Thursday, December 15, 2011

Slovakia: Extreme Fly Fishing with Diplomats.

It is Christmas season and cold and wet in Budapest. What better excuse do I need to yearn for the hot days of summer? Yes, when I am not traveling with my band or ferreting out Chinese groceries in Budapest, I do like a vacation sometimes, preferably in an exotic locale. And what could possibly be more exotic than… Slovakia! It has all the necessary ingredients I require of a strange and enlightening holiday destination. Bizarre accordion music!
A language that is absolutely beyond my powers of comprehension! A cuisine that is based on the theory that food should all be one color (white!) And most important: pristine mountains covered in forests and rivers filled with trout. Yes, I am a trout fisherman. Hungary is not a paradise for trout fishing, although it is a Mecca for European fishermen who travel here hunting for its legendary monster sized carp. Yes, there are a few places one can find trout streams in Hungary – the Garadna and Szinva near Miskolc come to mind, although the Szinva suffers an almost annual indignity as a dumping ground for photographic chemicals producing spectacular fish kills that drift into the downtown area of Miskolc and stink up the business district. The Josva stream near Aggtelek actually supports a wild trout population, but since it is located in a National Park zone, fisheries experts are not allowed to develop it as a proper sport fishery. But the trout fishing is better in the neighboring countries.
Release me! Please! Release me!
Slovenia has some of the best trout fishing in Europe, but the license fees are steep and it is not exactly close to Budapest. That leaves Slovakia, which offers reasonable fees for non-resident fishing permits and good, cheap accommodation in the off season ski regions in the mountains. Even without a car I can take a train to the small town of Liptovsky Hradok and have access to two excellent mountain rivers, the Bela and the Vah. But luckily, I have a fishing buddy, and he has a driver’s license, and at least once a year we rent a car and head north to be humbled and shamed by a creature with no arms and legs and a brain the size of a lentil. Claude has been met in these pages before. Once an iconoclastic punk rocker he has transformed into an international diplomat and campaigner for Human Rights, and is now married and raising a pair of beautiful and clever daughters. He has put aside the foolishness of youth, and taken up the foolishness of middle age. Fishing for trout. I mean, usually Claude goes out to fight The Good Fight armored in a three piece suit with a silk tie in a big Windsor knot.
Come to Papa!
On fishing days Claude looks like this. He walks around in this outfit entirely without any sense of irony or shame. He claims it "keeps him dry" even as we watch the water seeping into his pants. The first time we went fishing in Slovakia, his wife Mina and Fumie took one look at us in our rubber pants and hit the floor howling with laughter. While Claude goes for the full chest wader “Michelin Man” look, I prefer hip waders, and until it was pointed out to me I never considered that they made me look like a slightly chubby Chippendale Dancer.
 World's only Judeo-Romani Fly Fishing Team
Another issue is “catch and release.” After standing in a cold alpine stream with ice water lapping at our family jewels for hours, I don’t really want to kill the fish and take it home and eat it. I want a hot soup, or in Slovakia, at least, something starchy and white with sheep cheese and bacon bits on top. Halushky is probably the Slovak national dish. Potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon bits. Eat it and you will never be hungry again. It doesn't sound like much, but it is one of Europe's great foods. You can fnd it in literally every resturant in the land, but it is best when you get it a cheap lunch stops attracting lumberjacks and truck drivers. Thousands of Slovak truck drivers can't be wrong.
There is no such thing as "lo-carb" in Slovakia.
Wild trout are so beautiful, and as we fly fishermen say “too valuable to only be caught once.” Mina, however, comes from a Roma family in Romania, and Fumie comes from the fresh fish mecca of Tokyo, so they were no laughing mood when they informed us that anything we caught was to be killed and considered as food, no argument, were we crazy, and why the hell were we fishing, anyway? We nodded dumbly (never argue with women armed with fly rods!) and we released our fish in secret. On arriving in Liptovsky Hradok, we checked out the river Vah and decided that it was too high to fish. That left the alpine Bela, which flows into the Vah from the High Tatras. And we needed to get fishing licenses. In Slovakia this is never easy – you need to have a state permit and then a local day permit to fish a specific trout stream. Nobody ever knows where to get both, although local fishing tackle shops are a good bet if you can find one. In Hradok you need to go to the paper store next to the hotel across from the train station.
