Chanoy Honeymoon: Sarajevo, January 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Visiting Sarajevo affected me in a way that I had not yet experienced on our trip. I’d mentioned in my recap of our time in Berlin how the effects of World War 2 and the fall of the Iron Curtain were still being felt in Berlin today…but it was different. In Berlin, you don’t walk down the street and see shrapnel damage on every second building. In Sarajevo, you do. In Berlin, you don’t walk down the street and see civilians nursing noticeable war injuries. In Sarajevo, you do. In Berlin, there’s no danger of stumbling across a stray landmine if you go wandering in the nearby mountains. In Sarajevo, there is.

The Bosnian conflicts of the early to mid 1990s are still very raw and you can feel the effects of it all around you, no matter where you go in the city of Sarajevo. The Bosnian government are finding it more difficult to rebuild their country at the pace of the other Balkan countries – money is scarce, unemployment is high, and they don’t have the beautiful of a coastline to draw in tourists for revenue the way that neighbouring Croatia can. Yet, there is much of appeal for a more discerning international traveller in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia – if you know what to look for.

If you’re a food lover, Sarajevo has a wealth of food culture to offer. The cevapi is widely acknowledged to be some of the best in the Balkans – cheap takeaway cevapi here is better than expensive sit-down cevapi in a fancy restaurant elsewhere. They have dozens of ascinicas scattered around the city – little cosy restaurants offering home-style cooking with recipes passed down the generations, guarded carefully and never written down and shared. Cafes are plentiful – coffee is strong, there are many tea varieties, and they love their desserts from Turkish-style baklava to Western cream cakes.

If you enjoy the mix of East and West – Sarajevo is one of the most diverse places we visited on our journey with an eclectic mix of Eastern Turkish cuisine and culture (more than 80% of the population are Muslim), and Western cuisine and culture with a liberal approach to their religion. While there’s still the multiple calls to prayer every day ringing out from the mosques scattered around the city, the volume is muted in comparison to Turkey. Hijabs are worn less commonly. Our free walking tour guide told us that it wasn’t unusual for his Muslim friends to go to mosque, then go out for beer and burek afterwards. Religion is an important part of people’s spiritual lives, but Bosnians have modernised their approach and adapted their religion to modern life.

If you love nature – less than half an hour outside of Sarajevo, you can find yourself in the mystical beauty of Vrelo Bosne, the start of the River Bosna. You get there by taking the tram to the end of the line, then walking three kilometres down a quiet road that’s lined with impossibly tall trees the whole way. You start to move away from civilisation – houses become further and further apart, until there’s nothing but farmland, then nothing at all. You’re in the shadow of the mountain and in thick fog as you walk into the parklands, through meandering paths, over wooden bridges, beside crystal-clear waters. Pack a lunch and linger in the parklands for a day. Enjoy the serenity.

If you’re compassionate and you want to learn – the memorial to those Bosnian Muslims who died in the Srebenica genocide during the Balkan conflicts is one of the most important places you have to visit. It only happened twenty years ago – fifty years after the world said “never again” after the horrors of the Holocaust. We humans have a lot to learn. The memorial, and the Museum of Bosnia & Herzegovina can help you learn about the atrocities that happened in the country. It’s confronting, emotional, and you will be drained by the end…but it’s important.

I feel there’s a lot more that the city can offer that we didn’t even get close to experiencing. A local we met told us to do an overnight stay in a small town 30kms away, so we could explore some of the winter ski slopes in the area. We didn’t get to that – but I’d like to visit that area next time, if not for winter ski slopes then for summer hiking trails. I loved our stay in Sarajevo, and would go back in a heartbeat.

Review: Cevapi in Sarajevo Old Town

I know I knocked the idea of having cevapi every day while in Sarajevo in this blog entry…but as a tourist, it is something you need to do. Sarajevo is generally known as the capital of the Balkans for good cevapi, and I think it’s due to the unique meat blend of beef and lamb (no pork, most of the Bosnian population is Muslim) that’s normally used. There’s a million places around the Old Town that you can go for cevapi but we went to two places recommended by our free tour guide – one much better than the other.


Our first visit was to Cevabdzinica Specijal, where we met with an overly pushy waitress who tried to walk us down the street to their sister restaurant for a meal. We kept protesting that we only wanted to get our order ‘to go’, at which point we were told to wait outside the restaurant for our order to be brought to us.


This is what a takeaway cevapi from Cevabdzinica Specijal looks like once unwrapped. It looks a bit sad – the bread has just been ripped in the top, and the little cevapi sausages unceremoniously dumped on top with some chopped onions and a dollop of cream cheese. Presentation was definitely lacking a little something here.

