Once hidden behind the Iron Curtain, a handful of European countries are redefining the food we eat.
For the best part of the 20th century, communist Yugoslavia held an iron grip on the countries bordering the Adriatic and the mountains to the east. Now, decades after the Balkan wars, the cuisines of the countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia’s chaos, namely Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are more than ever influencing the way we eat.
Strong meaty culture
The first wave of Yugoslavian migrants in the 1950s bought with them the strong meaty culture of the Balkan steakhouse. Their menus showed a huge influence of how the Ottoman Turkish Empire mixed up Greek, Hungarian and Balkan foods. Moussaka would sit next to Pljeskavica, a traditional hamburger made with pork and beef, pepper and paprika. The Turkish tradition of cooking meat on a skewer was combined with the local love of the pig with porky shashliks, redolent of bay and garlic. Then there are the chevapchichi, skinless sausages made with minced beef, pork and lamb seasoned with paprika and garlic. This masculine, meat expression of food from the Balkans has brought us some of the nation’s best steakhouses and they continue to bring great joy to meat lovers.
A lighter, fresher style of eating
As the former Yugoslavia violently dismantled itself and proud republics formed, the region opened to international tourism. Slowly and quietly, the towns and cities of the Adriatic Coast and the stunning hinterland, became the playground for adventurous tourists. When they arrived, they discovered an entirely different cuisine – a lighter, fresher style of eating, more based on the food of the seasons and fishing villages. Croatia is just across the sea from Italy, and the border between the two has shifted east and west over the centuries. It is no wonder that from here comes a dish called brudet. This is a fisherman’s stew that is originally from Italy’s Le Marche region. Shellfish, small fish and little crustaceans are cooked in a tomato-based sauce with white wine and basil. Then there is black rice or crni rižot. A dish made with rice cooked in fish stock and squid ink, you will find similar delicious versions around the Mediterranean. Other popular seafood dishes include buzara, a mussel dish like the Marseille version of moules marinière and octopus peka, slowly braised in a terracotta dish in a wood fire. Cooked with wine, potatoes and herbs, it is a hearty, smoky dish that warms the soul and fills the belly.
For the love of salume
Croatia’s proximity to Italy also sees the Adriatic country share a love of salume with their Italian neighbours. They produce a range of smallgoods, including salami made with fiery paprika. Some say that the prosciutto from Istria in Croatia rivals that from Parma in Italy when it comes to ham.
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