Thursday Thirteen

Serbian mentality through Serbian cuisine

Serbian painter and writer Momo Kapor wrote beautifully who we Serbs are and what could be our main brand. I thought it might be interesting to share it with you … so here it is (with my adding):

1.Well once, Belgrade (capital of Serbia) was world widely known as “City with open heart” and that was perfect description. It is in our nature to doing our best so that guest may enjoy as much as possible. Hospitality is one of our greatest characteristic. We look at guest as a present from God. Of course in that time when Belgrade was “City with open heart” our wallets were full and our life was perfect, without any interruptions. We could buy everything we needed; travel everywhere, after all Yugoslavia was the richest country in communistic block but also richer then some western European countries such as Spain, Portugal or Ireland. 2. And then shit started to happens and we became little more different nation. We were mad because injustice, blind to see our role in that mess, we were convinced by TV how that same world who was enjoying few years ago in City with open heart is hating us now (on the other hand that same world wasn’t try with anything to show us how that is not true) and after some terrible years eventually we became xenophobic, closed, indignant, hurt…nation. 3. But fortunately we can’t fight against ourselves too long and since that wasn’t our natural state we started transformation in our real shape. It is slow process but constant. So, how would typical Serbian family host guest from abroad?

4. “This cannot be found anywhere else!” is the most frequent comment Serbs level at their foreign guest at the dining table as they pore over piles of food. If you happen to be in our hospitable home, do not be surprised by our culinary aggressiveness; Serbs sincerely believe there is no place where so sumptuous food is to be had but at their homes and that you, being lean have just escaped hunger in your own country. This is why we will do our utmost to serve you food and demonstrate the originality of the Serbian cuisine, which in point in fact does not exist in the shape we would like to (or believe to).

5. The grill, for instance comes from the Arab countries, while “ćevapčići” (a cylinder shaped piece of grilled meat) Turkey and further back from Persia. The Njeguska smoked ham is a close relative of the one from Parma, but is not eaten here with the melon (we are terrified by the mere prospect) as is done in Italy. As regards lamb meat, it is roasted on a spit and is as good as or perhaps even better than in Greece. Spaniards and Italians believe very young pork meat barbecued in this way to be their own specialty. The beans have come to us from America and the famed Dragačevo trumpet players (Guča-the favorite place for all strangers as well as for us) may be said to be a younger offshoot of Mexico’s mariachi. What then is it that makes the Serbian cuisine so special?

6. Surely the fact that in just two-three hours drive you may depart from the Levantine and Oriental cuisine domain and enter a region known for its Central European gastronomy-Vojvodina (part of Serbia where I live). After a mere twenty or so minute drive across the Sava River, in Zemun and Pančevo you may be offered dumplings, shufnudle, shtrukle, mlinci, ćušpajz, melšpajz, goulash and Hungarian perkelt, as well as strudel with poppy seeds, ground walnuts or raisins-a cuisine we inherited from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 7. Instead of Serbian proper spritzer (wine and soda water), here we drink gemischt (wine and mineral water) and in Montenegro-bevanda (wine and tap water). 8. Going southward, in just a few hours we would make it to the Mediterranean culinary waters with fish, seashells, olive oil, intensely-flavored and scented goat cheeses, in short all the characteristics the culinary civilizations of the neighboring Mediterranean countries rest on.

9. But what is then the Serbian brand? Slivovitz? Hardly so, it is made also (albeit not as good as it is here) by Hungarians, Bulgarians and some other nations, while Germans still hold the old license to export throughout Europe our “prepečenica” (high-grade plum brandy known also as Slivovitz).

10. There are just two things left that no one else in the world has: “kajmak” and another item but about them later. Just as no one was able to find, not in New York, not in Paris, not in Rome-seashells called “prstaci”, found stuck to underwater rocks, the same applies for “kajmak”, which is skimmed from just obtained and boiled milk and which bears no resemblance to young cheeses such as mozzarella or sour cream. I cannot think why, but even cattle breeders from the most remote areas of Georgia, on the Caucasus or Tibet have not thought of kajmak. Why Serbs were the ones to invent it still remains a secret; a secret of the same order is harbored by our people living around the world, people who can afford to buy anything they want except kajmak. Their longing for this dairy product is such that friends and relatives bring kajmak to them, even if they live in the most distant cities of the world. My friend has, like some drug smuggler carried through strict customs control at the Kennedy Airport in New York this precious foodstuff. As it is strictly forbidden to bring in any type of foodstuffs to the United States, he packed kajmak in big round boxes of “Nivea” cosmetic cream, so that US customs officers looked at my friend rather contemptuously as being a member of the gay-community. But, what joy when my friend’s relatives spread kajmak from Čačak (city in Serbia) on slices of New York bread!

11. And finally, another thing we could certainly get rich on if we exported it Inat.
I don’t think the Anglo-Saxons have an adequate term for inat. Well, I looked at the Great Dictionary where it states: ”Deliberate, provocative behavior against someone’s will; defiance, quarrel, wrangling.” Actually it is something which you will do even if you clearly realize that it will be on you own damage (maybe precisely because of that fact you will do that!). What is most interesting is that it was the Turks, whose term this is that first observed this trait among the Serbs. Later, the rest of the world, owing to our inat, either hated or loved and admired us to excess. 12. In brief, this word is at the very essence of our being; it was responsible for our rebellions and uprisings, why we went to war more often than other nations (including all wars since 13th century ‘till today); inat was the reason why we quarreled with others, but mostly with ourselves. So it seems that inat is the main internationally recognizable Serbian brand name!

13. Oh, well I hope now you have little more clearer picture about us. Maybe now you think that we are much crazier than you thought at first. We care our inat (the characteristic which would probably be abandon from any normal country) like a flag and worship it like something holly, we take a risk to smuggle little box of food, dairy product even if we know how we could easily get stuck into a jail or earn permanent embargo to entrance to some foreign country, for us joy of our friends while kajmak is melting in their mouths is much important then some sanction. …and so on…