While K liked the raw onion, I thought that fried caramelised onions would actually be a better match with the spices of the cevapi, adding some much needed sweetness given the tangy cheese. At least it was a better cevapi than the one we had in Manufaktura, and I think it comes down to the texture – where the Manufaktura cevapi was a little bit rubbery, this was quite tender.

Cevabdzinica Specijal is located at 11 curciluk veliki in Sarajevo.


Left unsatisfied by our cevapi experience from Specijal, we headed on to Cevabdzinica Zeljo, one of the more popular grill restaurants in town. It’s named after the local football team, hence the prominent football branding throughout the restaurant and its popularity amongst locals!

We stood inside the restaurant for this round of take-away cevapi, and watched the grill master work the grill without any cooking utensils. Interestingly, he just used handfuls of bread to move the cevapi around on the grill – the same bread that’s later served to customers. This had the added benefit of the bread soaking up cevapi grill fat!


There’s no doubt that this cooking method does result in a much tastier cevapi meal as the bread is super tasty, having soaked up all the meat juices from the grill. The presentation is much better as well, with a much more manageable half-sandwich of cevapi in flatbread which is easier to hold and eat with two hands. While we got it without the customary onion and cheese, it didn’t seem to lack any flavour as it had all soaked into the bread. This was a winner!

Cevabdzinica Zeljo is located at 19 Kundurdžiluk in Sarajevo.


If you want to finish off your meal with a treat, you can drop into one of the many cafes in Sarajevo Old Town for one of the famous Bosnian desserts. I’ve mentioned three in this blog entry already, but there’s another you can go to – Caffe Sport if you want to continue Cevabdzinica Zeljo’s sporting theme!


Have a tufahija (stewed apple with walnuts and whipped cream) here if you want to have something very local to Bosnia. Note that this version will be much sweeter than others as the sugar syrup is very concentrated. If you want something a bit lighter, you probably want to head to Ramis Cafe instead!

Caffe Sport is located at 7 Bravadziluk in Sarajevo.

Review: Three Days of Ascinica Dining and Desserts in Sarajevo, Bosnia

If you’ve been travelling through the Balkans for a few weeks, you’re probably a bit sick of eating grilled meat and finding yourself smelling like barbecue everyday. Here’s a hot tip – while cevapi is famous as a Bosnian specialty, there are many other foods and restaurants available in Sarajevo city centre. Our free tour guide was quite explicit in saying, “Most of us locals only have cevapi maybe once a week. I know you tourists like to eat it every day, but it’s too unhealthy for us to eat it so often. We have home cooking instead.”

He pointed us towards a few different little restaurants in the Sarajevo Old Town in the “Ascinica” style, offering healthier and homelier dining options that locals would eat more regularly than the grilled cevapi. Ascinica’s are restaurants with ready-made Bosnian stews and soups in pots in a bain-marie – you just go up to the counter, order what you want from the display, and they’ll bring it out to you with a healthy serving of house-baked bread that’s very similar to Turkish bread.

In the four full days that we were in Sarajevo, we visited three ascinicas in the Old Town for lunch, finishing off each meal with a visit to a nearby cafe for dessert – an afternoon-treat ritual that seems to be built into the Bosnian culture. Each ascinica offers something different, so here’s three options depending on what you’re looking for!

Day One: Ascinica Hadzibajric F Namik and Kuca Sevdaha


If you’re looking for historical authenticity, Ascinica Hadzibajric is the place to go! It’s been run by the same family since the Ottomon Empire, and recipes are passed down the family line, never written down. For that reason, they’re particularly popular with the older generation, and we found ourselves sat on a table with half a dozen men in their seventies when we went in for lunch.


The woman behind the counter was very friendly and spoke excellent English, pointing me towards their chicken and vegetable soup when I said I wanted something light. This soup was nice and thick with a generous portion of tender chicken breast strips and a healthy portion of vegetable chunks as well. With chunks of their still-warm home-made Turkish-style bread dunked in the soup, it was the perfect light lunch for anyone who’s rating below a 5/10 on the hunger-meter (which is a thing that exists in our household!).


K was rating at more of a 7 on the hunger-meter however, so he chose something a bit more substantial – a tender veal stew with a large side of mashed potatoes, served again with a side of flat bread. All meals in this ascinica are served in stainless steel bowls, which means that you also get a healthy serving of rich meaty sauce, perfect for sopping up with the warm flatbread.


Once you’ve had your (incredibly cheap) meal at Ascinica Hadzibajric, you can head around the corner to Kuca Sevdaha for a drink and dessert. While there’s a museum and art gallery in this building, the main attraction is the greenhouse-style courtyard cafe.


While it was relatively quiet when we arrived around 1.30pm, the tables quickly filled up as mid-afternoon rolled around and locals started to drop in for their afternoon tea treats.