Bravely standing up to the EU.
The assistant there informed us that we needed to pay double the local rate for a day permit (a regulation that we didn’t encounter elsewhere in Slovakia) and Claude – who has a degree in law and can often be found prowling the halls of the European Parliament in Brussels - calmly explained that under EU law, administrative fees such as fishing permits can no longer allow discrimination between EU passport holders (such as both of us.) Claude told her this in his fluent and formal Czech learned from years teaching in Prague. The woman sputtered something and turned red. Nothing seems to enrage a Slovak store clerk more than being lectured in EU law in Czech by a foreigner. The breakup of Czechoslovakia wasn’t so long ago and the languages are still mutually intelligible, but she wasn’t having it. Claude immediately sensed her frustration and – in the calm and monotonous voice that comprises the ninja arsenal of EU Human Rights lawyers – began to prod her into conniptions by reciting a long list of EU laws and regulations backing up his preliminary objection. It was getting late. “Let’s just pay the fee and go fishing, Claude.” “No. It is a matter of principle. She has no right under the EU laws to double charge for a foreigner’s permit.” I went outside for a smoke. Twenty minutes later Claude emerged from the shop, muttering about bringing the case of the Stubborn Paper Shop Fishing Permit to the European Courts. I just wanted to get on the water. Now, here is a basic tip for fly fishermen: always ask the locals where to go.
Of course, we did no such thing. We drove up the Bela valley marveling at the scenery and the fact that here seemed to be absolutely no access roads to the stream itself. Where there was it was only accessible by rappelling down limestone cliffs where one false move would cost you your life. This never seems to bother Claude, who approaches fly fishing as an extreme sport combining the best features of base jumping with the thrill of deep sea free diving. I come from a more Isaac Walton, “pastoral pleasures” school of fly fishing, so we continued driving until we finally found a spot near a local holiday camp, so we could fish while watching fat nude Germans splashing in the icy waters across from us. As always, Claude found a classic pool and was soon onto some trout. After a while he graciously moved on and Fumie took her shot at the pool, and again, trout.
Sushi. Step number one. Catch it.
Fumie is not a “by the book” angler. She doesn’t care about careful casting, or spooking the fish, or having a perfectly straight leader. She only uses two fly patterns: the Red Tag – because she caught her first trout using one, and a ridiculous chimera of a beadhead nymph she calls “The Dancing Queen” because I tie them for her in colors usually reserved for inking “Hello Kitty” illustrations. It makes fly selection easier for her and, in terms of fish caught; it beats the rubber pants off of me. So, at the end of day one, everybody goes home happy and I have caught absolutely zip. The next day we tried the Bela closer to the town of Hradok, but the summer temperature had put the fish into slow mode and we were all without any of what fishermen call “luck.” We watched one local took some fish using the specialized form of fly fishing known as “Czech nymphing.” This consists of tying about three heavy sinking nymph flies to a long nylon leader, wading out to the middle of the stream where the current is constantly threatening to drown you, and then flailing a short line upstream as if whipping a team of intransigent oxen. Yes it seems to catch fish. No it doesn’t look like a lot of fun.
I dare you to release me!
Having been taught a lesson by the wily trout of the Bela, we decided to move on to more familiar ground. The Revuca, flowing between Donovaly and Ruzemberok, has been our home stream for the last few years. Only three hours drive from Budapest, it is a smaller woodland stream where we have all caught some beautiful trout and grayling. And we knew where to get our day permits. Like a lot of Slovak fishing licensors, it is located in a private home and handled by a little old lady who speaks only Slovak and thinks that all Japanese people are the same person. Unlike the wild rapids of the alpine Bela, the Revuca is gentler, full of pools and holes that we have fished many times before. We never get skunked on the Revuca. Almost never. This day, however, started off difficult. No trout. At least for me, no trout. Claude and Fumie caught and released a few small ones, but I had nothing and we had to get back to Budapest by evening so we couldn’t stay until the evening when stream fish usually start hitting at the end of a hot day. After wasting several hours being cruelly taunted by a school of anti-Semitic grayling in one of the downstream holes that had always given up some fish in previous trips, I accepted defeat and was hiking back toward the car when i heard Fumie and Claude shouting. They had fish.
