Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shopping In Sarajevo

I love a walkable city, and that's what we have in Sarajevo -- which works out, since, although I am gaining confidence, I'm still pretty much a whimpering, nervous sweat ball when I drive around here. Or at least I am when maneuvering out of our garage.

Anyway, here is how I go about procuring sustenance for our family.

Produce: Markale, a public outdoor market.

Before anything else, I should mention that Markale is the place where many people were killed by mortar attacks during the Bosnian War in the 90s. There are wall plaques with names of the murdered, and an overall sense of reverence about the place. Given that I am a twice a week shopper here, I find myself in complete disbelief that this place would be bombed. These are normal, every day folks - literally just like me.

I have been to the Ciglane outdoor market as well, which is wonderful and has even more stuff than Markale, but Markale is only about 10 minutes on foot from our apartment. So for that reason, this is where I shop. I am terrible at bartering and often feel like I am given double the price for what locals get, but I feel sort of powerless to change things. Unless I become super natural Bosnian speaker! (I.e., not happening.) All the produce sold at the outdoor markets comes from the surrounding organic farms. You get the feeling these are just families growing stuff in their villages, or even in their backyard, as often there is only a little bit of something for sale. (Side story: One woman started shouting to me to come over. Me? I thought. Then she said in Bosnian, "You want this!" She held up what is the first bunch of fresh cilantro I've seen here. How did she know?! I bought all she had, which was the bunch in her hand in its entirety.) The produce is truly amazing and delicious. Everything is weighed on old school scales, with little weights used to balance and measure the produce on the other side. It's like going back in time.

One issue with depending on the markets for produce is this…they are purely seasonal. How crazy to only be able to get certain things at certain times! It's taken some getting used to. When we arrived, the raspberries were plump and sweet and perfect. Now they are small, and slightly shriveled. Soon they will be completely gone. We apparently missed the best strawberries as it was. Now pomegranates are in full season and oh so incredible. (Deevie in particular is extremely happy about this.) I am loving the markets, but feel like I am like Grasshopper in that fable, watching the ants prepare for winter and I just enjoy what's at hand. Should I be freezing stuff? Canning? Making jellies? I've been told the markets are open year round - but of course their usefulness is relative to what is available. Someone tried to appease my fears by telling me: "Don't worry! In the winter, they have plenty of cabbage, potatoes, and onions!" I need to learn to cook like a local.

Meat and dairy: I buy beef, pork, cheese, eggs and milk at this indoor market just across from Markale. The smell of smoked meat and cheese is wonderful. Everything is so fresh, with lots of homemade cheeses. Deevie has fallen in love with the smoked cheese, and Cubby loves the smoked beef. A friend told me that they don't use nitrates in their deli meats - which is why they look like stuff my grandpa used to smoke.

Lots of hubbub in the indoor market. I do get a little overwhelmed at the shouts for business as I walk through. I've now solidified my preferred vendors and just head straight for them, with smiles for everyone else.
The dried beef that Kai loves. It is so smokey and delicious. Put this on a piece of crusty bread with some smoked cheese? Heaven.

My preferred meat vendor - meet 19 year old Eldal. His family has been smoking beef for over 100 years. "I started working with my father here when I was 14, before and after school." Such a nice guy. He also teaches me stuff, like the fact that you don't ask for "half half kilo" if you want 1/4 of a kilo. (Hey, I do what I can.) "It is better to say 250 grams," he told me. And yes, I need to review the Metric System.

If I need to get just chicken, I'll often go to this joint, which is about 5 minutes from our apartment on foot. It is basically a butcher for only chicken. I started to take a picture of the cases of chicken and chicken products, but the woman got mad and stopped me. Because of this I am a little hesitant to go there now, feeling a little stupid. Ah, cultural weirdness.
We finally found fresh milk as well, which the kids think tastes just like the milk we got in the States. It's a brand called 'Z BREGOV, imported from Croatia, comes in 1 liter jugs, and is delivered to certain stores with no guaranteed availability (seriously) every two weeks. So the batches of milk are either due on the 15th or the 30th of every month, regardless of when you find them in the stores. Cubby was the only one who didn't mind the boxed, long-life milk readily available everywhere, so it is nice to have found this.

Bread: Pekara = Bakery, and they are everywhere.

You just can't get soft, sliced sandwich bread here - which is what we bought all the time back home, so we've had to adapt. So far the family favorite is a flat bread called somun. We buy it from a place that is literally 3 minutes from our apt on foot, and so far seems to be open at all times. Bosnians love their fresh bread!
The largest somun costs 80 fenning (dollar is to convertible mark as cent is to fenning).
So one 250 gram somun (if that means anything to you!) is about 50 cents.

There is one big modern supermarket here called Konzum, and it does act as a catch-all like a Target, but it just isn't the same. It feels weird and wrong even comparing it to Target! I have to drive there, so only go there when I have to, likely with N.  The parking lot is insanely tight, and I am sure some people think I am filming a getaway scene for a movie what with the way I go over curbs and nearly hit everything in sight. 

Konzum is where we buy all the other stuff - like bath and cleaning products, butter (we've had a problem with buying rancid butter since even though it is sold everywhere, it often is generally barely refrigerated on the shelves), and small bags of rice in the small Asian food section. (Side note: Soy sauce is not supposed to be sweet. Good thing my Japanese friend told me where to get Philippine-made soy sauce in a boutique store! I need my soy sauce.) There are smaller versions of Konzum around town (in the basement of three shopping centers), and apparently they will continue to have a limited variety of less fresh produce during the winter. I am very thankful for that option.  

If you do buy produce at these stores, you have to weigh and stick the price tag on yourself using a nearby machine. Of course I didn't know this the first time I did it, and often forget anyway. I find it challenging to go about shopping, putting stuff in your cart, and having to remember the numbers that correspond to your produce - wanting of course to wait in line at the machine once, labeling in one fell swoop. There is only one weighing machine that people line up for, and often you have to remember the number for apples, bananas, etc. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but surely it can't be this hard.

Shopping is an adventure, but I really enjoy it. I love going out with my bags and exploring what is available. The thing is, just cause you found it once doesn't mean you'll find it again! I hope this doesn't cause pack rat mentality, which I already battle to some degree anyway. It's hard to stock up on things - especially produce, because it rots so quickly. Quicker than anything I've bought in the States at least. I guess that is a sign of it being fresh and preservative free, which I am happy about, it just means changing my ways. All good.


  1. Hey, I tried to publish a comment and it got erased. Anyway, I love your shopping adventures and all stories like this, especially with photos. It reminds me of figuring out the best things to buy in Manila with you four kids. The great thing was that there always seemed to be something each of you liked.

  2. Papa, that is totally us. There are things that Birdie loves, but Deevie and Cubby won't eat (like these little rolls called kifla - Birdie LOVES them). Then Deevie and Cubby love carrots, and Birdie and Deevie love pomegranate. You should see me making their lunches! It's like a big puzzle. Thank you for doing all these sorts of things for us - I remember Mommy always putting plain cooked ground beef aside for me on spaghetti night since I didn't like red sauce, for example.