Food in Sarajevo

Our Bosnian AirBnB host explained that the restaurant scene in Sarajevo isn’t well established. Most people grow some of their own food and eat at home. There were plum, pear, apple trees and vegetable gardens attesting to that fact all around. And the spectacular fruit market is cheap and exciting. But, she continued, food is inexpensive, so we should explore. Particularly at breakfast, though, even amongst abundant cafes, it was hard to find one that offered food in addition to coffee. Bosnian coffee is served like Turkish coffee, strong, in a small tin serving pitcher with the grinds at the bottom. One option for breakfast are the pies, made with a phyllo-like dough, and filled with meat, cheese, potato, spinach, or– most tasty– pumpkin (zucchini). These are ubiquitous and cost a few bucks, but my favorite bakery was Forino.

The local beer, Sarajevsko, is organic. There is a spring in the complex housing the brewery and it was the only source of fresh water (besides rainwater or melted snow) during the siege, so it is also thought of with great affection.

The best restaurant we went to is a pescatarian place called Karuzo. Decorated with a timeless nautical theme, things take a bit longer here: the chef and owner also acts as the waiter and dishwasher, with the kitchen downstairs. The food was exquisite, and a macrobiotic salad with seitan and seaweed was fresh and clean, with excellent flavors and textures. Stuffed cabbage with tofu was quite good. We were introduced to good wines from Herzegovina, a growing industry that is just entering the export market. And finally, a chocolate apple pie was delicious. My only disappointment was that a trilingual cookbook by the chef had incomplete recipes, clearly untested, lacking notes on the techniques that bring the food to the next level.

We had good meals at an enormous Austro-Hungarian place next to the brewery and good falafel in the old town at Zaatar. In general, the food here is a bit bland and emphasizes meat. When I returned home, all I wanted to eat was Korean, Thai, and Mexican food. Hopefully, stability in the region will increase options.

The scene at the fruit market

The scene at the fruit market

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and a glass of smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Bosnia coffee

Bosnian coffee


Sarajevo: Tunnel Museum




In Spanish, the word resistencia means resistance, but it also means endurance. More akin to struggle in English. The stories of everyday heroes are very appealing: not passive victims, they fight under great strain and uncertainty.

We booked a tour of the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo through the city tourist office. Driving through the city, our frank and engaging guide pointed out important sites: the closed museum, the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, snipper ally, and so on. She described a pre-war city with 50 percent mixed marriages; people’s ethnicities during the war were determined by their last name. Tellingly, the country has not conducted a census in 20 years, fearing what might be learned. She described the constant barrage of noise during the war, and after, “silence was the worst thing.”

Eventually we reached the countryside and the house under which the tunnel rests. People smuggled supplies in from the free zone during the war. Much of the tunnel had since collapsed, but you can walk through a short piece. It is claustrophobic and uneven in places, and intense to imagine making the journey during the siege. A short film and exhibit round out the tour.

The Tunnel Museum is a great testament to the struggle against aggression. A must see.

Sarajevo: Witness to History




Two exhibits in Sarajevo urge the viewer to bear witness to the Bosnian War: the Memorial Gallery 11/07/95 and the Tunnel Museum. This is a city where buildings still bear the scars of artillery fire, sidewalk holes created by grenades were filled with blood red cement and called “Sarajevo roses,” and the occasional mine continues to be discovered in the surrounding countryside. To bear witness to history is a very different thing from disaster tourism or being intrigued by suffering. It asks the viewer to observe the historical record so that others can’t deny it, so that witnesses won’t allow injustice to happen again, and so that the call for healing and justice is shared more broadly. I was immediately reminded of Shoah, the epic, 9 hour documentary of Holocaust survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators giving testimony.

At Galerija 11/07/95, a permanent exhibit of the Srebrenica massacre begins with a wall of the names of the victims: 8,372 names is a dizzying amount.

Then, large black and white photographs by Tarik Samarah depict haunting images after the genocide, including a doll with it’s throat slit and left as a warning, dead bodies of men and boys, mourning mothers, and a flock of birds dispersing in the silence. We see the cool efficiency of medical examiners, staging remains, trying to identify victims. And chilling, racist graffiti by the boy Dutch soldiers guarding the town before the massacre:

“no teeth…?
a mustache…?
smel [sic] like shit…?
Bosnian girl!”

Later, I met a girl from Amsterdam who is studying transitional justice. She said the Dutch were deeply ashamed that the incident occurred under their watch and explained that they had requested support that didn’t come, were ordered not to return fire, etc. She compared the inexperienced young soldiers to those depicted in Waltz with Bashir, an incredible animated film that depicts Israeli soldiers during the Lebanon War.

The exhibit also includes a short film about the massacre. Women describe the paralysis of fear as their sons and husbands were separated from them and the lack of consolation that persists to this day. General Ratko Mladic describes his vision of Greater Serbia from the battlefield. There are maps indicating locations of mass graves. Another monitor has extended video interviews of survivors.

The exhibit is small but intensely powerful, gut wrenching, and important.

Next post, the Tunnel Museum.

First Impressions of Sarajevo



Along the bus ride from Split, the lush green mountains and vivid blue water of the Bosnia and Herzegovina countryside were unexpectedly stunning.

Just over 300,000 people live in Sarajevo. It is a city that swells with history and tragedy: Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews living in peace for centuries, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the Latin Bridge leading to the First World War, the lesions of the recent Bosnian War.

Exploring the city, from monuments and public water fountains to minarets, to the Vrelo Bosne and Olympic villages, the city feels traditional and modern. In the old city, the winding streets of Baščaršija house tinsmiths and colorful carpets made from natural dyes. Ottoman architecture stuns at the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque, and the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe overlooks the city.

It is also easy to see how Sarajevo would be vulnerable to a siege, nestled in a valley. Recent wounds from the Bosnian War are apparent on buildings and in bright white tombstones tucked throughout the city. Yet the city sweeps you up in the belief of possibilities, in its richness, and the energy and messiness of survival. It shares valuable and powerful lessons with us.