One of the earliest and most potent memories in my mind is the wafting of cigarette smoke, the smell of Turkish (or Bosnian) coffee and rakija at my grandfather’s house.
I learned early that as much as the stereotype of a hardworking people was true, as was the fact that Bosnians did another thing extremely well – enjoy. Enjoy life, and the small pleasures it brings. Enjoy simple things like conversation, a cup of coffee (or rather session), and the sweets or snacks that went with it. It wasn’t even about the coffee, it was about the excuse to see one another and simply talk and share our day. It makes me sad that as the years go by, so do a lot of these little traditions.
Nothing was ever rushed. You didn’t simply “stop in,” to say hello. No, you stopped in, truly. Guests visited for hours, conversing about everything under the sun until the late night hours. When coffee was made, it wasn’t through the click of a button. It was a ritualistic process. The coffee was often freshly ground with an old fashioned coffee grinder called a mlin. Coffee was brewed in a small copper container called a dzezva and poured into small serving cups called fildzani. This was usually paired with some sort of sweet such as cubes of sugar or rahat lokum (Turkish delight).
A meal, just like everything else, was never rushed. The food was hand prepared, cooked with love and care, and eaten in a group setting, with a hearty portion of conversation and laughter. It sounds like a cliché, but just like with any other culture or peoples, it becomes that much more enjoyable when it’s done the right way. It’s easy to forget this ancient art of eating in our modern lifestyles that feature so much hustle and bustle, and don’t make time for merak (savoring). Sometimes the meal was incredibly complex and time consuming. For example, one of the more old-fashioned styles of burek is called “polagani,” or layered. It requires the preparation of numerous layers of super thin dough, broken up by seasoned meat. This process is repeated over and over again and then baked. And this is just one segment of the dinner.
The creation of alcohol, particularly rakija was also a time honored tradition. When rakija was brewed, it was an excuse for a lamb roast, and the whole neighborhood to partake. The fruit, particularly Bosnia’s famous plums, were harvested at their peak. The mash was turned into a refined alcohol that became plum brandy (rakija). It was slowly enjoyed. The best was saved for special occasions such as celebrations and weddings.
Duhan, or tobacco was often hand picked and dried. The leaves left underneath rugs in order to flatten out and properly age. It was then smoked out of smaller wooden pipes as the aromatic fragrance wafted about.
Bosnian people live all around the world now. From Australia to America. Many of these traditions live on, however, many are slowly being lost to time and to the modern lifestyle which is supplanting rahatluk. However, even if some of it is lost, one thing should remain perennial for everyone, not just Bosnians, taking time to enjoy the little things in life, no matter how minuscule or insignificant they may seem.
For more on Bosnia, click here.