The exciting denouement of Cahn's ballet "The Fingerling"
Claude told me to lose my nymphs and tie on a dry fly, so I picked out a deer hair caddish fly that I could easily see in the shallow rapids, waded out, and started casting. Fumie and Claude were catching rainbow trout on almost every other cast and soon so was I. This was great. And then… I get my fly line caught in a tree. No, problem. I know how to deal with this. A gentle tug and… my rod tip breaks. Clean in the middle. After sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream and fuming while watching Fumie and Claude reel in fish after fish, I re-strung my rod without the tip and began casting with the stumpy, unresponsive stick I was left with. And yes, I caught trout. And yes, it was fun – catching trout on dry flies is always fun, even if they seem to be small stocked rainbow trout who don’t know the difference between a size 14 deer hair caddis fly and trout farm puppy chow. And yes – I have a spare rod, but it was home in Budapest. Where else would a serial fly rod murderer like myself want to keep his spare fly rod, right? And yes, I actually like the cheesy starchy halushky dumplings that are served all over Slovakia, especially after a year of a very lo-carb eating regimen, and I like some of the other stuff that Slovaks produce as well and I like just being in a place called Slovakia.
And now it is winter. I have a new fly tying vise. It is time to tie a few dozen flies and wait for next year’s Slovakian trout trip. I can hear the trout mocking me in Slovak even now. I never learn. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Maramureş: The Fashion Shoot!

Last spring I managed to get to one of my favorite places in Europe – the Maramureş region in northern Romania – twice in the space of a month. The first trip was in May, part of a project involving my ongoing folk music research. The second trip was even more interesting. As soon as I returned to Budapest I was contacted by Nigel, a professional photographer who had contracted with an American fashion company to arrange a photo shoot in Maramureş. He was already occupied with a job elsewhere, so could I return to Maramureş to do some preliminary location scouting, shoot some photos, and set up some contacts to prepare for their upcoming fashion catalog shoot for the USA based clothing and design company Anthroplogie, which situates its catalogue shoots in various exotic locales. The next shoot chosen was in Maramureş, which the art directors had seen while browsing for “exotic” locations on the internet. Of course, with me being the anti-matter version of a fashionista, I had no idea who or what this was all about, had never heard of Anthropologie (spelled with a ‘y’ that was what I spent a decade studying at University and is a pretty good explanation for why I can speak a bit of Zulu) And, Nigel added, it was a fully paid gig: travel, expenses, honorarium. Even though I had just returned from ten days on the road in Transylvania I was all over that like sheep cheese on mamaliga. First I had to get there. I don’t drive. Luckily, my old buddy Gabor does, and as a Hungarian theater musician he is/was/will always be severely underemployed and has way too much idle time on his hands, so he was happy to jump at the chance to act as paid chauffeur in his 1985 Mazda – an ugly old little machine, but tough as a billy goat and it did run.And I was able to take Fumie along – an added asset since we would be visiting our friends in the archly traditional village of Ieud, where Fumie began learning to speak Romanian back in 2001 from our host Nitsa, an amazingly strong and independent village woman who is a living encyclopedia of local Romanian folklore and a pillar of her local Greco-Orthodox church. There is nothing Maramureş villagers love more than a Japanese girl who can speak basic Romanian with a Maramureş dialect.The fashion shoot folks were going to need some local help as a fixer for their work, and Nitsa – one of the most beloved and respected figures in the village hierarchy - was just the ticket to do it. And, best of all, she was well compensated for her time and trouble. That was in June, and in September the catalog came out online.I had never heard about Anthroplogie clothing, although asking around it seems to be well known and quite trendy (and expensive) but it was great seeing our friends in Maramureş included in some of the photos alongside towering Danish models draped in upscale fashions. Of course, the fashion models and photo shoot staff stayed in the city of Sighet at the