September 12, 2010

Vegetarian Travels to Sarajevo: Groping Your Green Way Through the Cevapi Smoke

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is known to most of the world because of the war or the film festival and was hardly ever spotted among the key European destinations where you travel for food. Or well...among the places you travel to at all? 

The city right now is living interesting times: as the presence of the international aid organizations helping the country address a range of the post-war issues has been decreasing a whole generation of young Bosnians who have been developing professionally with those international organizations has emerged. Besides that Bosnians who left during the war have come back or their children are coming back now to rediscover their roots: as they return they bring the bits of the traditions and cultures from the countries that once were home for them. All this makes Sarajevo, a city otherwise shielded from the outside world by the surrounding hills, an interesting place to be and not at least in terms of the gastronomy. I believe it is just a matter of time and one day the Bosnians will learn to do justice to their wonderful grapes and market their excellent white wine Zhilyavka, to introduce visiting vegetarian gourmet to the delicious cheeses produced in Central Bosnia and translate the glorious selection of fruits and vegetables into the delicious vegetarian treats served in the restaurants. But then you will be competing with the other hungry traveling vegetarians for a table at a small buregdzinica, a pie shop, or reservation at a trendy restaurant with a hip take on the grandma's food, the prices will go up and Sarajevo will become yet another trendy European destination to travel to and eat at. Those who are not happy with the leftovers should come and discover Sarajevo first-hand really soon.


