Cevapi (usually 2-4 km), the ubiquitous Balkan kebab, is the most widely accessible meal in Sarajevo. There are two notable variations: the “Banja Luka” Cevap, a bigger kebab with a square form, and the Sarajevo Cevap, which is smaller and circular. Every tourist should taste an order of Cevapi at least once if they haven’t before. Pita comes in a variety of flavors (around 2 km). “Burek,” a filo dough pastry filled with beef (just Burek), cheese (Sirnica), spinach (Zeljanica), potatoes (Krompirusa), or apple, is an inexpensive, delicious, and widely accessible snack (Jabukovaca). However, some instances are better than others, and it may be a greasy affair. However, if you visit Mostar, try to have a dish of trout (“pastrmka,” which sounds like “pastrami”), which is the local speciality (a particularly fine restaurant serving locally farmed trout lies by the wonderful Blagaj monastery, a short bus ride from Mostar).
Local cuisine is focused on meat and seafood, with few vegetarian options. Even so-called vegetarian meals, such as beans or Grah, are cooked with bacon or smoked meats. Stews are often made with meat, although they may also be made without it. Rice and pasta meals are widely available, and Trahana, a traditional sourdough soup filling prepared by hand in most areas, is a mainstay during the fasting month of Ramadan. With the exception of cevapi and pita (or burek), fast food comprises, like in other areas of Europe, of pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Panini sandwiches are offered in most coffee shops popular with young people, and Bosnian coffee, which is similar to Turkish coffee, is a must-try for any coffee connoisseur. Surprisingly, apart from these quick food choices, Bosnian restaurants offer little Bosnian specialties – what individuals eat at home differs greatly from what they would eat in a restaurant.
Advertisements for janjetina or “lamb on a spit” may be seen all over Bosnian highways and recreational areas. This is a delicious delicacy that is typically saved for special occasions. A entire lamb is roasted on a spit by rotating it over a coal fire for an extended period of time. When you order, you pay by the kilogram, which is about BAM25 (not bad since this is enough for several people). On exceptional occasions, such roasts are prepared at home by families.
Whatever you order, you will almost certainly be given bread, which is frequently eaten with all savory meals in certain areas of Europe. Soup and salad are often offered with meals, the most popular being chicken and beef soup with noodles or egg dumplings. Salads are usually made out of mixed tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and bell peppers, and are frequently topped with feta cheese. In Bosnia, a Caesar salad is unheard of, and most vinaigrettes are of the Italian type, consisting of balsamic vinegar and olive or corn oil. You may also come across a variety of condiments. Ajvar is a canned (or home-made if you’re fortunate) spread, similar to bruschetta spread, consisting of roasted peppers and eggplant crushed and slow simmered with pepper and salt. Many pickled items, such as pickled peppers, onions, cucumbers [“pickles,”] and tomatoes, are also served as condiments. Kajmak is a dairy spread that has the consistency and flavor of cream cheese. It is produced from milk fat that has been extracted, salted, and canned. It has a smoky, salty cheese flavor and a somewhat drier texture than cream cheese. Travnik’s kajmak is a local speciality that is exported as far as Australia.
Bosnian cuisine does not often mix sweet and salty flavors, and you will never see a Caesar salad with mandarin oranges. On the other hand, many a good chef would experiment with sweet and savory flavors, such as the ‘Medeno Meso’ (Honeyed Meat) prepared by a well-known chef in pre-war Banja Luka. The distinction between fruit and vegetables is clear, with fruit reserved for dessert-style meals. Unless it’s a dessert, you’ll never see sugar added to a meal. The meal is usually heavy on fresh vegetables that requires little or no additional spice. As a result, there are few spicy or hot meals, and dishes marketed as “spicy,” such as paprikasor gulash, are typically seasoned with paprika rather than chillies, and lack overt pungency. Textures and colors may be significant in certain areas, depending on whether it is restaurant or home cuisine.
Smoked meats are more common in Bosnian cuisine than the traditional staples pita and cevapi. Pork reigns supreme among non-Muslim people, and prosciutto, smoked neck, smoked ribs, bacon, and hundreds of kinds of smoked sausage make this a true BBQ nation. Of course, Muslims have equally delectable lamb or beef options. The meat is produced by first curing it in salt for several days, which eliminates water and dehydrates the flesh while keeping it from rotting due to the high salt concentrations. The meat is hung over a heavy smoke made by a wood fire after being rubbed with spices (a Bosnian dry rub is usually very simple, and includes some combination of high-quality fresh peppercorns, hot paprika, salt, onions & garlic, and a few spoons of Vegeta, a powdered chicken soup mix similar to an Oxo flavor cube). Fruit trees are widely recognized among BBQ enthusiasts worldwide for producing the most delicious smoke, and apple, cherry, and walnut trees are the most frequently utilized in Bosnia. Whereas commercially produced deli meats (such as those found at your local deli) are typically dry-cured or hung in dehydrating fridges for a few hours before being pressure-smoked for a few hours to allow some flavor to permeate the meat, Bosnian smoked meat is painstakingly smoked for up to three months. The meat is hung in a “smoke house,” a small wooden structure large enough to start a fire and hang the meat. Bosnians only smoke meat in the autumn or winter since the low temperatures and salt curation enable the meat to hang for months without rotting. During this period, it is smoked up to four times each week for 8–10 hours at a time, infusing the meat with smoke flavor and removing any residual water. The final product has a strong smoky fragrance and taste, with the texture of chewy beef jerky. The color within the flesh is the most apparent difference between smoked meat made this manner and professionally manufactured meat accessible in North America, depending on the cut of meat. Unlike commercial deli meat, which is often mushy, red, a bit moist, and quite raw, Bosnian smoked meat is black throughout with just a faint tint of pink. Larger slices of pork, such as Dalmatian prosciutto, are somewhat more pink and softer on the interior, but the difference is still significant since Balkan-made prosciutto has considerably less water, is chewier, and generally better smoked. Such meat is most frequently eaten for breakfast, as sandwiches, or as meza, a snack commonly served to welcome visitors. Smoked meats are an inexpensive and extremely delicious lunch meat for visitors, and can be purchased at Bosnian markets from individuals who typically cook it themselves. You’ll never want to leave after having a pork neck sandwich with Bosnian smoked cheese and a salad of fresh tomatoes on a bun of fresh and crunchy handmade bread.
