Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Zdravo! That happens to mean “hello” in both the Bosnian and Serbian languages. Or, if you speak Croatian, bok! What trilingual country did we visit this weekend? Bosnia and Herzegovina, of course!

For breakfast on Saturday morning, Jess tackled a recipe for pita sirnica (cheese pie) made with kore za pitu, which is the Serbian name for a pastry dough better known in Greek as phyllo. We first worked with phyllo dough while baking a spinach pie in nearby Albania, and have used it again while making boregs in Armenia and baklava in Azerbaijan.

While the pita sirnica was bubbling away in the oven, we listened to a charming compilation of Bosnian folk music, which you can enjoy here. Soon the pita was ready to eat:

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Breakfast was worth the wait—cheesy and delicious!

When most Americans think of Bosnia, they probably remember the brutal Bosnian War of 1992–95. To get a better understanding of the many ups and downs in the country’s history (World War I started in Bosnia as well, with an assassination in the capital city of Sarajevo), we watched the following video:

Today, as a consequence of the 1995 peace treaty, Bosnia and Herzegovina has one of the most complicated political structures we’d encountered since visiting Belgium earlier this year. To begin with, the country is not divided between the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as you might expect. The latter is simply a historical name (with its own complicated origins) for the southern region of Bosnia. Instead, Bosnia and Herzegovina is primarily divided between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where most of the country’s Bosniak and Croatian citizens live, and the Republika Srpska (“Serb Republic”), home to most of the country’s Serbs. The national presidency is shared between a Bosniak, a Serb, and a Croat.

As a mid-morning snack, I dressed up a small plate of dolmas—flavorful rice wrapped in grape leaves—with some Greek yoghurt and a dash of smoked paprika. These are a popular treat in Bosnia:

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I didn’t make the dolmas myself; our friend Trader Joe imported them from Greece in that stylish white can. As with some of our breakfast ingredients, above, we were again relying on famous Greek substitutes for foods that are actually consumed across a wide swath of southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

For lunch, Jess cooked up some djuvech, a hearty dish of vegetables and rice that originates with the Ottoman Turks who ruled the area for centuries. Here’s my bowl:

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That afternoon, we didn’t do too much that could be considered Bosnian. We considered paying a visit to the Central Square Library when Jess discovered that it had a copy of Zlata’s Diary, written during the war by the “Bosnian Anne Frank,” but decided against it. We did, however, pay a visit to a new shop just off the square called the Frozen Yogi, where we got self-serve frozen yogurts. 

I made a large batch of prebranac (Bosnian baked beans) for dinner, seasoned with smoked paprika and onions. I also baked a loaf of Bosnian cornbread, called razljevak, with chopped spinach baked right into the dough:

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This we enjoyed with large dollops of Greek yogurt, just like the dolmas.

We spent the evening watching an award-winning Bosnian film called Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams (2006). This was the contemporary story of a single mother and her teenaged daughter struggling to find their place in post-war Bosnian society. Here is the trailer, with English subtitles:

Our adventures on Sunday morning began with another helping of Jess’s pita sirnica, which we reheated in the toaster oven, for breakfast. To continue learning about modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, we then watched several short videos from YouTube. The first introduced us to some of the shops, bakeries, and tourist attractions around the capital city of Sarajevo:

We followed this with a couple of investigative documentaries that revealed a more sobering account of the political and ethnic tensions still found today in Sarajevo as well as throughout Bosnia.

For brunch, we headed to a self-described Mediterranean restaurant called Sabur, located just across the street from my old apartment in the Davis Square neighborhood of Somerville. The owners of the restaurant are rumored to be from Bosnia, and we knew we’d found the right place when we saw this signboard advertising Balkan sausage:

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Our first course was a plate of what the menu described as “biscuits” served with a fig sauce and apricot butter. A little internet sleuthing revealed that these fried rolls are probably uštipci, a popular breakfast and dessert item throughout the Balkan region:

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For our main course, Jess ordered a spinach bureka, which looked more like the pita sirnica that we’d been having for breakfast than like the boregs we’d baked in Armenia. I ordered a tasty meat patty called a pljeskavica, topped with scrambled eggs and red onions:

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Returning home after a stroll around sunny Davis Square, we watched one last documentary video—this time about the culture of Bosnian immigrants in America:

Like many ethnic groups who have recently arrived in the United States, Bosnian-Americans are trying to hold onto their language and culture while also trying to integrate into their new society. A century ago, my own Polish ancestors were part of an equally close-knit community in northern Massachusetts, but today that culture survives largely in my Polish surname and a handful of favorite family recipes. Whether the Bosnian community will also be absorbed into mainstream society remains to be seen.

Dinner consisted of more prebranac and razljevak, topped with yogurt like the night before. While we ate, we discussed our globetrotting schedule and tried to figure out whether to visit some of the places (e.g., Puerto Rico) that are not on our official list of countries. Given the tensions of its many autonomous subvidisions and sub-subdivisions, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one country that seems lucky to remain on that list. Nevertheless, our weekend-long exposure to the vibrant and often shared traditions of its three constituent peoples gave us a memorable globetrotting experience.

– Derek

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2 thoughts on “Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. I love your blog’s concept! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing the story of my home country and for linking my recipe to the cheese pie. It was also a nice reminder that I have some old recipes there needing a facelift! 🙂
    Have a glorious week!

  2. Pingback: Croatia | Globetrotting at Home

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