Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A brief taste of Sarajevo

The following is a GUEST POST:
I suppose there are a number of cities in the world, if not most of them, which are full of contrasts, where one can not identify the dominant thread that unites all the places and the people. Even though Islam has become more prevalent in the life style of the town since the occupation, Sarajevo is still a potpourri of history, culture and religion.  Here communist era architecture jostles for space with Austro-Hungarian buildings; Turkish-era mosques, cathedrals and synagogues are neighbors, bullet ridden facades of houses live next to pristine glass shopping centers while locals, peasants, tourists and the diaspora all stroll underneath. 

Daylight wandering around Bascarsija
As someone who was born in the town, but due to personal and political events is almost a quarter century not of the town, it gives you two different lenses through which to look.  One lens is that of the re-visiting tourist, because the tastes of this town are so unique there is no other place in the world that can package them (I bet they say that about a number of places in the world) and because you are returning you know what to expect. On the second hand, through the family that is living here and through conversations about their daily lives and their friends, you learn about the town underneath the flavors, where the cumbersome national politics and the never-ending struggle for economic survival does not make as pretty a picture.

The sampling of tastes should only begin in Bascarsija, the old quarter, as it is the most magical spot of the town: the low Turkish style wooden market buildings mixed with the cobbled pavements, the tiled brick roofs, and the mosques always in the high eye-line.  Dusk and nighttime in the summer is the ideal time to wander, exploring curio shops selling artwork in wood, brass, and cloth.  The only place to begin the actual tasting part would be any of the cevapdzinice which are crammed full in this part of town, and sell the staple Bosnian fast food – cevapi (cylindrically rolled meat packaged in a doughy flat bread with some chopped onions and optional kajmak). Once you order your desired quantity (5, 10 or 15) you will experience the aroma that fills the bascarsija is very tasty. Each little cevapdzinica has its own charm and its own recipe for making them, and it will triumph over any fast food chain. Some members of the Bosnian diaspora are known to have eaten cevapi every day during the duration of their stay in their hometown (look for Zeljo and Petica as good places to indulge).

Selections of desserts at Ramis
After the cevapi, you might feel like it's time for something sweet, and trust me, Bascarsija can provide, at a place just before the old town crosses the line into a more Austro-Hungarian feel.  Sltako cose, or the sweet corner, has the one and only Slasticarna Ramis, which has been serving sweet sweet delicacies since 1912. Chocolate rich cakes, cream towers, and Bosnian adapted Turkish inspired syrupy dough desserts are plentiful and all delicious. You can select from tufahije, krempite, hurmasice, baklava, kadajf, tulumbe...and even macaroons! Thirsty? Try boza, a popular fermented beverage originally from Turkey that is a good thirst quencher on a hot day.

Sitting in the slasticarne or the coffee shops is a very popular thing to do in summer months, and you will notice that all those wandering the streets are dressed very nicely for the occasion, because this stretch of town is also the place to be seen. The ladies are spruced up with high heels and jeans making a strong showing next to dresses and short shorts, while for the men sports collar shirts are the favorite choice, and please no ripped jeans! Bars and pubs are found more on the little avenues that run off of Ferhadija, and those stay open late into the night with a good but smoky mix of people inside.
continue along the Ferhadija you will have the opportunity to join in with the locals, tourists and returning diaspora as they drink their small coffees and smoke their cigarettes (if you are still looking for something sweet, stop at the slatsicarna Egipat and grab some of their very unique and creamy ice-cream).

Children's Memorial
War never seems too far from Sarajevo.  On the outskirts of Bascarsija by a small bridge that crosses the Miljacka, you will find a plaque which commemorates the spot where Gavrilo Princip shot and assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his 1914 visit to the town, and thus effectively started World War I. At the end of Ferhadija, and just as it joins with Titova, there is a memorial for those who fought in the liberation of Sarajevo during World War II, Vjecnja Vatra. But the signs of the more recent war are still the more present in Sarajevo, with scars of fighting still evident on the sides of many buildings throughout the town.  On Titova during 2012, a special memorial was made for the 20 year anniversary of the start of the occupation, with a red – chair for every one of the 11,541 people who had lost their lives during the occupation of the town from 92 to 95.  Today, just across from the very modern BBI Centre shopping mall on the same street, there is a permanent memorial for the children of the town who had lost their lives, with all their names etched on spinning cylinders, reminiscent of Tibetan Prayer wheels.

All of this is probably why Sarajevo still feels a bit like a wounded town, displaying its scars proudly with the confidence of a survivor. For those that live here, that confidence is tampered with the daily struggle of survival in an environment of complicated politics and difficult economic circumstances. As for the tourist, the town offers much more than the sum of its parts, more than what you can see, it is a town that will draw you in with the smells and the tastes.  It also carries with it that feeling of being the meeting place of history, tradition, cultures and religions, all of which stretch back hundreds of years.

Follow me on: @papamuf 

Sanjin Muftić is Bosnian born, Ethiopia raised, Canada immigrated, all before he mastered a South African postgraduate degree. In Cape Town, where he now resides, he has directed theatre shows, designed videography, and taught drama at a high school, college and university. He serves as the Head of Acting Department at CityVarsity School of Media and Arts and is working on his Phd at the University of Cape Town. He watches a lot of cricket and always has homework.

1 comment:

  1. Darn, could have used this last year! It was rainy when we visited Sarajevo, but ducking into shops to sample their snacks, sweets and dishes made up for the crappy weather.