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Kosovo Serb refugees are bringing the flavours of their old home to the Serbian capital.
“When it comes to food, Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo have things in common,” says Petar Vasic. “They like to eat with their hands and they like chilli,” he adds.
He works in a small family restaurant in Visnjicka 18, named Stari most - The old bridge.
This traditional restaurant started up ten years ago, then in the Karaburma neighbourhood.
His family is from Pec, or Peja in Albanian, in western Kosovo. After the war in 1999 they were among the many Serbs who left Kosovo.
On coming to Belgrade, they decided to continue their traditional cooking, as they had owned a restaurant in their old hometown under the same name.
“At first, we mostly had people from Kosovo coming here, but later Serbs from here came as well, once they’d heard about us,” Petar explains.
“They are curious to try our sudzuk (sausages) because they do not know much about them and you don’t find them in other restaurants.”
Stari most is a distinctly traditional place, with seats covered in leather and lots of wood decor in the interior.
The menu is different from most eateries, combining ordinary Serbian specialities with Kosovo specialities.
There are always cevapi, a grilled dish of minced meat, Kosovo sausages, and cufte or minced meat.
All the food it is served with somun, homemade bread, which is served hot and baked fresh in the restaurant. Every table has a small dish with minced chilli peppers used for seasoning.
Kosovo sausages, the restaurant explains, are different from most others because they are made with beef.
After mixing the minced meat with onions and a bit of chilli pepper, the meat it is put in bowels and lightly smoked.
“You need to grill it well,” Bojan, one of the chefs and owners, says. “We make it here for our guests. All our food is made here in the restaurant and we work as a family,” he explains.
“Our meat balls are made with pork, but are different and smaller than normal pljeskavica, or Serbian burgers,” Petar Vasic adds.
He says their cevapi are easier to eat, too, because they are not so fatty and are softer, as the meat is pure and they don’t use pork. “We can call this a place for Kosovo food,” Petar continues.
Like many people from the Balkans, who make similar food but with different recipes, people from Kosovo are proud of their grilled dishes.
“We have this food in common and are used to it,” says Becko, a Serb from Pristina, who owns a little bar and pizza place near the Vuk monument named Nivo, close to the city centre.
“We do pizza with Shar cheese from Kosovo and our guests love it more and more,” he said.
“We make pizza with sausages, too. This is something that I and my family love to eat,” he added. “We can’t go without this food and chilli peppers, even in the morning.”
Many Kosovo Albanians in Serbia used to work in bakeries, and Serbs often think that many Albanians in Belgrade still work with bread products, though few such places remain now.
Most of the owners left Serbia as a result of the conflict in Kosovo and closed their stores. Some were victims of violence because of the tensions, and several stores in Serbia were attacked.
A few remain. Domaci hleb, - Homemade bread - in Kalenic piaca, the green market in the Vracar neighbourhood, is one such kiosk in a side street that does a good trade.
Costumers wait every day in queues to buy their bread and other products here.
Their burek, a form of pie, is similar to the Sarajevski burek, made in the form of longer sticks and they also don’t use pork. The dough of the pie is less oily than usual.
“I don’t have any problems here and many people buy my bread and other products because we don’t use additives and we offer top quality,” the owner said.
Some owners of grills, bakeries and sweetshops don’t want to talk about their food because they don’t want to be identified with Kosovo because of the continuing problems between Serbs and Albanians.
“Even us Serbs, because we are from Kosovo, people sometimes call us siptari (a pejorative term for Kosovo Albanians),” Becko, the bar owner in Vuk monument area, shouted out.
“But I don’t really care, we are all the same and some things cannot be changed,” he concluded.
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