It will put it upfront as I don't want to create any illusions: traditional Bosnian cuisine is not particularly vegetarian friendly. Often times vegetable soups are still seasoned with some meat, vegetables are stuffed with meat and the local chefs are not jumping off their aprons to deliver to your table the vegetarian dishes their grandma cooked. Yet you should not get intimidated by the smoke of chevapi, grilled meat sausages, as you walk along Baščaršija, the historical centre of the craft and commerce of this old Ottoman town. There are a lot of interesting and delicious finds around to please the tastebuds of a traveling vegetarian gourmet. As some of the best places are well hidden be prepared to ask for directions from the owners of the nearby businesses: people of Sarajevo are so helpful that they would often walk you down to a spot where you could easily see the place if not already smell it.
  • ASDŽ, Mali Curciluk 3, tel. +387 33 238 500. Ašcinica is a traditional soup kitchen serving "spoon food" that a Bosnian grandma would cook. Confess, before you thought that all the Bosnians were born and grew up with a mouthful of chevapi? Not exactly so. The vegetarian counter here features a couple of vegetable pies, rice and vegetables, bean stew, a few fresh salads and traditional sweets - any dish seem to get served with sour cream (pavlaka) for the extra heartiness. For the price and presentation the food is surprisingly eatable which explains the crowds of the hungry locals and tourists stopping by.
  • Bosanska Kuća, Bravadžiluk 3, tel. +387 33 237 320. Just as the Lord works in mysterious ways you never know where you find your vegetarian happiness. If your hunger has attacked you on the way through streets of Baščaršija lined up with chevapi shops look out for a place with  the proud sign "Steakhouse". Bizarrely enough the place with such a name features one of the largest in town vegetarian fares with a good dozen of simple dishes to choose from: soups, salads and stuffed peppers or aubergines are served with delicious somun bread.
  • Delikatesna Radnja, Obala Kulina Bana 10, tel. +387 33 20 55 51. Urban trendy hangout with a cafe/bar and a restaurant side by side. As the format demands the menue is a combination of Italian and Asian wok dishes with only a few vegetarian options. The ideas of the recipes are great and the ingredients are at their freshest but something is lacking in the execution - maybe the small plates (I mean it, the plates, not the portions) or maybe some of the ingredient combinations. The food is still good but the chefs could have gone little more wild - the bill sort of assumes that. The wines are excellent and so is the service.
  • Dveri, Prote Bacovica 12, tel. +387 33 53 70 20. Coming to Dveri is like visiting your grandma: the food is yummy but there is always too much of it. The place is a summer house full of discoveries and countryside feel: bunches of garlic and dry red paprika hanging on the wooden washed down furniture, rustic clay and wooden tableware. Food is yummy, homemade and hearty yet the vegetarian options are only a few: cheese plate, vegetarian soup with poached egg, tomato soup and stuffed eggplant served with fresh vegetables or grilled summer vegetables. Selection of homemade lemonades is wonderful and the puffy buttery bread is famous. Just one things leaves you wondering - how can anyone charge such a premium for a fairly straightforward deal.
  • Karuzo, Dženetića Cimka bb, tel. +387 33 444 647. Heavenly corner of gastronomic revelations that come out as delicious vegan, vegetarian and sea food dishes. Some of the most creative starters, salads, pastas and deserts in town are found here and they happen to be vegetarian and vegan - you gotta kneel down to the mere fact if you are touring the Balkans. The menu is a mix of Mediterranean and Asian cuisines: think salad of pears and goat cheese, cream of orange and carrot soup, tagliatelle with fresh beans in the cream sauce, pancakes stuffed with spicy chickpea paste and seasoned with tahini sauce, or olive oil ice-cream for God sake. Portions are huge yet you can always ask a doggy back. Great wines and warm welcome complement the worthwhile meal and make you come back.
  • Moja Mala Kuhinja, Josipa Stadlera 6, tel. +387 61 144 741. It is exactly what the name suggests: a small kitchen of a Bosnian celebrity chef Muamer Kurtagić that seats about 15 people who come to eat great food and watch the cooking live. There is no menu: the day specials depend on what was fresh on the market plus you could ask for a "Surprise me" dish which makes it perfect for the vegetarian travelers tired of grilled vegetables. The preparation techniques and flavors are geared towards the Asian cuisine and result in the truly enjoyable dishes. No alcohol served.
  • Maroko, Vladislava Skarica 3, tel. +387 33 232 855. Recently opened cool place where locals head out for a special occasion. Interiors styled with mosaics, tiles, draped curtains, cushions on the sofas along the walls, numerous lamps with subtle light, a fountain and flamenco-inspired arabesque tunes - all suggests a relaxing dive into the Middle Eastern delights. Morocco-purists may get disappointed that the menu is a mix bag of the Middle Eastern specialties and the authenticity of the flavors is arguable. Vegetarians still will get their soup, salads, hummus, muttabel, salads and Lebanese bread that the local chefs have found to make a good base for pizza which they prepare too. Yet the food is still good and it provides a little break from the traditional Bosnian fare in Sarajevo. The service is excellent and the waiters are anxious to meet all your requests.
  • To be or not to be, Cizmedziluk 5, +387 33 233 265. This tiny place is recommended by the only Bosnia-dedicated guidebook in English which makes it really popular with foreigners. A vegetarian eater will hardly get excited by the variety on the menu that features veggies in soup, on grill or as a sauce for pasta and risotto - yet the food is excellent and is worth the wait! Homemade cake or chestnut puree are wonderful deserts not to be missed either. Unfortunately as the little place tends to get packed you can't expect much attention. Well, then just be.. and eat!
  • Vegehana, Kemal-begova 4, tel. +387 33 215 699. Cosy little place makes a popular lunch spot for the Sarajevo young and vegetarians of all kinds. The core of the menu is a day offering with a soup, main dish, two side dishes and a salad for a bargain price of 10 BM; they also do vegetable burger, sandwich, quiche and cakes as good takeaway options. The menu is inspired by global vegetarian cuisine with a good balance of veggies, nuts, beans, tofu and seitan and food is a no-fuss honest deal. No alcohol served and it is a smoke-free oasis in Sarajevo - after a few days in the city you will get to appreciate this fact alone.

Specialty Eateries

Some of the vegetarian treats in Sarajevo take such a special place in the Bosnian stomachs that the shops selling them have become institutions. Pay a visit to one of them, get a yummy bite and don't get discouraged by the seemingly hostile looks of the owners and staff at those shops - after all they are on guard of the national food security by keeping the old gastronomic traditions alive.