swank Hotel Marmaţia with all the mod cons.I stayed in that hotel back in 1997, when it was a classic post-communist dump with stained furniture and odd wooden chandeliers in classic Ceaucescu hotel style. Today it is wall to wall wifi and quality capuccino and cable TV in every room. I shouldn't really be surprised. So many travel writers have made a living stereotyping Romania as Europe's backwater for so long that when you find a five star hotel in a small town it still elicits a sense of surprise. But I still prefer village life. While we were in Ieud, however, we stayed with our friends in the village. On the first morning, Nitsa invited us to a ceremony at the wooden church across the street. It was the seventh month after the burial one of the villagers, and a memorial ceremony was held in the church.Afterwards, everybody gathered in the churchyard and was given cake and a shot of home brewed horinca brandy, and then all marched down to the village hall for the feast. It was around noon, but already the "paharnic" - the bottle bearers - were in action serving drinks. What was amazing was that as they moved around the tables serving a glass of 110 proof plum brandy to groups of three or four people, they would also take a drink as a toast, yet we never saw any of them get noticeably tipsy. In Ieud people drink a lot for ceremonial situations, but we rarely saw anybody drunk. Which is not the case in all villages.Nitsa pulled us in and we were seated for a lunch of meatball ciorba and sarmale stuffed cabbage. These are different from the stuffed cabbage we have in Hungary. Smaller rolls, almost no paprika to speak of, more rice and less meat, and flavored with dill and thyme. There is even the vegetarian version, the lenten sarmale de post made with vegetables and rice which wins my vote for best vegetarian food in the world (in a close race with pizza and felaful.) Romanians eat a lot of sarmale and never get tired of it. It is the perfect food.These funeral anniversary feasts are held quite often in the village and within a few days we were invited again, on a day when Nitsa was part of the catering and cooking brigade who donate their time and services as part of their duty to their church. While the crew was doing their shoot they also did some shooting at musician Ion Pop's home in Hoteni. When their fixer, our Transylvanian-from-Budapest friend Andrea called him up to set up a meeting he told her "Come by any time, I'm always at home. I'm a peasant from Monday to Friday. I'm a musician only on weekends."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Berlin: City Changes, Curry Wurst Stays the Same.

This has been the longest hiatus our blog has ever taken, sorry about the delay, but I have been on the road and not a little bit lazy about updates. Don’t worry – we’ll be making an effort to be more regular in the upcoming months. What can I say – I started this blog in 2006 while in Istanbul as a sort of personal web site to share photos and food with my close friends and over the years it seems to have taken on a life of its own. The latest escapade was a trip to Germany – to Berlin and Westphalia. Berlin, however, was the highlight – good friends, good food, good music. I used to play a lot in Berlin during the 1990s, staying in the then run down and alternative/funky eastern nabe of Prenzlauerberg in what used to be East Berlin. I haven’t been back in over a decade, and my, it has changed. For one thing, Prenzlauerberg has become an attractive upscale neighborhood that caters to young families. We met up with my old buddy Paul Hockenos and checked out the Saturday market.While I don’t have a strong affiliation towards German cuisine, when they do it well they do it well German style: extremely well. German bread, for example, is fantastic, which it should be since that is pretty much what Germans eat at night: abendbrot.Slices of bread with cream cheeses and cold cuts. Perfect for sitting in front of the TV set with. If you like that sort of thing. Not exactly the kind of thing you fly across oceans in anticipation of. Luckily, they have a lot of amazing cold cuts.And cheese. Especially if you wander into the giant department store across the way from the Alexander Platz metro station. And after all, this is Berlin, and you can get some of Europe’s most affordable (read cheap) ethnic eats as long as ethnic means Turkish or that strange German adaption of Asian food called “Wok.” Wok seems to be the name of every pan-Asian corner joint run by either and serving both Vietnamese and Thai food. For some