Pizza – more on fast food in Serbia

There are several good things I want to write about pizza in Belgrade. This may be useful to anybody who will visit the Serbian capital. Obviously, there is no need of describing preparation and flavors – they tend to be similar to the Italian original.

As in many other countries, you can buy here pizza by pieces. Still, pieces are here big and I mean really big. Actually, usually they mean a quarter of a whole pizza. If it’s smaller, you will pay accordingly less. And the price is almost symbolic – around 1-1,2€ apiece. Then, the quality is high, or at least it tastes like that. Good dough, nice ingredients, very often some Serbian meat specialty: kulen (pork sausage with pepperoni), pršut (similar to prosciutto) or sudžuk (dry spicy sausage, usually from beef). Here you are, big pieces, good price, great taste… and available on every corner, also at night 🙂

Buying coffee in Spanish supermarkets

Despite the name of my blog, I haven’t manage to dedicate here much place to the other product I’m passionate about – coffee. So, here it is: some short recommendation for whoever happens to spend some time in the beautiful country of Torquemada and Almodóvar. There are, of course, good internationally available brands you can trust, but why not try something new and even cheap. If I remember properly, the 250g package of this Columbian Arabica was a little bit over 3€.

We are talking of a “Ground Roast Natural Coffee” as it stands on the package or, alternatively: “Café Tostado Molido Natural”. The producer didn’t specify which type of grounding it is: for drip coffee, moka/caffettiera, espresso, Turkish coffee? But following the logic, I would say that it must be for one of the two first methods of preparing coffee. They are quite popular in Spanish houses and the powder didn’t look like later two groundings. Personally, I used it for my moka and the effect was satisfying: a light, aromatic and very soft in structure brew. So, nothing for those who usually prefer the so-called French roast.

The coffee is a home brand of El Corte Inglés, the biggest department store group in Europe – allegedly the fourth worldwide, says Wikipedia in English. The Spanish version of the article tells us a story of a first distribution group in Spain and 40th worldwide; by the volume of selling, 3rd one after Sears and Macy’s.

Can we trust such a brand? In Berlin, our alternative and slightly anti-capitalist way of thinking would lead us to a negative response, but as in Germany we also tend to spend little on food and drinks, even sacrificing quality, this product should satisfy many by its good-value-for-money character. And abroad, enjoy the taste (and the price), but by no means read anything on the package. The competence of El Corte Inglés when it comes to coffee is rather embarrassing. They recommend to their customers to store the coffee in the refrigerator. Really! It is one of the worst mistakes, unfortunately all too prevalent. Such a way of storage negatively affects the quality of the powder or beans – one has to think of humidity and smells in the fridge, as well as the harmful temperature changes, every time the container has to be taken out to prepare some coffee.

Vranac potrkanjski 2007 by Jović Winery, Knjaževac, Serbia

The bottle I had contained wine of slightly too high acidity, but with distinguishable beautiful aroma of Vranac grapes. By its deep, almost violet color and some rose notes, it reminds me of Cagnina di Romagna, but it’s all what this East Serbian red has to do with the vino romagnolo (from the region of Romagna in Central Italy), which is so good for caldarosste (ital. for roasted chestnuts).

Jović’s Vranac appeared to me like my grandma’s garden in summer: floral fragrances, all mixed in a nectar inebriating bees.  No, they were not Mediterranean plants, rather Central European ones: foxgloves, pot marigold, violet and red vetches, sunflowers, nasturcium, matthiola, peppermint and many more. In the same garden, you find raspberry bushes heavy from sweet fruit, red and white currant, and sour cherries (so much at home in Eastern Serbia!). The producer himself adds to this list also wild sweet cherries (srb. divlja trešnja or vrapčara) and plums. The notes of wood are decent and only complementary to the dry fruitiness. Some spices are to found too: Is it clove, vanilla, some scent of paprika?

The wine should be drunk at room temperature, but remember that in the times, from which the rule comes, there was no central heating. So, some temperature slightly under 20°C will be perfect.

