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Where in Pristina can you buy dried Kamenica mushrooms? Lentils to help with a vegetarian/vegan diet? Marshmallow root?
To be honest, I didn’t even know marshmallow had a root, being familiar only with the pink and white fluffy sweets, but Sacro, the newly-opened shop in central Pristina is an education.
For a start, you feel healthier just walking in there. You breathe in the scent of barley flour, lemon-balm tea, Deçani honey... Already you seem to be a better person. And the herbs, spices, oils, nuts, dried fruits, teas and flours here are, wherever possible, sourced from Kosovo, collecting in one place all the best tastes from Kosovo’s countryside. Where possible they are also grown organically. If you buy this stuff - particularly if you then consume this stuff - surely you really are a better person.
Sacro is a beautiful boutique set up by three friends. One is Agata Cetta, a designer whose eye one guesses has guided the presentation in the store. From the traditional ‘maxhe’ (a piece of furniture historically used in Kosovan homes for storing grains and flour, with a work surface on top for using the flour in bread-making) which displays the corn, rye and barley flour for sale in burlap sacks, to the teas which are sold either loose-leaf by weight, or in chic brown paper bags with careful candy-coloured lettering describing the properties of each, the store is delicious to the eye as well as to the taste-buds.
Working there on the day I visited was a trained pharmacist who talked me through the range of elderflower, Istog hawthorn leaf tea, and dried local blueberries.
Feeding me spoonfuls of tahini mixed with local honey, the visit was a mixture of a trip to the doctor, going for a long walk along the country’s fields and hedgerows, and having a guided tour of a magician’s workshop.
As a Kosovan beekeeper, of course I was impressed by the honey - multifloral, chestnut and acacia. But more than that, there was honey mixed with royal jelly and also propolis spray and tincture. Propolis is a sticky substance collected by bees for building and as antiseptic within their hives (beekeepers will tell you stories of what happens if a mouse gets into a hive – once the bees have stung the intruder to death, being unable to move the body, they will cover it thoroughly with propolis to prevent it from the decay that would threaten their own health). The bees collect propolis from the shiny covering on buds, and if you can conceive of so exquisite a lamina being laid down over your sore throat, or dabbed on a mouth ulcer, or on a localised skin infection, you can imagine the soothing effect it has. I use propolis instead of any antiseptic cream at home, and now I have a local supplier.
What did I come away from Sacro with? A packet of nigella seeds, some pine nuts, some ginger oil and a bottle of Kosovan Frutomania strawberry juice... if you’re not salivating by now then perhaps Sacro isn’t for you.
Since I guess most people will want to have their own Sacro experience, here are the details of the shop (miles from countryside, in a boutique location, snuggled behind the Metro cafe which is opposite the Grand Hotel). It is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on Saturdays, so it can easily find a place in any mental map, any weekly schedule, and any jaded palate. Ju bëftë mirë!
Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of the recently-published, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.