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I found the burek!

25 Jan

I have long bemoaned the lack of Eastern European food in Nashville.

We’re pretty international, but really people just eat a lot of Asian and gyros.  My sister and our friend call ourselves the Sketchy Restaurant Club…we’ve had Thai, Middle Eastern, El Salvadoran, Indian, Greek, Japanese…but there are definitely unrepresented parts of the world. There ain’t no Finnish restaurants, or Kyrgyz, or even Russian ones.

But lo and behold, Nashville has gained an adorable little Eastern European place called Euro Grill. Although, they seemed a little hesitant to proclaim their true identity, as the sign says, “Mediterrainian Food” [sic]. I understand, guys. Some people need to be tricked into discovering their true love of feta-filled pastry.

Apparently the restaurant’s been open since 2010, but when I got back from Eastern Europe in 2011, I looked everywhere for Balkan food and couldn’t find it. I finally got wind of Euro Grill last year, and this was my first time going.

I was a little excited.

I was a little excited.

Not only was there legit food, but most people in the place were speaking a variant of Croatian/Serbian. There were tiny coffee cups, guys wearing sweat pants and Nikes, and a group of men playing darts basically the whole time we were there. It was literally a piece of Eastern Europe in Tennessee.

And I loved it. You will see me again, Euro Grill! (and Serbia!)

Ja volim kafu mnogo! (I love coffee a lot)

24 Aug

Everyone knows I love coffee. It’s one of my “things.” Everywhere I go, I search for high-quality and unique coffee. Thus I’m a little ashamed to admit that for the better part of my two months in Belgrade, I didn’t spend much time looking (the bus costs money, okay?!).

Thankfully, the last week I was there, a friend told me about a micro roaster downtown. A place that sells WHOLE BEANS (virtually unheard of in Serbia). A place that, by his description, looked like one of the “destroyed warehouse” coffee houses so popular in American cities.

So obviously I spent some time on my very last day searching for it. My friend Nina and I waltzed down the streets of Belgrade with a shady GPS and flamboyant attitudes, searching for the illusive Pržionica. Our search led us down a shady block in the less trafficked part of town, and we almost gave up.

Luckily we persevered until we saw a couple men under a yellow awning, sipping coffee and exhibiting perfectly the carefree Serb spirit I’d come to love. We entered the café and my breath caught – it was everything I had hoped for it to be!

There was a personal pour over station…

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There were seats made of burlap…

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(old coffee bean bags!)

There was the name of the place in Cyrillic on the wall….

Plus beautiful Nina!

Plus beautiful Nina!

There was an awesome chalkboard menu….

I might have had a slight crush :)

And the extremely nice barista 😉

And most importantly, there was coffee. And it was good.IMG_3719

Do what the Serbs tell you

10 Aug

ImageY’all, bask in the glory of this gyro. It’s the best gyro I’ve ever tasted, hands down! So yes, as I revealed in my last post, at the time of consumption I was excited to eat anything besides pizza, but this gyro’s loveliness went way beyond that.

Exhibit A: SUPREME MEAT. Serbs reign supreme at cooking meat (their most famous dish is, simply, “grill”). I got the pork, and it nearly melted in my mouth.

Exhibit B: FRENCH FRIES. Need I say anything else? Why, all other gyros in my life, do you not have french fries in you?! WHY. You are stealing magic away from people’s lives.

Exhibit C: CURRY MUSTARD. If you examine the above picture closely, you can see a yellow substance in between the luscious meat and the lettuce. There lies the best mustard I’ve ever encountered, just the right mixture of spicy and sweet, with just enough curry to make you feel exotic and adventurous.

While ordering my wrap, I also learned a lesson in Serb culture. I asked for a bit of spicy-looking red stuff on my gyro (because I am both spicy and adventurous), but the Gyropolis guy shook his head at me. “You don’t want that,” he said, his tone foreboding.

“I really like spicy stuff, though!” I countered, being my naturally defiant, try-everything self.

Being a typical Serbian, though, the guy grimaced and gestured toward another topping option. “The mustard goes well with pavlaka.” (a sour cream-ish condiment).

I considered my options. I could demand the red stuff and possibly get it, or just go along with the guy. Serbs are very adamant about what [they think is] best for you, though, so I acquiesced to his request and forwent the red stuff. And my gyro was perfect. So just in case you are ever in Belgrade and happen upon a Gyropolis, I’m not telling you not to get the red stuff, but…you probably won’t have the option anyways!

O food, thou canst make drama!

7 Aug

Okay. So I’ve been gone all summer with sketchy internet connection…wooed yet again by Eastern Europe’s heady quirkiness, drawn by the promise of a media internship and the opportunity to teach English.

I spent eight weeks in Belgrade, Serbia, from where I got to take a quick jaunt to Budapest and stop by London on the way home. Let me tell you, I had LOTS of adventures, although for once, most of them did not involve food. Why, you ask? Here are my eight weeks in a nutshell:

Stage 1: The Honeymoon (3 weeks )

She arrives in Belgrade, fresh-stomached and eager to discover the culinary delights of Serbia’s capital city. Her first tastes of burek and pljeskavica don’t live up to her memories of small-town Serbia, but she is still hopeful. She soon discovers other delicacies – wonderful pizza, awesome coffee, and superbly greasy french fries (pomfrit). Life is good.

