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Serbian Chevapchichi

"Gently, he took her by the shoulders and turned her around, facing her back into the house. - Let's go have dinner. Vincent said he made us that Serbian cevapcici." - Eureka, TV Show.

The very last decade of the very last century of the previous millennium was very exciting in many ways. It won't be remembered by all meaningless Balkan wars flaming down here for many years, nor by the final end of communism era in this part of the Europe, nor even by the birth of European union idea or rise of the new world order we are all living in today. No, to me, it was the birth of the internet, email, world wide web, social networks, instant messaging, blogging, everything what we are using in our homes on daily basis the same way we do with television or radio or ... kitchen and all its appliances. Although the internet network and its services were invented many years before, it was the nineties where all started to go real worldwide and accepted by majority of people everywhere.

Serbian Chevapchichi

By now you are probably wondering what is the connecting point with "Serbian Chevapchichi" and the internet, right? Well, it's simple. Let's get back to mid 90s - I vividly remember those years simply because with commercializing the network, computers started to be interesting by adding complete new perspective to the whole idea. The potential was so great so anything we could think of could be possible and easily transferred to the web. I remember my first web page was about Jupiter's four moons, their images and short stories about Galileo and history of telescopes. Sadly, this was not what was popular in those days. If we exclude all the educational content, IT and science stuff the whole internet, beside email service was all about two things. Cooking and pornography. Even today I am making jokes about how half an internet in those days was about amazing worldwide recipes while the other half was filled with naked women. Regarding the latter, I remember earlier this year I was watching the "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" where Craig tried to analyze couple of astronomy images made by Hubble and other space telescopes with blogger Phil Plait. If you didn't see it before try not to miss it on the net and you will find out how Phil commented Craig's astronomy knowledge in regards to the other half of the internet. The same is with food, with tons of web sites, forums, social media and blogs, internet successfully replaced cooking and recipe books. The only problem now is how to cope with tons of different variations of the same recipe. There are no secret ingredients today. Everything's online.

With that said I am done with long introduction and now I am ready to go with the main topic. The food itself. Let's start with the post title. Initially I wanted to name the post with one of Serbian specialties and for me it was easy. It was the meal of my childhood, I remember all the visits to different restaurants with my parents on a weekly dinner and "Serbian Chevapchichi" (ćevapčići) was always there. Here in Serbia and all neighboring countries they are extremely popular. There are also variations of the same meal in Croatia, Bulgaria and especially Bosnia but they are all descendants of the "kebab", the meat dish that, like 'shawarma', originates in the Middle East. Unfortunately, history of this part of the World was pretty violent comparing to, for example, northern Europe where big conflicts somehow avoided their people in great scale. Here, ever since the middle age back in 14th century Balkan peninsula was more or less under constant occupation first by Ottoman Empire that lasted for more than 500 years, followed by several Balkan wars, followed by Austro-Hungarian Empire, followed by two World wide wars giving birth of 50+ years of dictatorship by communism and postcommunism turbulence.

The history of the area is important to understand many things but in this particular case its imminent influence to Serbian cuisine. I am not saying that Serbian national dish doesn't exist, just that the majority of the recipes suffered irretrievable change under the foreign influence over so many years. Like "Chevapchichi" sausages, many other recipes have Turkish and Middle East flavor, others, on the other end, 'suffered' changes especially by German, Greek, Hungarian and other influences. All great recipes and flavors of all the foreign influences combined with all our Serbian heritage also gave the people here very special culture related to food, preparation and also consummation and restaurant service. There is a story (and even a fork shaped monument you can see above) where in the city of Niš, in southern Serbia (roman Naissus), back in 12th century, during the royal dinner in honor of Frederick Barbarossa who was on a 'holy' crusade with his army, his host Stefan Nemanja, Serbian Grand Prince of the time, used forks, knifes and other kitchen aids while Barbarossa in a 'Robin Hood' style enjoyed all the royal meal with his hands and fingers. Of course it is hard to tell if this was true but this is what is mentioned in some old tales and stories and supposedly the monument itself is shaped like the fork based on those old unwritten narratives.

