As most of you know, I hit the dusty trail last summer. My first destination was New York to see family and friends, bookended by Switzerland for the same reason. But the middle was reserved for a region of the world perpetually on the receiving end of my intrigue and fascination: the Balkans.
I grew up in an immigrant church with a fair amount of Yugoslavians, so the people and culture were quite familiar. I can’t tell you how many jokes we had about moussaka and the colon, or how many times I was dared to yell the Serbian word for diarrhea. But it wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I grasped just how alluring the Adriatic coast was. The civil unrest had ended and the former Yugoslavia was in repair. I knew that I wanted to experience it before a) it got too expensive and b) the rest of the world discovered this slice of paradise, again.
Although it happened much later than planned, my big chance finally came last summer. We spent weeks traveling from Slovenia all the way down the coast of Croatia and eventually into Bosnia-Herzegovina. The panorama was breathtaking, especially the carved stone beaches jutting into the Adriatic Sea and the ancient cities surrounded by walls. But, and I say this with much disappointment, the food was quite forgettable.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that an article in the Times -- “The Balkan Burger Unites All Factions” -- jogged my memory.
We were on the island of Korcula, a luxurious little paradise known for being Marco Polo’s birthplace, and couldn't imagine sitting down to one more plate of mediocre pasta or pizza. So we went to Kristina, our sobe owner’s daughter, for some dinner advice. She explained that the restaurants are left for tourists since most natives grow/make just about everything they eat (bread, wine, vegetables, etc.). But if there’s one thing that gets them out, it’s Cevapcici.
So we immediately found a stand offering these beloved ground meat sandwiches for about 4 bucks, the same price as the average espresso. We watched the woman behind the counter hand-form over a dozen finger-shaped sausages and put them on a large grill to sizzle. When she asked about condiments, we requested everything, plus an extra slathering of Ajvar, a mouthwatering spread made from red peppers, eggplant and chili. Along with plenty of salad fixings and a large, flat bun, this Balkan burger turned out to be our tastiest meal by far.
I’m so glad that Julia Moskin divulged where to get a cevapi-fix this side of the Atlantic. I know exactly what I'll be doing on my next trip to New York.