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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Which I Trip Over Serbian Food Whilst on a Business Trip to Florida

I knew the second my Gator City Taxicab driver with the Slavic accent said, "I am from Europe" that he was guaranteed to be a former Yugoslavian. I have never met people from any other part of Europe who refer to themselves as being from "Europe" instead of a particular nation.

So, of course I leaned forward and said, "Dobr dan." And it turns out he is Bosnian. Which, apparently isn't the oddity one might expect in a small northern Florida city. There are roughly 20,000 former Yugoslavs in Jacksonville. The first bunch probably came via the help of a local church group in the early 1990s, and the rest accumulated over time like a magnet attracting iron filings. My taxi driver, for example, had originally landed in Utah but made his way inevitably to Jacksonville in under a year.

Every former Yugoslav ethnicity and religion is represented. The entire community comes together around two central activities -- their soccer team (which I suspect plays the local former-Russians and former-Chinese teams) and their grocery store. Everyone says they've never seen any problems between the various sub-demographics -- Macedonians, Serbs, Muslims, Christians, etc.

As you might guess from the name, Amar European Grocery Store (5664 Santa Monica Blvd S, near University Blvd, jacksonville (904)739-9447; atahirovic@comcast.net) specializes solely in Yugoslav-groceries. Located in a side-wing of a mini-mall, it's not a huge place, but big enough. I scampered between aisles going nuts with a kind of dotty joy that only a a mother or step-mother can feel when she spots items her children have been without for a long time. Banana-candies covered in chocolate. Smoki peanut butter flavored puffs, Eva brand sardines in oil, coffee ground properly in Belgrade, and Vegeta soup stock. Prices were very reasonable, in fact some were far lower than what you'd pay back in the Balkans.

I asked, or rather begged, the shopkeeper to tell me if she shipped to customers outside of the area. She's considering it for someday maybe, but really, she said, she's far too busy helping out with the soccer team to take on any more business. Proof, if I needed it, that she truly was a Yugoslav. Why work to expand your business when you already get by and really there is a community life to be having?


Mihajlo said...

ahh soo close . I you come 30 miles south to Saint Augustine , Come by and see us. Did you spot the "Mystic Bean Coffee " at Avdo's?

mallemaala said...

Dear Rosemary

I enjoy your writing a lot!

I am going to visit Belgrade this December from 5th to 28th.

My first time actually.

Am an Indian film maker and I will staying with a Serbian family.

What do you think I should know
about the place and people that will help me ... ?

I am vegetarian too...

Anybody I could meet up while I am there? Writers/Film makers?


G. Bruce Chapman said...

If you ever travel to Toronto, there is a large Yugo contingent here as well, interestingly in the Greek 'hood, near Danforth. Many nervously claim to be from Europe or generic Yugoslavia when you first meet them.

They all (Serbs, Bosnians, Croats) seem to get along here. Only violence I remember was an Albanian/American who murdered a greek in a local Resto, then escaped back to USA.

There are a dozen shops which cater to the unique Yugo tastes on Pape Street. There's even a "C" Market. ;-)

I get my fav addiction - Schweps Bitter Lemon (bottled in Kosovo), from a Bosnian resto, along with nice cvapi, burek, etc.

Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Dear Krishna - My sister-in-law in Belgrade knows several people in the film industry there. I'll see if she is interested in introducing you. Please email me directly so I may forward her your info. I'm at rosemarybaileybrown(at)gmail.com


Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Ivan from Sombor just sent me this link to an ecommerce site in the USA that sells Serbian as well as Bosnian foods:

Pacovka said...

Now I'm on the hunt to find Smoki and Bitter Lemon here in the Boston area. My kids love Smoki! But would it ruin it that they get to eat them here at home and not just in the Old Country?