As I sit here rotating my meals between boiled hot dogs and cabbage filled pita (a flaky phyllo dough disc of heaven), it is time that I write about my successes, failures, and comedic attempts at cooking in Bosnia.
From burek to grah to cevapi, Bosnian dishes are not easily replicated without an iron fisted Bosnian grandmother directing your every move. There are certain things that I use in my cooking that Bosnia does not offer or even carry in the supermarkets. Rather than complain, I enjoy each meal because I never know if my creation will be edible or not.
Last time I lived in the Balkans I had the luxury of living with a family. I had a host-mother who would make delicious meals every single day for a family of eight. Back home in California, I cook weekly Sunday night dinners for my boyfriend. It has been an exercise in trying new meals and techniques, but has also helped to develop a more creative side in me. To be sure, I’m no Chef Ramsey, but I can get busy provided that I have a few key ingredients and appliances. That’s where the problem arises for me in Bosnia.
That being said, however, Julia and I are experts in choosing interesting food items at the supermarket. These can range from simply selecting an item based on its appearance to having heard about something and buying it for its reputation to buying it simply because there is an entire shelf full of it (the more there is of something, the better it must be… right?). I have a fairly decent grasp of the language, but this grasp is considerably looser when food is thrown into the mix. Ham, in a Muslim society, is not pork; it is made from chicken. Cheese types include Travnik, pizza, and homemade. And, to add more “creativity” into the mix, we cook with two hot plates. One simply has an on-off switch and the other has adjustable settings, thank goodness.
Surprisingly enough, we have discovered a few things that we can cook: pasta with pizza cheese, powdered soup mix, pasta with red sauce and vegetables, and granola. This success is further amplified by the fact that we both have very different tastes in food. She hardly eats meat, and I hate tomatoes, peas, tuna, and beans (everything she loves). We have managed to work around these facts of life and have yet to make something the other refuses to eat.
Over the past two months I have made some dishes that I will never eat again (the most recent of which being a strange, viscous soup with hot sauce and egg noodles) and others that I look forward to making (like our adapted mac and cheese). Food is a very important element in every society and extremely so in the Balkans. While I may not be the best Bosnian housewife or chef on any level, I pride myself in the fact that I trudge on, making mistakes and slowly finding out what works and what absolutely does not.
Posted By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Posted Jul 25th, 2011