Have you ever drunk powdered orchid root? Or had a half a pint of fermented millet? Both of these are way better than they sound and amongst others represent an interesting element of Bosnian cuisine. None of these drinks are unique to Bosnia but typify much of Bosnian culture by drawing on Ottoman, Middle Eastern and local Slavic influences. I went to Sarajevo last summer, mainly for culinary reasons, and I would rate some of the Bosnian beverages amongst my favourite experiences there.
Salep, the powdered orchid root drink just mentioned, made its way to Bosnia with the Turks. It’s traditionally a winter drink because it’s thick and often has cinnamon on the top but the Bosnians are happy to make it for you all year round (whereas in Athens I was told “No. Winter only”). Although it sounds exotic, salep was actually well known in Georgian Britain and was sold as an alternative to tea and coffee under the name saloop. When it’s made well this drink is excellent. The best I had was at the famous Čajdžinica Džirlo on a steep hill called Kovači. This Sarajevo institution prides itself on heritage and authenticity and you can be confident that their salep is the real thing. I had one in the bazaar as well but it tasted more of hot milk than anything else which was a disappointment.
Boza is a cold drink made from fermented millet or other grains depending on where you have it. It’s a bit like apple juice and a bit like beer but unique at the same time. This old beverage also arrived with the Ottomans and was sold in the street by a man called a bozadžija. It can still be found across the Balkans but the best one I’ve had was in Sarajevo (at Caffe Demirović in the bazaar). I had a much browner version in Skopje and it came nowhere near.
The tradition of herbal teas is an important and ancient one in the Balkans and is strongly associated with Slavic tradition. My favourite Balkan herbal tea is šipak čaj (rosehip tea) which is ubiquitous across the region including Croatia and also Slovenia where it is called šipek. Other historic teas from the region include čaj od koprive (nettle tea) čaj od kamilice (chamomile tea) and lipov čaj which is made from the flowers of the lime tree (as in the limewood tree, not the citrus fruit tree). I tried this last one at Čajdžinica Džirlo not really knowing what to expect; it was quite mild and slightly disappointing. On the other hand, I found a new favourite at the supermarket, Bosnian produced zova čaj (elderflower tea) which is amazing, especially if you leave the tea bag in for a long time and add sugar.
Finally, I have to add rose juice (sok od ruže). This Oriental beverage also found its way to Bosnia in the Ottoman period and is still found in Turkey and the Middle East under the names şerbet or sharbat. Although it sounds sickly it was actually one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had. Bright pink and carbonated but not too sweet or too perfumed. This comes from another Balkan tradition of making sherbets from fruits and herbs. I had this last one with a meal of uštipci (deep fried dough balls) and creamy kajmak, sat outside at one of the copper-topped tables of Nanina Kuhinja with the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer ringing out overhead. It felt very Bosnian. I was very happy.