spice

24-XII-2017 09:50:55

Let's face it, Serbia doesn't have much of a culinary history of its own, because it spent so much time just trying to survive under Osmanli (aka Ottoman) Turks. What recipes from before that period survived, did so in written form, not in tradition, because these were mostly of what was the diet on the Nemanjić court, up to XIV century. However, the last two centuries is a different story, and this is a huge mix of influences, both oriental, (austro-)hungarian, mediterranean in general, and some french and italian. So expect surprises and incongruences. Apart from just plain salt'n'pepper, the main ingredient is actually onion. Most of the zaprška must contain it. Garlic is popular with some of suhomesnati things (not all), pihtije, and in smaller doses on fish. Some sub-cuisines (specially of westernmost branches of Bosnia) put much more of it. Then there's the old "if it's too spicy, it's probably to hide bad meat". As for pepper, it's always black pepper; other kinds are for sausage makers. And it's either whole (as goes into sour cabbage, some kinds of salami, cooked wine) or freshly ground - any decent household has a functioning grinder to put on the table. In a restaurant it's the pre-ground, which (if you ask any connoisseur, aka tavern bench-wearer) is mostly winded out. Then there's the hot stuff. Hot peppers come in a dozen varieties, from cherry to bell, from thin feferona (from which your pepperoni got the name but not the taste) to various kinds of local cultivars. It's often a matter of local pride ("now try mine and you'll see it's much hotter"). It's taken with anything that's fried or has a zaprška. Everyone knows at least two stories about what happened when someone bet on eating some dangerous amount, frequently firsthand. And it's not that its hotter as you go south, which is the case everywhere else, it's hotter as you go away from Belgrade (and even in it you can find places with good supplies). On the north, there's the hungarian influence, and the northern neighbors are equally crazy about liking it hot. And finally there are traditional folk spices, which are undergoing a renaissance - the cooks are rediscovering various kinds of basil, of wild onions (cheese with sremuš is a delicacy, available about two weeks a year), of mint, thyme etc. Calling them "folk" is counterintuitive to what I wrote first, but only in the sense that these indeed weren't widespread - the poor ate what they had - but in some places the tradition was passed, and only now it's spreading again.