reason, Berlin has no real “Chinatown” neighborhood or active Chinese restaurant scene (which is probably best explained by ex Berlin resident Ed Ward as being because China doesn’t have a sex tourism industry) but you find uninspiring southeast asian “Wok” places on every street corner.But when in Germany, you want the wurst. Germany does a damn good street sausage, and you are never more than five minutes from a hot bratwurst. There are these guys who walk around with a hot grill contraption strapped to their backs selling wurst for Euro 1.20 at tram stops and in the park. And then there is the Berlin curry wurst, invented in 1948 by Herta Heuwer from ingredients she had cadged from occupying Allied soldiers: ketchup, curry powder, and bratwurst. It sounds wrong, I know, but it works. Yes, try this at home: grill a bratwurst, cut it in slices, squirt some ketchup over it, and dust with commercial curry powder (yes, you can choose the spicy stuff.) Eat with a roll.Fumie tolerated my adventures in curry wurst with an ill disguised patience – she wanted to get to the next supposedly Thai wok joint along the way. Luckily, I was in Berlin to work on a yet unannounceable music project involving Dan Kahn, Psoy Karolenko, Jake Shulmen-Ment, and the spectral presence of Michael Alpert.This meant I got to get down to the Kreuzberg/Neukolln district where the studio was located. Visiting these districts is a lot like visiting an upper class neighborhood in Istanbul. Over 30% of the population is foreign born – mostly Turkish – and that meant that I could go shopping in Turkish supermarkets, browsing in Turkish music shops, and lunching on excellent and cheap Turkish kofte, kebabs and burek.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bosnia: The Burdens of History

Having just written an article about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and poring over documents describing the destruction caused by urban warfare in cities, it is doubly unsettling to remember that Sarajevo went through a much longer, much more destructive trauma a mere fifteen years ago. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted three years, as Bosnian Serb militias backed by the Serbian Army ringed the hills over the city and poured shells into the downtown areas to which the Muslim majority had fled for safety. In Budapest we could listen to the reports on the BBC, or if we wished something more immediate, to the live broadcasts of Radio Sarajevo on regular AM radio. It was that close. Today Sarajevo is alive again, but the scars are still obvious for all to see. Aron and I went to the Sarajevo City History Museum, located across from the gaudy Yellow Marriot Hotel in the narrow strip of downtown that used to be called “Sniper’s Alley. One exhibit was dedicated to objects concocted during the siege of Sarajevo, and to the will to survive while dodging bullets in one’s own apartment or trying to feed a family on meager rations smuggled in through the enemy lines.Without access to resupply of guns, locals came up with their own home made weapons, zip guns on a military level. Electricity was provided by a variety of jerry rigged devices, from car battery generators to crank powered flashlights made from bicycle lamps.On entering the museum, there was a wall where it seemed that local residents had donated personal mementos – photographs of family members lost during the siege, newspaper clippings, and a blood stained sweater that had obviously belonged to a child.There were several fresh hand-made posters calling for the unification of the two separate Bosnian governmental zones now that Ratko Mladic had been arrested and handed over to the International court in The Hague for trial. After the museum, more history. I hailed a cab and took Aron up to the Jewish cemetery in Grbavica, up along a hill just above the city center. The cemetery occupies a hillside that slopes steeply down to the river and exposes the city center itself.During the siege, Serbian militia snipers used the protection of the cemetery to shoot and shell into the downtown of the city. Until a few years ago the cemetery was heavily mined and unsafe to visit but like most of Sarajevo it has been demined now. Although most of the names on the stones reflect the Sephardic majority of Sarajevan Jews, the Ashkenazic element is obvious by the appearance of Hungarian Jewish names as well. Not surprising, since Jews from Hungary and Galicia went to Bosnia in the 1870s after it became a protectorate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I wrote about Jewish Sarajevo