When you pay a visit to a Bosnian at home, the friendliness may be overpowering. Coffee is usually always accompanied by some homemade treat, like as cookies or cakes, as well as Meza. Meza is a big plate of prepared smoked meats, often including smoked ham (in traditional non-Muslim households) and sausage thinly sliced and attractively displayed with cheese, ajvar, hard-boiled eggs, and freshly cut tomatoes, cucumbers, or other salad greens. Bread is constantly available. Most cookbooks on South Slavonic cuisine are jam-packed with hundreds of bread variations, since this is one of the world’s bread-crazy areas. Yet, for the most part, the only bread in most Bosnian households is store-bought French bread, which Bosnians, of course, would never refer to as “French.” To them, it’s just “Hljeb” or “Kruh.”
On important occasions, however, greater effort is taken to make traditional Slavonic breads, and each family typically bakes its own version of a traditional recipe. At Christmas and Easter, Orthodox Serb and Croatian Catholic families prepare Pogaca, a butter-bread that is frequently braided and coated with an egg-wash, giving it a sparkling sheen ideal for spectacular festive settings. During Ramadan, Bosniak (Muslim) populations bake a plethora of breads, and the unique and Turkish-inspired varieties are generally more numerous, diverse, and dependent on regions and villages than among Christian populations, where special-event recipes are more homogeneous and fewer selections exist. Lepinja or Somun (the bread served with Cevapi) is a kind of flat bread that was presumably brought to Bosnia in some form by the Turks, but has since evolved independently and only faintly resembles Turkish or Middle Eastern flat pita breads. Unlike Greek or Lebanese pita, Bosnian Lepinja is chewy and elastic on the inside and delightfully textured on the exterior, giving it the ideal spongy accompaniment to greasy meats and barbecue tastes. The Turks may have started this recipe, but the Bosnians have taken it to new heights.
Bosnians consume a number of stew-type dishes in everyday cooking, such as Kupus, a boiled cabbage dish; Grah, beans cooked in a same manner; and a very runny version of Hungarian goulash. All start with garlic, onions, celery, and carrots, then a vegetable, smoked meat, and a few glasses of water. The veggies are then cooked until they fall apart. A native spice known as “Vegeta” is used in virtually every meal, and the same spice is used across the area, all the way to Poland. It’s the equivalent of a chicken Oxo cube in North America, or condensed chicken broth mix. These stew dinners will cost you next to nothing and will provide you with a substantial and satisfying supper.
In terms of sweets, ice cream offered in most former Yugoslav nations would make you drool. There are many types, but regional milk and cream must play a role in their delicious flavor. Ice cream may be purchased by the scoop, from an iced-milk swirl machine, packaged in shops, or from a sidewalk seller with a freezer directly on the street. The “Egypt” Ice Creamery in Sarajevo is recommended, since it is renowned in the area for its caramel ice cream. Try “Ledo,” a kind of packaged ice cream produced in Croatia but available all across the area. Try some local sweets, such as Krempita, a custard/pudding dish that tastes like a creamy cheesecake, and Sampita, a similar treat made with egg whites. Traditional Bosnian sweets should also be tried. Hurmasice, also known as Hurme, is a tiny finger-shaped wet sweet with walnuts; Tulumbe are tubular doughnuts that are crispy on the surface and soft and sweet on the interior. Don’t forget to sample Bosnia’s version of the world-famous Baklava, which is somewhat more syrupy than its Turkish equivalent and generally without rum, unlike its Greek counterpart. Much of the traditional cuisine has Turkish overtones, a colorful result of six centuries of Ottoman control over the majority of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sweets are no exception.
Whatever you eat in Bosnia, you will be surprised by how rich the tastes you thought you knew are. Because the country’s cuisine has not yet been damaged by commercially produced produce, most crops are grown (uncertified) organically or semi-organically, with less pesticides and harvested when ripe. The vegetable markets exclusively offer seasonal and locally produced veggies, and the fruit in the Neretva Valley area of Herzegovina is certain to be some of the finest tasting you’ve ever had (close to the Croatian border, between Mostar and Metkovic). The area is well-known for its peaches, mandarin oranges, peppers and tomatoes, cherries (both sweet and sour), watermelons, and, most recently, Kiwi fruits. Cheese is also extremely delicious and rich across Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all meals are as fresh as they come.