Jović winery is a family business and, unlike Rubin, it produces artisanal wines. They got several prizes and I’m going to try further creations of this family soon. The Vranac is from the village called Potrkanje, next to Knjaževac, and that’s why there is an adjective ‘potrkanjski’ in its name. Potrkanje is situated 250-300 meters above sea level, and is a particularly sunny part of Serbia, close to the Bulgarian border.

Here is also a link to the blog, from which the picture in the post comes from. The article is very good and I recommend you to read it too 🙂

Terra Lazarica Pinot Noir, 2006, Rubin’s Paracin Vineyards, Serbia

There is not much this wine would have in common with Pinot Noirs as you know them from France, the U.S. or Hungary. It’s a nice red but also somehow funny. The adjective ‘funny’ is not, of course, a popular word in the wine vocabulary; still, I feel it may express my confusion with the product. Let’s make it clear: this Pinot is not the fist wine you need to try in Serbia, as there are more important personalities in the local wine world, but probably you can appreciate its funny (again!) character after a long day of walking up and down Belgrade’s boulevards.

The wine is named after the Prince Lazar (1329-1389), the ruler of the medieval Serbian Empire. In the epic ballads and tradition he’s called Tsar Lazar, that is Emperor Lazar, although he himself didn’t enjoy the title. It was only Dušan and his son Uroš before Lazar, who were Emperors of the Serbs and Greeks. Lazar died in the famous Battle of Kosovo and was beatified by the Orthodox Church as a martyr. The 12% of the wine don’t bring to mind his power and character. It’s rather a fruity light red, offering you a whole spectrum of cherry- and berry-like notes. It’s ‘funny’ because there is hardly any characteristic that could be really called the personality of this wine. Fruity, sweetish, easily enjoyable, traditional by its little filtrated body that reminds me of homemade juices. I guess it’s the more rustic face of Pinot Noir 🙂

In Serbia, some people like drinking red wine that is colder than room temperature. For this wine it is worth of trying.

‘Rubin’ is somehow a heritage of those ‘better’ socialist times. It was established in 1955 in Kruševac as one of the big companies or cooperatives, which then dominated the production of the Central and Eastern European countries. Some products by ‘Rubin’ became spectacularly popular in Yugoslavia and the winery still enjoys its old good reputation as a source of wines available to the majority of citizens, firstly due to the distribution (they are everywhere in Serbia!), and secondly due to the prices, which are much lower than those of wines from small, celebrated wineries and monasteries with age-old wine-making traditions.

Wine in Serbian culture: some poetry (V.Vukotić)

More on Serbian wine: This time some literary impressions. Wine, as a very traditional product in Serbia, entered the culture in many ways, for instance, becoming a motif of poems. There are plenty of beautiful texts where wine just appears or plays the main role. Here a piece of Vojislav Vukotić’s poem „Ode to Wine“ (Ода вину).

The translation may be poor, as I’m translating from one foreign language into another one, but hopefully still enjoyable.

Славите бино стално,

И кад ништа не славите,

У победи и поразу једнако.

Славите његову урођењу истину,

поступке настања и

неограниченог постојања.

 

Glorify wine incessantly,

Though you don’t glorify anything else,

In victory and defeat glorify it equally.

Glorify its inherent truth,

The ways of its nascence and

Eternal existence.

I guess some passionate ‘priests’ of the wine cult will understand these affirmations very well. So let’s glorify wine incessantly, by consumption and knowledge 😉

OK, I’ve decided to also add a translation into Polish:

Sławcie wino nieprzerwanie,

Choćbyście niczego nie sławili,

W zwycięstwie i porażce sławcie jednako.

Sławcie prawdę mu wrodzoną,

Drogę jego narodzin i

Nieograniczone trwanie.

