Sweet glazed phyllo peaked from the glass display cases. Waves of joy flooded me. I love baklava. It’s a long-term, lifelong love affair with this sweet treat. When made well, it has a perfect balance of sweet honey, crispy phyllo dough, and savory nuts. I grew up in a part of Florida with a massive Greek community. Just 30 minutes from my hometown, the Greek community in Tarpon Springs serves a wonderful baklava. Growing up, my parents would take us five kids to Tarpon springs on warm spring afternoons to enjoy the sun. The Greek community moved to Florida in the 1900s to dive for sponges, and the community flourished over the next century. So, with a love of baklava ingrained in me since childhood, when I traveled to Bosnia, I figured, it has to taste even better in this region of the world, right?
Instead of better, I found different. In fact, very different. Much like American Italian and Mexican foods take liberties with the dishes, the baklava ranged in texture and flavors. On my first day wandering the cafes and tiny streets around Stari Grad (Old Town) in Sarajevo, I happened upon a small dessert café, Baklava Shop Sarajevo. Of the large selection, three types of baklava beckoned to me through the desert case and begged me to wrap my taste buds around the honey-sweet concoction. When in Italy the month before, my friends and I ate our weight in gelato — all in the name of research. In Bosnia, I continued with that motto and ordered one of each desert so that I could conduct a taste test.
The baklava in this taste test: Bosinan, Sarajevsko, and Greek.
Paired with a strong Bosnian coffee for the true traditional experience, I settled into my task. Each type takes a different approach to the recipe and the combination of ingredients. Compared to my expectations from a history of eating the Greek versions near my hometown, these three baklava featured more sweet honeyed syrup — it dripped from the baklava, and in some cases over-saturated the phyllo. Of the three, I mowed down on the Sarajevsko — it had flakier phyllo and a strong dose of nuts packed into the middle.
But one shop does not constitute a true taste test, so I continued to eat my way around Sarajevo and then Mostar, always ordering whichever versions they offered on the menu. It was a delightful mission for my time in Bosnia. After nearly eight months on the road, I enjoy small missions to help discover a new side to each city. The baklava mission brought me to unexpected cafes and shops, and into interesting conversations with locals — I had something simple and specific to ask each new person I encountered along the way.
Sarajevo a treasure I found along my mission: Badem (address: Abadžiluk 12), a specialty shop selling bulk bins of nuts, candies, and spices. This store proved so delightful, and the conversation with the shopkeeper so fun, that I arranged my final hours passing through Bosnia (en route to Slovenia) so that I could visit one last time.
I upgraded my tired bag of trail mix with a few mixes from Badem, and the indulged in a bag of my new favorite snack — chocolate covered almonds heavily coated in a delicious layer of cinnamon. I highly recommending hunting down this nut shop and stocking up on treats and flavors unique to this part of the world.
Eating vegetarian in Bosnia has been a challenge. And when you couple the low understanding of vegetarian as a concept with the lack of widespread English, I often ate from the grocery store and instead stuck to the desert menu when out. While burek is an easy meal, that only did me once a day, and I became adept at pantomiming with servers and then hoping for the best. And when my food invariably comes out smothered in meat, I’ve learned to take it in stride, have a good laugh, and head to the grocery store to buy my standby – a chunk of cheese and baguette, with a banana for good measure.
These past weeks traveling the Balkan States was a pleasant surprise. Bosnia is a sleeper favorite of my entire trip thus far. Few other travelers along my route had visited this part of the world, so I hadn’t known what to expect. The culture is open here and the pace of life is lovely. History suffuses the country and the people have found a delicate balance to their lives. Throughout the city, influences from this history play out across every building, shop, and even the conversations. There’s the tasty influences in the coffee and sweets, the beautiful mosques and calls to prayer, and a meshing of religions living in a harmonious-if-delicate balance.
I loved the pace of life and the beauty of the countryside. So much natural beauty and so much history in the cities. Although I am saying good-bye to Bosnia, it’s more of a “see you later” — I will be back.
Traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina soon? Using my own travels and recommendations from A Little Adrift readers, I have a complete and free Bosnia & Herzegovina Travel Guide.
This post was last modified on July 13, 2017, 6:21 am