on the blog here, so I won’t repeat myself, but in the spirit of presenting too much history, there is one photo from the Jewish museum that bears repeating.During WWII the Jews of Sarajevo were forced to wear yellow Jewish stars. Here we see a Rivka Kabilo, a Jewish woman being escorted by Zenejba Hardaga, a Muslim woman, who held her arm to obscure the incriminating star. Today Hardaga and her sister are both recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” at the Yad Vashem museum in Israel. And of course, if that isn't enough history for you, remember that Sarajevo is where the first world war began when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Grand Duke Ferdinand of Austria on the Latin Bridge crossing the river in downtown Sarajevo. From a dispute about Serbian nationalism grew a typically silly bush war that quickly became a pointless tragedy. Within a month of the assassination Europe was at war, and nobody has ever explained exactly why.Nobody knew what they were actually fighting for. All that history makes you hungry. And the reason we were in Sarajevo was that I had promised to show my son the Glories of Sarajevo Cevapi, which we covered in the last post. But man does not live on cevap alone, although it is not inconceivable that I could. There was burek to be had, usually for breakfast, and our Hotel was located a full thiry seconds from the alley that is home to Sac Burek, which I crowed about the last time I visited Sarajevo.A sac is a metal pan hung by chains above a charcoal fire, kind of an Ottoman dutch oven. While most burek is now baked in a pizza oven, Sac Burek does it old school, meaning the burek is probably the best in the old city, and served with a ladle of slightly soured kaymak cream.After breakfast, coffee! Coffee shops are usually tiny, and located near to other eating places. You don’t get coffee where you eat, you go to a specialist for it. And then, just when you think you will never see a vegetable again, there are the Ascjinicas.These are small restaurants specializing in stews and soups.The most famous is Asem, which serves up some fine okra and veal stew, to be sopped up with spongy somun bread. Alter we tried the Sofra, just off the Sebilj square. Aron ordered the mixed plate of stuffed peppers, but also stuffed onions and stuffed grape leaves served with a dollop of yoghurt.Did I mention that we visited during Ramadan? Yes, and it was a hard one – with temperatures in the area of 38 (that’s around 98 Farhenheit) and the days long, a lot of people simply closed up their shops and waited the day out. But nobody ever worried themselves about the people who do eat during the day. Bosnians are like Turks in their attitudes towards Islam – rather easy and tolderant.This is not Wahabi run Saudi Arabia or fundamentalist Iran. At around 7:45 a canon – yes, a real canon – would go off signaling the end of the fast and the time for the nightly iftar feast, and Sarajevo’s old city would fill up with families looking to stuff themselves through the relatively short night in order to fuel up before the next dawn.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Sarajevo: Cevapi for the End of Summer

Summer is winding down but I managed to squeeze one last road trip out of it before the temperatures cooled down. I met my son, Aron, in Sarajevo, keeping good on a birthday promise that I would show him the best cevapcici in the world. And Sarajevo has just that, along with a beautiful Ottoman style old city and enough history to keep an eighteen year old history buff occupied for four days. It's been two years since I last visited, and I have had a yearning to come back ever since. It is a city of heroes, a city of survivors, and a city in the midst of renovation and rebirth. Oh… and coffee.Aron has developed into something of a coffee fanatic, and Sarajevo is a coffee obsessed city. Unlike the tea addiction that characterizes Istanbul or Skopje, my other two favorite Ottoman café cultures; here you have Bosnian coffee at every corner. Essentially, it’s the same as Turkish coffee, but like a lot in Bosnia, it comes cheaper here than elsewhere – with the Bosnian mark running two BM to one Euro, coffees cost fifty Euro cents.With rooms renting out at 15 Euro each, and a plate of the world’s best cevapi going for 3 Euro, Sarajevo is a place I can afford to kick back and enjoy without feeling like I need to have an ATM machine strapped to my back. When I lived in Skopje, Macedonia, during the hyperinflation era in the late 1980s my Macedonian friends had a term for spending