Serbian fast food

If you think by chance that the USA is the country of fast food, you should visit Serbia. The streets of Belgrade are filled with small bars, one opposite to the other, which serve you tasty but heavy food whenever you wish. True, this round the clock service makes Belgrade a real metropolis, at least by the criteria of Giuseppe Culicchia. He claims in his book about Turin (“Torino è casa mia”) that the first manifestation of a genuine metropolitan character of a big city is an opportunity to eat at every time with at least some minimal choice offered. So, Turin is not a metropolis, but Belgrade is, and how!

Two day ago, I visited one of many local bars for the first time after my arrival. I ordered pljescavica in bread (= pljeskavica u somunu) and French fries (= pomfrit). In fact, pljescavica in bread looks like hamburger, just bigger. By ordering that, I was already quite unhappy with my diet reduced to an orgy of fat and carbohydrates. But as soon as I discovered that the sauce is not based on yoghurt but heavy cream, my bad conscience reached a point at which I was not able to enjoy the meal any more. Soon, I guess, my pictures here won’t be appropriate any more. The first meeting with the local street food didn’t make me fall in love with it.

This however changed yesterday evening and today morning. I discovered that Serbian pizza deserves many compliments and that the same counts for crepes (= palačinke). My palačinka was filled with Nutella, banana and crumbled plazma, which is local kind of breakfast cookie (great with white coffee or hot chocolate!), and I can definitely recommend it, in Belgrade or done at home wherever you are. Just try to find plazma in some international, Balkan or Central-East European shop  🙂

Vranac from Tvrdoš (Тврдош) Monastery, Trebinje, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina

I’m beginning my culinary travel through the Serbian culture with something special. There is a beautiful Serb Orthodox monastery in Republika Sprska, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tvrdoš was grounded in 15th century, although the monastery we can see now was rebuilt in 1924, after it had been destroyed in the Turkish-Venetian war in the 17th century. It was temporarily a seat of the Eparchy of Zahumlje, Herzegovina and the Littoral as the original seat with the cathedral in Mostar was destroyed in 1992. After the cruelties of the recent war, monks returned to their old winemaking traditions, taking care of the old vineyards and planting some new ones.

Their Vranac is aged for 24 months in old oak barrels, which rest in a 15th century cellar. As a traditional product it is not barbarically filtrated and preserves its natural sediment. While you can read on the monastery’s website that this wine contains 13,5% alcohol, on my bottle I found information about 14,5%. For me this is a truly authentic wine, which tells you the whole story of its origin as soon as you put the nose into your glass. The coolness and humidity of the monastery walls, the notes of maraška cherry ripening here and there around the monastic complex, the enchanting aroma of porcini mushrooms and various berries from the regional forests – you will find them all in this wine black as the habits of the Orthodox monks.

The result is one of the most celebrated wines among the Serbs, even though many of them cannot afford it as its price in Belgrade amounts to around 12€, which is a lot regarding local wages. Still, its fame is big, people are proud of it as a national product and I can understand them because it’s like the true soul of Serbia: strong, vivid, passionate and fatalist, and also mystically religious, as the Orthodox Church seems to be for the Westerners.

To say more about the variety itself: Vranac in Serbian or Vranec in Macedonian is an autochthonous variety from Montenegro, which spread around whole southwestern Balkan, particularly in Herzegovina. The name means also a black horse, but both are derived from the word ‘vran’, which signifies ‘black’ or ‘raven’. We could play a lot with the meaning and origin of the name. Vranac berries are intensely colored and wine obtained from them is frequently as ‘black’ as French Cahors wines from Malbec berries. In South Slavic languages red wine is usually called black wine (crno vino), and last but not least Vranac is supposed to come from Montenegro (in Serbian: Crna Gora), that is, from the Black Mountain.

Although very intensive in color, its flavor is usually modest and may confront us with some bitter notes. For his reason, some winemakers tend to ‘enrich’ it with some other varieties. This is however not the case for the product of the Tvrdoš Monastery, which is pure Vranac wine, and still of a fascinating richness and deepness.