January 7, 2011 Leave a comment
By Rob Packer
One of the first things I noticed arriving in Bosnia & Herzegovina—Mostar is in Herzegovina—is that the coffee’s different. In Split, for example, people seem to spend all afternoon sipping espressos at cafés on the Riva (the waterfront), so much so that I started to wonder if half-days are the norm in Croatia. Bosnians drink espresso too, but far more interesting was my first cup of bosanska kafa (kava is the Croatian word I was told later in the day), which I was offered while I checked my email. When it arrived, it was something I didn’t think was even possible: Turkish coffee with milk.
This kind of culinary innovations based on immigration, colonization and invasion fascinate me and I’ve written about this before on Central Asia’s tea line where there seems to be some kind of correlation between emirates that were nominally free of the tsar (green-tea drinking) and areas under more direct Russian rule (black-tea drinking). This also reminds me of another Ottoman-Habsburg ex-border crossing in Romania where my dad and I stopped at the first restaurant we found in Transylvania to be overwhelmed by dumplings and goulash. The food in Bosnia is also quite different from Croatia and I had excellent dolma (stuffed wineleaves) with a strangely Slavic touch of a dollop of smatana.
Nowadays it’s hard to imagine what European food was like before the potato and tomato were brought back from the Americas, or Indian before chile came from Mexico on Portuguese ships or pilau indirectly from Iran via Uzbekistan after the Mogul invasion. While some items are often considered to be from one country when they’re actually from somewhere else entirely: the physalis, for example, is generally thought of—by Europeans at any rate—as an Asian decorative fruit, when it’s actually native to Colombia, which is also where it’s mostly cultivated.
Of course, the process continues to this day: for British readers, curry is a famous example but pasta wasn’t commonly available before the 60’s.
 In Sarajevo, bosanska kafa is most definitely not with milk, so I’m starting to suspect the milky coffee was for my benefit.