We ordered a tufahiya to share, a local dessert specialty. To make it, an apple is cored and then poached in sugar syrup for a few hours. The core is then filled with a walnut and butter blend, the apple is topped with whipped cream, and then set in sugar syrup again. It’s a very sweet treat, so best shared between two people!

Day Two: Ascinica Asdz and Ramis Cafe


If you’re looking for a wide range of home-cooking, Ascinica Asdz is the place to go. It’s a little bit more commercial, with more seating, newer display cabinets and staffed with more than just family members.


They have two displays of hot home-cooking, another of cold salads, and a final cabinet of desserts. We were just there for the home-cooking, but do keep in mind that you can always ask for a takeaway salad here! It’s a useful tip as it can be quite difficult to find good produce in supermarkets in Sarajevo, so you can supplement a cook-at-home dinner with a fresh salad from Ascinica Asdz.


Being a little hungrier that day, I went for a full meal instead of just a soup. We did share a soup between us though! Like the previous day, all meals are served in stainless steel bowls. It seems to be a staple in Bosnia, as all the meals we had were all served on stainless steel rather than ceramic or plastic!


K chose a chicken patty on a bean and potato stew. The beans were a little limp (as they would be, after sitting in a bainmarie), but the chicken patty was surprisingly tasty with an eggy undertone (eggs were used as the binder in the chicken mince mix). With the fried batter, texturally it almost tasted like a fried egg!


We shared a rich beef and tomato soup. While it was described to us by the waiter as a beef soup, I think it would be more accurate to call it a spicy savoury tomato soup with occasional bits of beef mince – which to be honest, is probably more to my liking! If you added some corn and beans to this soup, it would be the perfect taste of Mexicana in Sarajevo.


I chose to have the chicken meatballs with the mushroom rice – which proved to be an excellent choice, far better than K’s bean and potato stew. The mushrooms were fat, plump and juicy, and there was actually a very generous number of mushroom served with hardly any rice when you would normally expect it to be the other way around. The chicken meatballs were delicious as well, herbed and spiced before being served in a rich tangy capsicum-based sauce.


After you have an excellent meal at Ascinica Asdz, you can go up the road to Ramis Cafe, an institution in Sarajevo popular for their cakes and desserts which are without doubt the best in the whole city. Prices are very reasonable and you’ll spend no more than $4 AUD on two slices of delicious cake.


I had the yoghurt cake – an incredibly light and aerated yoghurt mousse on a fluffy vanilla sponge, topped with a thin layer of berry blend jam. Incredibly simple, light and refreshing on the palate, not too heavy, and just heavenly. A perfect choice after a big lunch!


K had a heavier slice of cake – the Sacher Torte which is a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam under the icing. We had first tried a Sacher Torte in Austria and had found it quite delicious, with the rich chocolate balanced out by the sweet and subtle jam. The torte was even better here than it was in Austria!

Day Three: Ascinica Stari Grad and Cafe Demirovic


If you’re looking for a popular hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Ascinica Stari Grad is the place to go. It seems to be particularly popular with local blue-collar workers, who will all decimate the selection early on during the day. By the time we got there for lunch one day at 1.30pm, more than half the cabinet had already been emptied by earlier diners and we weren’t left with much choice at all. Make sure you show up here early to get a better selection of food!


I got some rice with stewed peas and stewed beef. Sauce was plentiful and tasty, but the peas were overcooked and parts of the beef were a bit stringy, sticking to my teeth. I didn’t enjoy sopping up the sauce with the bread as much as I had in other restaurants as the bread had gone cold and wasn’t freshly baked.


K had rice with dolmas (stuffed cabbage rolls) and it was much the same story – lots of sauce, but not much substance to the meal. This is probably partly due to the fact that we were dining a lot later than normal, so food had already been sitting out for quite some time – however, I think certain standards should still be maintained. Lesson learned – lunch in Sarajevo is always best taken around 12pm – any later than 1pm, and the quality will be questionable!


From Ascinica Stari Grad, you can walk down the street and turn the corner to get to Cafe Demirovic right at the entrance to the old city. It’s quite a bit more old-fashioned and hasn’t yet modernised – all the cake offerings here are still the heavy creamy types, rather than lighter mousse cakes like the one I had at Ramis.


K ordered the only cream-free cake on display – a caramel torte. Less cream doesn’t mean less sweet though – this torte was almost sickeningly sweet with the cloying caramel mouth-feel that never seems to leave your palate. Points for the fresh chopped nuts in the caramel sauce though.


I chose a more conventional chocolate torte which was just as sweet, rich and heavy as the caramel torte. Cafe Demirovic clearly isn’t the place to go if you want a lighter dessert – it’s all about the rich and heavy cakes here.

So there you have it – three different ascinica’s and three different dessert stops in Sarajevo Old Town. I’ve got my favourites (Ascinica Hadzibajric and Ramis Cafe), but you might have different tastes. Check them all out and make up your mind then!