In this edition of Global Gourmet I speak to Zainab. She was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She moved to New Zealand and then Australia with her family when she was almost a teenager. Zainab, her husband and their daughter are now living in Bosnia&Herzegovina.
Tell me a bit about how you came to live abroad.
My first move abroad was at 12, so basically I was part of the family and that was my parents’ decision for economic and safety reasons. That took me to New Zealand and later to Australia, which eventually led to Bosnia&Herzegovina. The last move was due to marriage and a conscious decision. Mostly for a more relaxed lifestyle.
South Africa is a melting pot of cultures which means the food is as diverse as the people. Which South African dishes did you grow up eating and is it still part of your meal plan now?
Mum cooked usual everyday foods. My favourite was carrots and peas. Then there was breyani and Mavrou which were at the top of my favourites lists – and crayfish curry which I can’t even remember the last time I smelled. Salomies – who could go passed that… or a fresh roti hot from the pan.
Part of my meal plans now is still the occasional Mavrou or steak pie, but I’m in the process of learning to cook SA food so hopefully the list will grow.
What would you say is the best Bosnian dish you’ve eaten? Describe the dish and what you love about it.
Best Bosnian dish would be pita. No, that’s a pastry… but Burek (mince meat pita) is my favourite followed by Krompirusa (potato pita). Pita is a staple here and many times women have told me the saying here is “when you know how to make pita then you are ready to get married”. Pastry aside, stuffed capsicums are popular here you can even get it in a take away dish. That’s my favourite.
What is your favourite Bosnian dish to cook?
Pita. Or stuffed capsicum if I’m not in the mood for the long process of pita
Have you tried any weird or unusual Bosnian dishes and what did you think of it? (Would you recommend or did it make you gag?)
Bosnian food actually tends to be quite bland and the foods, even when they claim it to be traditional food here, tends to be foods that the international community would be used to. Things like ravioli or stuffed capsicum you can find now in many places, but here it’s considered traditional and people have this perception that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. We sat down to a dish of ravioli one day and someone asked me when was the first time I tried it. To me that was like asking when was the first time I ate pumpkin or carrots.
So in that sense food wasn’t weird or unusual to me. However on the dessert spectrum I could not stand to eat Sutlija (soot lee yaa) – a rice pudding traditional to Bosnia. It’s made a bit differently to the Turkish and Albanian versions I’ve come across but it’s traditional to this region. While the pudding is in and of itself quite fine, coming from a background where rice was only ever savoury the sutlija just didn’t sit well with me. However three years later and I was cooking it myself and enjoying it.
How do the eating habits of Bosnian you’ve encountered differ from the eating habits of South Africans you know?
Bosnians have very few fried foods. I’m trying to think of any but I can’t.
They are also not very big on rice here. You will rarely find someone cooks rice or even couscous or such things as part of a meal. With every meal they will have bread and sour cream. So even if they eat rice they eat bread with it (something I just can’t do – the 2 don’t mix).
The rest of the foods tends to be the same. You might, for example , cook some peas and carrots and mince meat together. You’ll flavour it with maybe tomato and some other things. Here they’ll cook it all the same but the flavour of every dish is something called Vegeta. It’s basically a vegetable stock but people have been using it for so long here that they don’t want to change it. I know of people of the younger generation who switched to different vegetable stocks but the parents want only vegeta. Vegeta however is loaded with MSGs and its sodium content is too high to be anything healthy.
For that reason I don’t use it and others of my age are also leaving it but still using vegetable stocks.
overall the stewed foods tends to be the same minus the spices.
Pita is made in majority of households and baklava.
And you always have to have a jar of sour cream in the fridge. It’s even sold in 1kg tubs here.
And fast food is something rare here. McDonalds opened for the first time 3 years ago. They have 2 stores in Sarajevo. They had a third but it shut down.
Going to buy take-aways you still get a more homely type food. You’ll get a spit roast chicken or spit roast lamb with bread. Or you would get cevapi (Che vaa Pee), mini sausages without skins, with bread made in the traditional fire ovens. Bosnians in bosnia tend not to eat fast foods and burgers and so on are hard to find. Oh and funny thing… try buying a toaster in bosnia… 5 years ago it was impossible. Now you’ll find it in some places but good luck finding the bread to fit!!
What foods from South Africa do you miss and what do you miss the least?
I miss the least is some trotter curry or something. I miss it so little that I don’t even know what it’s called. As a kid I liked it… and then one day I ate it after a long time and I just didn’t like it how I remembered it. I don’t think I can fall in love with it again.
What I miss most would be breyani and pies and samosas and spring rolls. The things we just don’t get here. But generally I miss the flavours. I have the same foods but the flavours are missing. Mince and peas with vegetable stock just isn’t the same as mince curry even though it might look the same.
Have you cooked any South African dishes for your friends/family over there? What has been the most popular one?
Mavrou is the one I tend to make for people. And I made chicken curry once upon a time. And spicy roast chicken. My Arab friends didn’t mind. My Bosnian friends and family had mixed reactions. Some wouldn’t even touch it and simply refused to eat it.
Share the recipe of a Bosnian dish you’ve mastered.
Boil some chopped carrots and potatoes, chuck in some mince meat and a handful of Vegeta and some tomato paste. Cook till its soft.
Just kidding. That’s how food goes here though.
If I had my own kitchen I’d actually go make something to take a picture. It’ll have to be without pics for now
actually this is too hard to explain without pictures. essentially you are making a phyllo pastry from scratch
It’s 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1tsp salt
you knead it for a good while. Then the method I use is to fill a bowl with a but of oil. place the dough inside (4 smaller balls) and make sure its all oiled. let it stand 15 min then flip the balls and rest another 15 min or so.
Then work on a very slick surface to roll the dough. Oil the entire surface, take a ball and roll it to a circle as thin as possible. Now comes the tricky bit. Use your hands to stretch the dough out evenly, very thin till its nearly see-through.
The dough might break in a few places but it doesn’t matter.
Place the filling along the perimeter and roll inwards till you’ve used the dough. Take the worm type structure now and roll into spirals or lay them in strips in a baking dish. Bake at 200C till golden. When you take it out pour melted butter mixed with sour cream over the dough. Let it soak up a few minutes and then eat
filling: mince, salt , onion
potato, salt, pepper
ricotta cheese and spinach
anything else you feel like putting.
you have to see it to understand it properly, but you can eat it with eyes shut and know what you are eating 🙂
See gallery of pita making process below.