To be only fair, historically relevant is that the meeting did happen and some treaty was signed but Nemanja didn't join German army to the Constantinople and crusade itself after that point and Barbarossa never consumed this alliance as well. After all it all happened in well known dark and religiously divided middle ages that is very hard to understand. Nevertheless and just because of illiteracy of the time and not so much historically proven facts and texts, and especially because each nation writes its own truth in their own history books I do like these times because of this hint of mystery, speculations and old fairy tales. The old church where this meeting supposedly happened and where Barbarossa's army made a camp, still stands and its own history is full of mysterious stories as well. If you like to know more about it, hop to the story Fairies of Naissus with more old tales about local neighborhood.

Meeting with Barbarossa in 1189*

But to get back to the worldwide dishes - as a Serbian I can't be too much objective when it comes to judging or comparing different cuisines to Serbian but I know one thing - eating just one same food every day is not much fun at all. I am also far away to be some food fanatic but every now and again, and again, and... again I really want to try something new. To satisfy this need I do two things. I cook and I order various different meals from the menus of domestic and international restaurants here and during my travels. To be honest I am not great cook simply because I always foolishly think that I can do better and never follow recipes to the word and often my master pieces end in trash bin, but from time to time I get something extraordinary out of the oven making me proud of myself, especially when the meal is product of my own experiments. In addition, Viktor and I in recent years started one special thread for this blog and YouTube channel with our selection of food we liked and prepared.

Chevapchichi is one of the Serbian BBQ dishes we simply couldn't avoid and finally, and in contrast to later commercial presentation of all Serbian food I embedded, what is following is our own small video with our own recipe and step by step instructions of how to make chevapchichi sausages in shortest possible way and with our way to try and preserve all the Balkan's touch and taste. It's not little effort, I know, but the result is definitely worthwhile.

Beside five different meat, it's not that obvious what exactly goes into the mixture so here is our own recipe that originated from Jana's Chilli Pepper Travels blog but with our twist. Minced meat includes beef, lamb, pork, turkey and bacon. Combined there was around 1kg of the mixture and for spices we used 1 onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and 1 tbs of all of these: oregano, cornflour, curcuma, paprika, sea, black pepper and brown sugar. The quote from the beginning was from the Sci-Fi TV Shows "Eureka" that aired 2006-2012 and the central gathering in many episodes was in the town's great diner called "Café Diem" and its chef Vincent once selected "Serbian cevapcici" as a daily special. He made it from lamb patty, paprika and garlic and literally described it with "a little hunk of Balkan heaven". However, and in the nutshell, for a dish so widely prepared there is not just one recipe out there. Instead different people and restaurants use their own (secret) ingredients and little sausages can be very different from one place to another.

My blog is really not a promotional piece of any kind. This is not what I am doing here. It's just a public journal of mine and I never intended to use it for some commercial purpose. However, this is my chance to break this principle with Serbian food. I have to admit that if I wanted to make a research about all the Serbian national food that would probably go far beyond this blog but, luckily, the guys from National Serbian Tourist Organisation last year made a tremendous job with their promotional video they called "Soulfood Serbia". I embedded it next on the post and even though it is rather long (about 12 minutes), I am encouraging you to find the time to watch it. Preferably with empty stomach - it will be good for your gastronomical urges later. Besides, the video is made in great quality and it is describing the core of Serbian food history pretty well and also it covers only Serbian genuine food, the one survived all possible influences over the centuries.

Well, at the end, all I can add is that enjoying food is one of those things that's occupying almost all of human senses and remembering all the occasions, where and when it happened, have the power of bringing back all good memories of all occasions and people we shared all those dinners with. With me, Serbian chevapchichi are very high on the list ever since my childhood and no doubt will be here and around for many years ahead.

Kosta Mandrović -
Stefan Nemanja -
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