For travelers from Northern Europe, Čvarci pork rind crisps are the most exotic item on the morning buffet, which is actually a walk among market stalls. Everything here is colorful with the seasonal fruits and vegetables – red bell peppers, purple aubergines, white blossoming cauliflower, light green cabbage heads…The appetite is awakened by rich aromas, while the stall owners are grabbing attention shouting out loud… The gastronomic tour of Kalenić farmers market can begin.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Anna, this doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever eaten,” says Jeanette to her friend Anna, as she munches a pork rind. Anna doesn’t even dare to try those “weird cubes of fatty meat”, so she simply frowns and rolls her eyes. The scene amuses 60-year-old Dragutin, who has spent decades selling cured meat products at Kalenić Market. He also likes that this group of six Swedish women differ from the usual market scenes, where everyone rushes to buy something. They wander without any purpose other than to have good time, on a food tasting tour of Kalenić farmers market. Dragutin is acquainted with Ksenija of Walking Belgrade, who leads farmers market food tasting tours. So he feels free to ask her if “these merry blondes are taken”. When Ksenija translates the question they all giggle and show off their wedding rings.
“Now we travel together once a year,” says Anna. They always visit some different country with customs they want to discover.
“Come on over here,” says an exhilarated Mile from Obrenovac, who sells cheese and dairy, enticing our happy sextet. He quickly moves to offer a lump of young ‘kajmak’ spread. “Mmmm”, the ladies comment one after another as the creamy mass melts on their palates. Anna admits it is “the best ever”.
One customer considers themselves invited to explain the difference between old and young kajmak, in fluent English. Mile is curious if the guests like kajmak and doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to offer some goat’s whey as well. The Swedes reject the offer, as gracefully and kindly as they do everything else.
It is the burek pie that knocks them off their European tracks, as a true representative of the Orient. They end up smeared in grease up to their elbows, because “burek is eaten with hands, without cutlery,”as Ivan the baker suggests. His old style pie shop is full because it’s break- fast time, and all the customers curiously watch the Swedish ladies.
Ossa tries to grab a piece of pastry, but it falls from her fork. Then she follows the baker’s advice, taking a new slice of burek with three fingers, just as Ivan showed her. She is joined in the tasting session by her friends, albeit more cautiously. The crispy crust then the soft centre.“This is fantastic,” Anna admits first, with the others nodding with approval.
Whoever’s been to Serbia and hasn’t tried traditional ćevapčiči, grilled meat batons, is either a vegetarian or insane. That’s why they’re next on the menu, and the meat is delivered by a maestro from the locals’ favorite Lenče butchers. The Swedish ladies taste the minced meat snacks served to them by Ljuba, who addresses them in their native language. The ladies are wowed, although there is a logical explanation for this striking surprise: Ljuba spent years working in Gothenburg. To keep this breakfast on the move balanced, next up for them to sample is ajvar pepper chutney. Its traditional producer Ruža explains who to make it. Ksenija is interpreting the recipe and the ladies loudly approve the taste again.
And now it’s time to sweeten things up. The eatery we visit is actually a kiosk, where the smiling face of the middle-aged Slavica awaits. She quickly pulls out a baking tray with traditional oriental desserts – urmašice/kalburabastı walnut cakes, tulumba, baklava and kadaif. Slavica enjoys watching the Swedish ladies enthralled by her treats. “How beautiful they are”, she says. The Swedish guests understand this without translation, responding with delicate smiles.
Ossa accidentally drops the noodles of her kadaif off from her fork. Then she does something that comes as a surprise for the locals: she uses a paper towel to pick up and clean the pavement. If Dragutin had been there, he would have immediately proposed! With the energy levels up, the Swedish girls complete their tour of Kalenić Market, and they’re still laughing. We ask them what they liked the best. They are all again in agreement when they say that the best thing is the atmosphere, followed by the burek and desserts. We don’t know what taste will call them back to Serbia, but they confirm in choral unison they surely will.
Words: Dragana Nikoletić
Photos: Vladimir Živojinović
The text was originally published in Elevate Magazine in November 2019: https://www.airserbia.com/en/footer_menu/corporate/elevate/issues-current-year
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