fragrant with wood smoke issuing from bread ovens, and at night the city sparkles with twinkling white lights around the minarets, in honor of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Today was the last day of this yearly occasion, and as I write I hear the haunting songs that mark the evening.
I tasted a beautiful Muslim feast this evening, punctuated by the fluffy flat bread sprinkled with nigella seeds that is meant to be dipped in a gorgeous topa, a cheese and cream mixture that is heavenly, a creamy chicken soup called visegradska corba that was studded with a scratchy green vegetable which also punctuated an amazing beef stew called teletinas bamijom. The vegetable, a Bosnian specialty, turns out to be a variety of okra that is lightly pickled.
The special bread will be gone from bakery shelves tomorrow, because it is baked only during Ramadan. I’m eager for more cheese, which I’ll have with my morning doughnuts, as I did today, and a cup of Bosnian coffee.
I’ve already got half a dozen recipe ideas for this project, and today is just the first. Stay tuned for more.