Pita: Unlike in the neighboring Croatia where burek stands for the whole class of phyllo dough pastry burek in Bosnia refers only to the meat pies while the rest of the pies are called pita. Traditional pitas in Bosnia are conveniently called by the "staring" ingredient in the filling: hence sirnica comes stuffed with cottage cheese (mladi sir), zeljanica combines spinach and cheese, krompiruša features potatoes and tikvenica is stuffed with zucchini. Bosnian pitas are shaped as huge snails fitting into a round tray or as smaller ovals with a few coils.
Where to taste? Bosna, Bravadžiluk bb, is the most reputed buregdzinica in old Sarajevo and the word about it is passed from a visitor to visitor. A plate of the steaming hot, moist and deliciously greasy pastry coated in the sour cream (pavlaka) works as a filling breakfast, quick lunch, casual dinner or takeaway at any time of the day.

Bosnian Burek

Somun: Bosnians have their own take on pita called somun, traditional yeast flat bread. The top of somun has a characteristic "grill net" print as right before sending the bread into an oven the bakers work with a thin metal rod wrapped into a cotton cloth to beat the bread backward and forward and thin it. As somun gets baked in a very hot oven it puffs up during the baking which makes it very convenient to stuff with chevapi and serve with a variety of foods. In fact once you get a fresh piping hot somun it may never make it to the table at all as you'll be munching it all the way through.
Where to taste? Look our for a sign "pekara", or bakery, or even better - follow your nose. There is a pekara in every neighborhood and as you head off the old town up to the hills you'll increase your chances to get a really good somun the locals indulge.

Boza: The origins of this refreshing drink made of fermented millet go back in time to the Seljuqs, the ancient Turko-Persian dynasty, that popularized the drink across the vast territories they once ruled. In old Sarajevo bozadzijas, or shops that made and served boza, had a critical role to play in maintaining social equality, no more no less: young and old, aristocrats and common folk, rich and poor would all be served equally at a bozadzija where they all would come for the refreshing drink.

Where to taste? Tip Top, Safvet-beg Bašagić 6. You are lucky as a century ago you'd be running after a guy with the brass containers of boza attached to his waist and now you can find the treat at the fixed address where brothers Begtesi are continuing the family tradition and serving boza along with the sweet offering of halva, kadaif, hurmasica, tahini halva and much more.


Sweets and Desserts

A trip to a sweet shop in Saraevo is an important routine: to have a sweet or not to have a sweet is not a kind of question you should be puzzled with in Sarajevo. The questions would be what, when and where - and here are a few tips.

As elsewhere in the Balkans in Sarajevo you will find the best of two sweet worlds - the European cake heritage and the abundance of the Oriental sweet delights. The cakes are usually heavy on chocolate and sugar - lighter fruitier cakes only start making it to the Sarajevo cake scene; kremšnite is a must to try Balkan vanilla and custard cream cake. As for the oriental desserts (many of which are actually vegan) you should look out for rahat lokum (jellied candies that come with flavors of many fruits and nuts), Bosnian baklava (sheets of phyllo dough with grounded walnuts baked in syrup), tulumba (fried batter soaked in syrup, tends to be much larger than its Turkish counterpart), tufahija (walnut-stuffed apple stewed in water with sugar), chestnut (kisten) puree served with whipped cream and something in between a dessert and a power snack - zito sa slagom (wheat with whipped cream), or boiled and ground wheat with sugar, walnut, nutmeg, and whipped cream as a topping.

