6 dishes to discover in Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Dan Izzard

18 October 2018

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We asked Bristol-based Dino Zelenika from Real Escape Travel for a rundown of the best dishes from his home country...

Hands up who gives the local Bosnian and Herzegovinian joint a bell for their Saturday night takeaway? Thought as much. Shaped by the country’s colourful history, the food culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fascinating one, but remains largely unexplored. We may not be very well acquainted with this unique fusion of European cuisine, but there are plenty of reasons to change that.

Bosnian and Herzegovinian cooking can be described as a mixture of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern; think lots of olive oil, juicy tomato salads, prosciutto and mezze, together with filo pastry pies and mini kebabs. Add to this an Austrian influence of rich, multi-layered cakes and you have the tastes of this under-explored country in a nutshell.

We asked Real Escape Travel’s foodie travel guide Dino Zelenika – born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and living in Bristol – to pick out six dishes worth hunting down in this pocket of Eastern Europe. And boy, he did not disappoint…

1. Bosnian filo pastry pies

"Filo pastry was introduced during the Ottoman Turkish rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina (which was between 1463 and 1878), and went on to become an integral part of one of the country’s national dishes. Always called ‘pie’ by locals (with only the meat version known as ‘burek’) it usually sees the pastry filled with meat, cheese, greens and potatoes, and rolled into coils. The end result is flaky on top, crispy on the bottom with a moist and juicy filling. The best pies are made with homemade filo, with virtually all buregdzinicas (pie shops) making their own daily."

2. Balkan mixed grill, Bosnian and Herzegovinian style

"Historically, charcoal was the main source of cooking fuel in the Balkans. The abundance of excellent quality meat in the region – much of it to this day organic and coming from small farms by default – is a match made in heaven with local charcoal grills. The most famous grilled item is cevapcici (mini kebabs); these intensely tender, savoury kebabs are regarded as another national dish. Other items include lamb skewers, sudzukice (marinated sausages) and pljeskavice (essentially a Balkan burger)."

3. Mezze platter and ustipci

"Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where people stay up late into the night eating, drinking, strolling and spontaneously visiting neighbours (even on weekdays). Mezze platters are a feature of virtually every restaurant menu and a must for celebrations, while people at home will typically have mezze items at the ready for when their friends arrive. One of which is the local form of prosciutto (prsut) made of pork, beef or goat; produced in the area for many centuries, some say it is even better than the Italian version. One or more of the myriad of white cheeses produced in the country (either brined, like feta, or air aged) are a must for mezze, as are local salamis, olives and kajmak (creamy soft cheese). All are perfect companions to ustipci (Balkan fried dough balls)."

4. Tufahije (stuffed apples in lemon syrup)

"Desserts soaked in sugar syrup is another item introduced by the Ottoman Turks. In this case, Eastern influence resulted in a unique Bosnian dessert. These apples are boiled in a light lemon syrup before being stuffed with a creamy walnut mixture, and are then soaked in more syrup and topped with cream (often flavoured with vanilla). Perfect at any time of the year, they’re especially refreshing in the summer."

5. Maslena pogaca (butter bread)

"Balkan bread territory is still largely unknown to foreign foodies. Out of all of them, this is our personal favourite: bread dough with added eggs is kneaded, spread generously with butter, then re-kneaded and spread with more butter. This process is repeated several more times resulting in a delicious bread that separates into rich, buttery layers upon baking. A must for special occasions and a perfect accompaniment to mezze."

6. Ajvar (roast pepper and aubergine sauce)

"This is the ultimate Balkan sauce. Specific to the area the area of former Yugoslavia, this tasty and versatile condiment was traditionally made by families in large quantities around September or October (when peppers and aubergines are harvested) and eaten throughout the winter. True ajvar (always with roasted peppers and aubergines, and never with added tomatoes) is rich and multi-layered with flavour. Good homemade ajvar is almost always superior to shop-bought varieties.

"Currently being marketed in the UK by the Pelargonia brand (erroneously as a Macedonian sauce, when Bosnia and Herzegovina and other Balkan countries have just as deep a tradition of making ajvar) it has received praise from critics and is another friend of the  mezze, although it’s great with many other dishes too, whether meat or vegetarian. (It’s also fabulous as a pasta sauce!) It is hard to describe just how delicious ajvar is, so be sure to look out for it and try it at the first opportunity."

Fancy joining Dino on a journey of gastronomic discovery and cultural exploration in the heart of the Balkans? Check out guided tours with Real Escape Travel.