the day passing the time in cafes rather than pursing the protestant work ethic in a deflating economy: badialdzija. Its from an old Turkish term meaning “producer of nothingness.”They were masters of badialdzija, spending the days sipping tea with art students in Skopje’s old town and nights drinking rakia. I used to change a US $20 bill at the bank and walk away with a shopping bag of Yugoslav Dinars, enough to pay for cevapi and teas for my whole crowd of lazy intellectuals and shiftless Roma and Turkish sufi friends. Sarajevo brings me back to that vibe. Aron is a hardworking, industrious kid, and he desparately needed to be taught a lesson in Balkan sloth. With temperatures outside at the hottest of Europe’s this summer (38 c. or 98 Fahrenheit) there was little to do except sit in the shade of the coffee houses and watch time pass idly by.After his discovery of Bosnian coffee – served in a finjan that will fill two small cups after a nerve-wracking wait for the muddy dregs to settle, accompanied by a wad of loukoum, a soft Turkish sweet to take the edge off the bitterness – my son had a goal. He would himself become a master of Bosnian coffee. So, off to buy a coffee set.The street of coppersmiths had all manner of coffee paraphernalia on sale, but thinking better of it we wandered just a bit outside of the Bascarsija center to a small copper shop I had seen on a siise street near the Bascarsija tram stop. Aron picked up a set at 20% cheaper than our lowest negotiated price in the market. And then there is Bosnia's entry in the world of ground meat: cevapi. Of course, we can digress endlessly on where you can find the best cevapi, and I have on these pages previously, but there is no way out of presenting the latest in cevapi porn here again.Zeljo’s is usually mentuioned as the Big Daddy of Bascarsija cevapdzinicas, with two locations located on opposite corners. Zeljo’s meat is excellent, but they differ from other cevapdzinicas in the way they serve their spongy somun flatbread toasted but not dipped into a broth to dampen it while toasted on the grill. For that, try the cevap at Hodzic’s, which has spread into a mini empire of cevap houses all over the old city (named, appropriately, Hodzic #1, Hodzic #2, etc.)Cevap slightly bigger, and the somun bread is fluffier and dipped in some broth before being toasted. How many hours of my life have I spent arguing with friends whether Zeljos or Hodzic is better? How many more will I waste? Hmmm... How about something completely differnt. So different as to almost comprise a completely alternative food group? How about... the Banja Luka style cevapi! The Banja Luka style cevap served at Kastel is still one of my favorites.The Banja Luka style means that the cevap are made somewhat smaller, but served in bricks stuck together, which preserves their juicyness, and an even damper steamed bread. Apparantly, in Banja Luka itself, which is now in the Serbian Republic, the secret ingredient is a bit of pork mixed into the cevap meat mix. That doesn’t roll in Sarajevo with a Muslim majority population and a very large population of Muslim refugees resettled from Banja Luka. I noticed this elsewhere in the Balkans: cevap places often prepared their products with a stated intention of being off limits to Muslim minorities. This reaches its most absurd peak in Bulgaria, where almost every meat product available is made from ground pork, unlike Turkey, where beef and lamb rule. Needless to say, Bulgaria is not a culinary standout. One final cevap discovery came when we took a tram ride to the far end of Sarajevo – in the Ilidza neighborhood out near the Sarajevo airport. Ilidza was heavily bombed during the siege of Sarajevo, and many of the ruined buildings along the tram line have still to be renovated or bulldozed, and then you arrive in a cement city center evocative of communist times when pleasant architecture was secondary to providing quick cheap housing for the proletariat masses. We had been hoping to connect to visit either the famed tunnel museum or go out to the beautiful park in Vrelo Bosna, but a lack of information and the baking heat drove us into the nearest lunch joint.Excellent cevapi for 3 BM (Euro 1.50) Given that I live in a country that lacks decent hamburgers, I can get by knowing that an annual trip to Sarajevo (only Euro 54 round trip on the train, albeit an 11 hour gruling slog through Slavonia) will keep me fueled for a year’s worth of excellent ground beef goodness. Oh, and did I mention that we visited during the final days of Ramadan? I will in my next post.