Tufahija, Apple Dessert
  • Badem Butik, Abadziluk 12 and Titova 34. Sweet Alladdin's cave of Sarajevo selling dry fruits, nuts, seeds, exotic corns, sweets, bonbons, herbs and spices. Check out their superb lokum flavored with hazelnut, sesame, pistachio, fruits, rose and vanilla; they also have excellent power bars with dry fruits and nuts. In such a shop you'd expect very sweet service yet this is exactly there the problem is: Badem has the rudest staff in the whole Bosnia - maybe the owner should consider sweet-therapy to the ladies.
  • Becka Kafana (Viennese Cafe), Vladislava Skarića 5. If you are looking for the cake perfection in Sarajevo head off to Becka. This Viennese cafe with the Old Europe feel, dark furniture, noble textiles and gorgeous chandeliers serves  a variety of coffee drinks with a range of liqueurs and syrups, fresh juices, ice-cream and a selection of wonderful chocolate cakes.
  • Egipat, Ferhadija 29. This iconic confectionery shop with tiled walls and metal plates features cakes with cream toppings rising up as the high hair of  your grandma on an old photograph. They also do the oriental fare of baklava, tulumba, kadaif. Egipat ice-cream is legendary - you will hardly find anything close to that complex flavor and creamy texture miles around. 
  • Vatra,  Ferhadija, 4. The place will knock you down with the elaborate menu of cakes with a small description for each. Everything you can wish for and many more things you had no clue about can be found right here - what about Top Cake EU Mix or Reform Walnut Cake? In summer they spray water over the plats that fence the summer terrace which virtually creates a cool oasis in Sarajevo on a hot day.
  • Sweet Corner. Here I mean not the coffee shop called Slatko Ćoše but virtually a corner of Sarači and Gazi Husrev-begova streets that host two traditional sweet shops - Demirovic and Ramis  and Dallas just a lane down. Great people watching, traditional sweets and cakes and old town feel in either of the places.
    Coffee Shops

    Sarajevo is next to only Zagreb and Belgrade in the keen consumption of coffee and cigarettes. You will have no hassle to find a coffee shop that serves Turkish coffee that comes on a tray with the djezva, glass of water, sugar cubes and a piece of rahat lokum or the regular coffee fare. The million-dollar question in Sarajevo though is where to get some good tea?

    Sevdah Kavana, Halaci 5. There is perfection in the world and its evidences could be found in this little serene tea garden with the best selection of organic herbal teas in Sarajevo including thyme, clove, rosehip, elder, linden and more - for the ultimate pampering the tea is served with honey. Besides they offer traditional homemade Bosnian sherbet and homemade sweets. In case you come hungry you should try a small serving of buckwheat fritters served with kajmak, cheese and divine plum jam that will make up for the breakfast or lunch you have missed. All this will be indulged to the sounds of  vintage recordings of beautiful sevdah, traditional Bosnian love songs, as the cafe is located in the inner yard of the House of Sevdah, or Sevdah music heritage museum.



    Fresh and picked vegetables and fruits, fresh bread and a great selection of cheeses and dairy products should not be missed by any vegetarian foodie traveling to Sarajevo: whether you are getting your breakfast or a quick bite snack or you are doing a long-list grocery shopping you'll find yourself in the heaven of the freshest foods and organic produces. The most glorious place for self-catering in the center of Sarajevo is around the Markale Market. The market itself has vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs (look out for the herbal teas) and honey. Conveniently enough right next to is there is a supermarket: you can hang the bags with your purchases as you enter and fetch the remaining items from the shop. Don't rush though: across the street you'll find Pekara Nina with decent fresh bread and as you'll continue along Mula Mustafe Bašeskije street leaving Markale to the left you'll see a yellow building which is Sarajevo shrine to the dairy products: go sample all the numerous varieties of mlady sir (young cheese), kaymak (clotted cream) and Travnicki sir until you find the very flavor you like. Compose your cheese plate, place a warm comfy somun next to it and bite in the ripe buffalo-heart tomato that is, not without a reason, is called paradajz in Bosnian.

    4 Responses to Vegetarian Travels to Sarajevo: Groping Your Green Way Through the Cevapi Smoke:

    Tali said...

    I may have just had a small (but typical Croatian reaction) of a heart attack at the words Vegetarian In Sarajevo! I wasnt aware you could be one in the Balkans.. in my home town its either Mushroom risotto (which my veggie friend informs me is every vegetarians least favourite dish) or starvation!
    Great post! Love pita!!

    Olga Tikhonova said...

    Tali, small heart attack on your side has turned into a good laugh on mine - thanks a lot for the words of support! The thing with me is that starvation is out of question (I HAVE to eat) and having Mushroom risotto (or grilled vegetables) everyday equals starvation - so I had to get creative)

    vincent said...


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    Olga Tikhonova said...

    Vincent, thanks a lot, have joined with pleasure

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