Stage 2: The Realization (2 weeks)

She wakes up, fresh from a dream about strawberry spinach salad. As she thinks about the day before her, she knows that her only meal options are pizza, meat, bread, or pomfrit. She lies back down. Life is a little hard right now.

Stage 3: Starvation (4 hours)

“Cheese or pepperoni?” her friend asks. “I’m not hungry, actually,” she lies, ignoring the gaping hole in her stomach. Life is extremely, entirely, dramatically terrible. 

Stage 4: Normalization (3 weeks)

She can see the end in sight, and her stomach has gotten used to constant fast food. Pizza? Bring it on! Pomfrit? Can’t get enough! After all, she only has a couple weeks left, and you can’t get ćevapi in the U.S.! She eats everything in sight, and uses the last of her dinar on ice cream (sladoled) and even more pomfrit. Life is good (and four pounds heavier) once again.

Lesson: When life gets hard, drink coffee.

Lesson: When life gets hard, drink coffee.

Coffee…continued…again

28 Oct

I mentioned in my last post that I recently acquired a Serbian coffee grinder, and here I explain (mostly with action) how spoiled I am by the “for your convenience” culture of America:

Coffee obsession: continued

26 Oct

Some people call me a coffee snob; I like to call myself a coffee connoisseur. Honestly, though, the most accurate term is probably coffee nerd. I collect all varieties of coffee grinders, brewers and makers, some of which I’ve already told you about. This month I got both an AeroPress and a (long-awaited) Turkish coffee pot. Two! In one month! Nerd heaven.

The AeroPress

I saw this maker randomly online and was soon won over by the myriad of positive reviews about it. I know, I know – you can’t trust the internet! But this nifty little maker is every bit as good as I thought it would be, if not better.  To use the AeroPress, you pour very finely ground coffee into the bottom half of the container. Then you just mix with hot water, place it on top of a cup and slowly press down the plunger. When you push the plunger down, the coffee is “pressed” by the “air” (haha) through the filter and into the cup.

My AeroPress makes one of the smoothest and least acidic cups of coffee I’ve ever tasted! I would highly recommend it to anyone.

The Turkish pot, I’ve used before. Toward the end of my 5-month stint in Eastern Europe, I was drinking two or three cups of Turkish coffee a day. Alas, though, I forgot to buy a pot to take home with me. So, long story short, I received one this month straight from Serbia (via equally long-awaited friend) and it is now my very own! Here it is, in all its cuteness:

I asked for the most colorful pot available 🙂

Turkish coffee is made on the stove, and although there are many variations of the process, I heat up the water until it’s almost boiling, then stir in the ground coffee and reheat it just a little bit more.

The ground for Turkish coffee is also fine, almost like powder. My friend brought me a legit Serbian grinder, which makes the perfect grind for a good ol’ cup of velvety caffeine.

Ooh, heavenly, right?

I have been a very happy girl these past couple of weeks; even though life has been extremely busy, I’ve gotten to use both of my new toys multiple times! If you can tell, I’ve also gotten to play with the new camera I got for my birthday…I’m definitely still a novice, but I fully expect that one day you’ll see pictures of all my coffee equipment in Time Magazine. At which point, I will have enough money to travel the world searching out even more ways to brew! Ah, life is good.

Kuća Čaja

30 Sep

There is a downside to travel: you leave a little bit of your heart wherever you go. And for me, it’s a little of my heart and a lot of my stomach! There’s no telling when a certain craving for food halfway across the world will hit me, and honestly it’s comparable to missing languages, towns and cultures. People, I miss more than food. I’m not a monster, y’all!

I follow a few blogs dedicated solely to reviewing restaurants, cafes, shady joints and food trucks. In this blog, I usually write about food I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy eating out now and again. Lately I have been missing a certain eatery in a tiny Eastern European town.

Compellingly odd art at Kuca Caja

Užice, Serbia is nestled in a valley and crawls up the slopes of its surrounding mountains. The city has a shopping street, a couple places to eat and a darling town square. In the heart of the city, there’s a teahouse called Kuća Čaja. Its name literally means “tea house,” because in a town as small as Užice, there’s no need for further description.

The drinks at Kuća Čaja are delicious; the tea comes in style with your own brewer, matching cup, a bowl of sugar and a pitcher of cream. But, truly, it’s the atmosphere that keeps people coming back. You enter up a flight of stairs and emerge in a dim, artsy room with mismatched chairs and paintings from local artists. To the right is the bar, and to the left there is the only other room, an eclectic hangout area that sometimes boasts live music. In every nook and cranny, there is strange art and foreign-looking knicknacks.

I forgot to photograph the beautiful tea pot…

In short, Kuća Čaja is the kind of place that would be spilling over with hipsters if it was located in a big city. As it is, a few young adults gather there a couple times a week, and the occasional passers-through go there for a hot drink in the mountainous chill.

I miss Kuća Čaja because, for me, it embodies the Serbian spirit: the tendency to spend time on what counts (a good drink and conversation), the freedom to express yourself and a really odd, yet endearing personality. I also have some great memories from there, like chatting with people who only spoke as much English as I did Serbian, playing covers with my friends Marko and Mirjami and relaxing with my friends and a huge mug of Indian chai.

If you ever find yourself in Užice, stop by Kuća Čaja and let me know how it’s doing. And I’d highly recommend the blueberry mango tea!

Me and Mirjami, probably playing Coldplay 🙂