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Where in the World to Eat: Sarajevo

Where in the World to Eat: Sarajevo
 In Bosnia you never go to someone’s home empty-handed. Never. It is an old Turkish tradition that you will always take something sweet with you.” Laura St Quinton leaves the guide books at home and hooks up with the locals for a taste tour of Sarajevo.
Since the Ottoman Empire ruled over Bosnia, Sarajevo has remained a city of religious and cultural diversity. A glance over the old town hints at why the city is sometimes referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe; the skyline is a jumble of minarets, domes and spires.
Sitting in the window of Café Ramis on Bašcarsija, Sarajevo’s main artisan and shopping area, I could imagine what it must have been like at the height of the Ottoman Empire - watching shoppers stooping beneath the tiny arched doorways of the ancient bazaar to peruse finely woven rugs, copper and traditional silver jewellery.
Outside every café, huddled groups share coffee which arrives Turkish style in a small metal pot; a remnant of the Ottoman coffee culture. My friend and guide, Edin Hamzic, who was born in Sarajevo, explains that the ritual and quality of coffee remains a very important part of Bosnian life; ‘Coffee is very much a social thing. The first morning coffee is drunk together in offices and whenever you visit friends or family, regardless of the time of day, you would be served Turkish coffee. Instant coffee is a crime, you just would not dream of it. The fortunes of restaurants, let alone coffee bars are made or lost on how good the coffee is.”
If you have a sweet tooth, you are in excellent company in Bosnia. Both the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians left a legacy of confectionary that can be found on any street corner slasticarna (‘cake shop’). The shelves heave with both Viennese-influenced cakes and baklava, an Ottoman treat made from filo pastry, flavoured with nuts and drizzled with sugar syrup. “Cakes are used to mark all sorts of occasions from weddings to a child’s birth” explains Edin “and in Bosnia you never go to someone’s home empty-handed. Never. It is an old Turkish tradition that you will always take something sweet with you.”
According to Edin, simply everyone knows that for the finest cakes in Sarajevo, you have to hop on the tram and head a little way out of the centre to the residential district of Hrasno. Here you’ll find Palma Café, on the ground floor of a shell-damaged, communist-era tower block. As you sip a cup of coffee and savour the dark cherry filling of a srneca leda (‘deer’s back’), you really begin to appreciate the weight of history that has moulded this city.
Lunch provides an excellent opportunity to try the King and Queen of Bosnian snacks; cevapi and pita. Both remnants of the Ottoman Empire, they are available everywhere you go. Eaten at any time of day, cevapi are small fingers of minced, grilled meat, usually served in flatbread with salted clotted cream. Pita is a type of savoury filo pastry dish with fillings such as potato and onion and cheese, with perhaps the most common being burek which is filled with minced meat. Made in a snail-shell shape and baked inside a circular tin, pita is served oven-hot with a glass of drinking yoghurt and sour cream to drizzle over the top.
For excellent pita, head to the banks of the Miljacka River, where you’ll find a restaurant called Inat Kuca. Inat Kuca was originally built on the other side of the river and when the Austro-Hungarians drew up plans to build a grand National Library on the site, Inat Kuca’s owner refused to budge. Eventually, the Austro-Hungarians persuaded him but not before they had taken down and entirely rebuilt his house on the other side of the river, hence the name, which means ‘house of spite.’ If you are lucky enough, you might be able to secure the best table in the house, nestled in a sort of crow’s nest that overhangs the riverbank and offers a wonderful view of the building that displaced it. Plans for its restoration are afoot, which will improve the view from Inat Kuca even further.
As the sun sets, head for Zlatna Ribica (‘Goldfish’), a great place to enjoy a restorative rakija (Bosnian plum brandy), whilst mingling with the Sarajevo hipsters. This long narrow bar would not look out of place in London’s trendy Shoreditch; crammed with vintage posters and flea-market knick-knacks.
Perhaps the finest place to end a day in Sarajevo is Restauran Kibe. Perched on a hillside in the oldest part of town, it has vast windows that frame stunning views of the city. It began as a tiny restaurant, opened by its namesake, incredibly, while the city was under siege and food was scarce. “During the war, Kibe could only really sell drinks” says Edin. “As for food, there would only be what Kibe could buy at the market which might be 2 eggs one day or nothing the next - but it kept going throughout.” Kibe has since gone from strength to strength and is the place to come for two Bosnian specialties; kljukuša, a thin grated potato and onion pie followed by spit roast lamb, expertly cooked over the open fire in the courtyard.
But it’s the music that lifts the experience into something ethereal and unforgettable - two dapper old gents with guitars who take requests from the assembled company.
As their voices mingle to sing the hauntingly beautiful folk songs that became war-time anthems, you can’t help but feel moved by the beauty and tireless joie de vivre of Sarajevo and its people.
The Best of Sarajevo
For great coffee and people-watching: Promenade and Vatra
Both situated close to ‘The Eternal Flame’ a war monument that the locals cheekily refer to as ‘the burning tyre’
Ferhadija 4, Sarajevo
For great cakes: Palma Palma’s reputation speaks for itself.
Try the srneca leda (‘deer’s back’) and tufahija (poached apple stuffed with walnuts) Porodice Ribar 5, Hrasno, Sarajevo
For the best Baklava: There is no better place than Sarajbosna.
Near the Markale market in the centre of town. Try the ružica (‘little roses’) Ferhadija 4, Gajev Trg bb, Sarajevo
For the best Cevapi: Cevabdžinica Zeljo
For delicious cevapi in a lively, informal, football themed atmosphere Kundudzilik 19, Sarajevo
For a great view: Inat Kuca (‘house of spite’)
Go for the view, the folklore and the pita sirnica (‘cheese pie’) Veliki Alifakovac 1, Sarajevo
For locals-only pita: Burekdžinica ASDž
For an authentic and low-key pita experience it’s worth navigating through the maze of pedestrianised streets and alleyways of the old town to Burekdžinica ASDž Bravadžiluk, Sarajevo
For spit-roast lamb and a view to die for: Restoran Kibe
Order your cut of spit roast lamb and window seat in advance Vrbanjusa 164 Sarjevo tel 033 441 936
For great seafood: Magarac (‘donkey’)
Decorated in the style of a rustic mountain cabin yet located in the ground floor of a tower block. The specialty here is baby octopus, brought fresh each day from the Adriatic and baked in a vast clay oven.
Azize Šacirbegovic 6, Sarajevo
For traditional soups and stews: Asdžinica Stari Grad
Try the delicious dolma (vegetables stuffed with meat and rice) and Begova corba (Bey’s soup).
For the more adventurous: Pace
Calf’s head stew served with garlic and vinegar is delicious and is said to be an excellent hangover cure
Mula Mustafe Baseskije, Sarajevo
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22 September 2011
By: Laura St Quinton
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