Monday, February 13, 2012

No Reservations

Since I haven't really ventured out much in the snow and the cold, I don't have any new pictures or good stories to share. Instead, I thought I would write about some of my everyday observations and experiences on one of my favorite topics, food.  Just like at home, meeting friends at restaurants/bars or cafes is definitely a huge part of the Belgrade lifestyle.  There are zillions of places to eat and drink in this city, and even though there is not a ton of variety, the food overall is of high quality and affordable.

Authentic Serbian restaurants serve heaps of sausages, steaks, chicken, lamb, veal (which I think is little cruel, but nonetheless), and two really cool, authentic Serbian specialties: the Ćevapčići (ћевапчићи) and the Pljeskavica ( Пљескавица).  I am not exactly sure of their difference in terms of seasoning, but they are both basically made out of ground beef and pork, mixed together in the form of sausage links or a giant hamburger patty, respectively.  They are both really, really good and can be served either in a sandwich or a platter, with plain yogurt or tzatziki sauce, pickled cabbage, paprika (which is what they call the red pepper flakes), and tomato, and if you go to the right place, they'll put the french fries inside the pita.  They both cost less than 5 dollars and are conveniently sold everywhere in kiosk type establishments.  (See my second post: Walk up Window).  The fancier, sit-down restaurants usually serve either traditional Serbian cuisine (let me not forget ajvar, my favorite spread of roasted red peppers, eggplant, garlic and chilli) or your typical international fare.

They also have pizza everywhere; and it's good pizza, thin crust, plenty of sauce, all the toppings imaginable, including fried eggs!  Same goes for their pastas., all types of sauces, freshly made, delicious. Since the tomatoes here are just so freaking good, you can get the most generic pasta dish and it is guaranteed to be great.  One funny fact is that the Serbian word for tomato is paradajz, which is basically pronounced as paradise, which also incidentally, is EXACTLY what they taste like.  They also use prosciutto as the meat in a lot of their cream sauces, which is also an awesome thing.

I actually did find a picture of me eating some Ćevapčići
Now, eating out is one thing, but drinking is a whole other story.  Getting drinks at dinner is definitely cheaper than in the US.  You can get pretty good bottles of wine for 15-20 dollars at nice restaurants.  They carry lots of Spanish, Italian, South American and Australian wines, similar to those seen in the US.  They also have their own ones, which are really good, but not necessarily cheaper, not sure why.  Our favorite is the  Radovanović; Cabernet Sauvignon; Serbia – Krnjevo, so if anyone out there sees it in the US, definitely give it a try, you won't be disappointed.  On the other hand, rum is WAY more expensive than at home and about a thousand times more expensive than in Puerto Rico.  A Bacardi bottle goes for almost 30 bucks!  They also import more run from Cuba, which we obviously don't see at home, so that might add to the Bacardi high prices.

Most restaurants do feature full bars, but specialty drinks are not a "thing" the way they are in the US.  I have been to a few places where they do serve gimmicky and fun mixed drinks, but that is definitely not the norm.  So what do most Serbs drink?  At least the men, they drink their national liquor, a super potent concoction that can knock you out after just one shot, it's a sort of brandy made with mostly grapes or plums, Rakija. I've only had it once, ironically enough, at an embassy event when we first arrived.  I had one shot and it was intense.  The taste to me is just like pure alcohol, but it is the drink of choice and a source of pride for many Serbs and they sell it in this really neat shaped bottles, so they make nice gifts and pretty much guarantee a wild night if opened at a party.  In restaurants people will order a shot, which they don't really take as a shot, they actually sip it slowly, something I could never do, at the beginning or end of the meal. Sometimes both.  I guess it's one of those things you need to grow up with in order to really love it.   Not like my sopska salad, which I fell in love with at first bite (see old post about it here).

One thing about going out here that really frustrates me is that a lot of restaurants, even when they look empty, won't sit you without a reservation.  It seems like the hard core capitalistic mentality has not really reached restaurant owners.  For one thing, they are happy to let people sit for hours at a time just nursing a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes (which are conveniently sold at the restaurant/bar/coffee shop).  There is no kicking people out or quick turnaround of tables.  If you have a reservation at 8 PM, you can pretty much stay till they close, which here, is usually pretty late, like 2 in the morning.  Most Serbs will go out to eat at around 9-9:30 and even later on the weekends.  Sometimes I even feel like they don't eat at all; as it is not uncommon to see people just sipping drinks and smoking for hours and hours.  I, personally, am starving by 7, so I like going to dinner early.  Plus, that way you don't get all the smoke in your face.  You would think that this should create a win-win situation, but being the procrastinator that I am, I usually don't decide where I want to go and when until 2 hours before I want to get there.  So when I finally call or just show up to places, they are always "full", even though they're completely empty, because all tables have been reserved for later.  Many times the reservation won't be for another hour or more, but they're not used to people scarfing down food in just an hour.  So my new tactic is to outright ask for what time the tables reserved for and say, "hey, we are american, we eat super fast, we promise to leave by that time".  Which I am sure they consider weird and rude, but I definitely don't mind leaving if it means that I got to eat where I wanted.


Filip said...

We are Muricans and we eat fast, trust me!

Bogi said...

Nice post.
It's not rude asking them to give you a table until 10-15 min. before actual reservation starts. I'm native and don't like that "reservation only" practice too. (It's a relatively new thing actually 10 yrs or something).

Glad to see that you are getting accustomed to Belgrade and Serbia!

Katie said...

I miss you guys and Belgrade so much!!

Anonymous said...

How are you so skinny in that photo after eating alllll this food you are always talking about! And, why are tomatoes in Belgrade better than those in the US? What is the secret? How do I get these paradise tomatoes?????


Anonymous said...

@ Ellen
Simple - because they're real, not genetically-modified ones.
Genetically-modified food is forbidden in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Try the meal "Karadordeva snicla"