Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Macedonian Rice Rocks But Why No Shrimp? Serb Food Notes Part II

Everywhere we've been in the last week, visiting Serb relatives across the former Yugoslavia (actually my husband visited while I frantically found an Internet cafe, or in Ogulin Croatia a T-Mobile shop with a Web-ready PC on display, to keep up with US work obligations), as we left, older female relatives pushed vast quantities of food into our arms. Saying "no thank you" was NOT an option. We scored:

- Large mineral water bottles filled instead with homemade brandy
- Two liter Pepsi bottles filled instead with homemade wine
- 5 kilos of just-picked apples from a family tree
- Huge (9 inch wide) wheels of homemade cheese
- 4 kilos of dried beans
- Oversized loaves of homemade bread
- 3 big jars of homemade blackberry and plum preserves, some of which had a definite alcoholic kick for more flavor
- A two-liter bottle of real, true olive oil (which tastes so different from the stuff you buy in supermarkets that I'm astonished they dare label it olive oil at all. Such inadequate forgery!)

... and apparently there was more stuff but my husband hid it from me because it was Just Too Much. In fact when we left his parent's flat in Croatia for the long bus ride home we had mysteriously acquired an entire additional suitcase packed solely with more food "for the journey" from his mother. Next she started trying to stuff five, large, frozen sea bass wrapped in tin foil into my personal bag as well. ("Oh god, make her stop! I don't want fish melting all over my clothes!" "Just say Hvala and smile. That's an order!")

That said, none of this is strictly a Serbian thing. My mother back in the US who doesn't have a shred of Serb blood in her would have done exactly the same, and has on numerous occasions. And her food choices have made as little sense -- air mailing 5 pounds of dried pasta to me when I lived in Europe, and that 30 pound box of onions she sent to my office once, "because you are never at home when the mailman comes."

Despite all of this gifted food, the first thing I did after stumbling off the bus in Sombor was to dash to the greenmarket before it closed down for the weekend. I grabbed a big bag of fresh tomatoes (oh the joy of Serbian Tomatoes, if I could write an ode I would) . Next we sprinted to the Mega Market to buy the other best thing about Serb food: rice from Macedonia.

Macedonian rice is extra large, chewy, flavorful, incredible. I am a big rice eater so I know what I'm talking about. The stuff is incredible and I'm definitely smuggling bags back to the US when we visit there for a month in October. Tip: ignore the directions on the bag that say 4 cups of water to each cup of rice. You only need two and 3/4 cups of water to each cup of this rice.

I also hoped for shrimp. Not fresh shimp, I'm not stupid. But perhaps some frozen shrimp. It's such a staple in our cooking that I normally keep a 10 or 20 pound bag in our freezer at home in the US. Maybe the streets of Belgrade are lined with frozen shrimp but you are completely out of luck in Sombor. There had been two small boxes of shrimp at the Mega; I know because I bought them and ate them in August freezer burn and all. They had not been replaced yet. So I snagged two packets of tiny frozen prawns (shrimp the size of a child's fingertip) instead and made due.

The weird thing on the shrimp front is much of US frozen shrimp comes from the far east, places like Thailand. Serbia does import other food from Thailand, especially rice (not as good as Macedonian), but not much shrimp. Why???

From what I can figure out, Serbs and Croats prefer squid. At upscale pasta and pizza restaurants you'll see squid all over the menu in exactly the same recipes you would expect shrimp to appear in the US. Aside from fried calamari, most Americans think squid is icky, icky, icky. (In fact I bet most calamari eaters in the US have no idea it's made with squid, because if they did, they would not have tried it in the first place.)

So, my question is: are shrimp the squid of Serbia? Do Serbs hate shrimp the way Americans hate squid? Let me know. Thanks.


Dušan Orlović said...

When I was first time in the USA,I was startling about shrimp. I never eat shrimp before. They are so delicious. I really don't know why Serbians do not import that kind of food.I'm sure thT It will be very attractive.

Anonymous said...

They have shrimp and jumbo shrimp in the frozen food section of mega market in Subotica/Novi Sad.

Anyway -- Rosemary, i've tasted many kinds of brandy before and rakija is not brandy...

just like how brandy is not vodka

fotocube said...

It is indeed true that Serbia has some of the best tasting tomatoes in the world. I'm not sure why, but it couldn't have something to do with the soil. I'm really glad to hear that 'outsiders' have discovered the wonder that is the Balkan tomato. As for shrimp, as far as I know my parents had never tried shrimp whilst in Serbia. I think squid is more readily available in the Adriatic.

Anonymous said...

They even have peanut butter at mega market...

and tabasco sauce...

Irina said...

this seems like a recipe you will like:

Anonymous said...

You know, shrimp is cockroach of the see. I never liked them...