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Local food as a cultural tourism

Categories: Gastronomy

Niš

Niš

There is probably no other area of life that the people of Niš are so proud of as gastronomy. Niš offers a very lively and rich culinary experience. Niš barbecue or ’’skara’’ as they call it here, burek, vegetable and meat mućkalica, shopska and moravska salads, baklava and tulumba with the local delights  make most visitors have the first association with Niš as a city of memorable food or a homemade lunch with cousins or friends who constantly put more food on your plate and comment that you have lost weight, even though you have certainly added a few kilos since they last saw you.

As gastronomy is an inseparable part of the intangible cultural heritage of a nation, so is the local cuisine a reflection of Niš, its natural environment, historic legacy, local mentality and tradition, but also more recently of the new trends and influences coming from different parts of the world.

Ancient Nais, the birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine, was also the place where people appreciated good food. Several recipes from this period have been preserved, such as bread dessert, egg dough with milk and honey, prosciutto baked in dough and wheat germ dessert. 
In the Middle Ages the famous encounter of Stefan Nemanja, Serbian nobility remembered for his contributions to Serbian culture and history, and Friedrich Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, took place in this area. This is when the famous Serbian myth about who ate with a spoon and a fork and who with his fingers was created. However, it is not a well known fact that the Serbian ruler then also fed the huge crusader army that had been set out to liberate Jerusalem from the infidels.

One of the oldest local gastronomic stories is that burek began its conquest of Serbia and the (Western) Balkans at the end of the 15th century in Niš when the Turkish baker Mehmed Oglu opened the first burek shop - burekdžinica. Whether this is the truth or just a myth, burek is among the most favorite dishes for breakfast in Nis (and in Serbia) today. Just as people in some other cities have their favorite winery, every citizen of Niš has a favorite burekdžinica which claims to have the best burek in the world. It is interesting that burek did not remain completely immune to modernization so today some bakers fill it with "pizza stuffing" or even pork knuckle. This causes repulsion among some, but also attracts new customers who are happy to indulge in these culinary innovations.

The main feature of Niš gastronomy is without doubt the charcoal barbecue, which is not easy to make on your own, but rather together with friends  "near the river Nišava“. That is why the local population assocciates the enjoyment in grilled meat with socializing, drinking and funny conversations in the famous Niš dialect. 
It is a tradition in Niš that kebabs, vešalica (most commonly made with smoked pork or chicken meat), sausages, liver in scrambled eggs or with bacon, meat on skewers, ćulbastija, chicken drumsticks and white meat are eaten in taverns, called kafana, with friends or family, on some special occasion or just because you craved for some delicious food. The best taverns are either on the outskirts of the city (Mrak, Kod Brke, Broj Šest, Amerikanac, Dim) that you go to mainly on weekends or in the old downtown of the city (Stara Srbija, Kod Rajka, Meze, Zvrk).
The famous meat dishes usually start with meat appetizer: sušenica (slightly smoked pork loin), sheep cheese from Svrljig or Pirot, and many have recently been asking for a grilled bun sprinkled with vegetable oil and coated with crumbed hot paprika, the dish well known locally as  Albanian salad. 

The most common salads usually served with barbecue are moravska (tomato and roasted peppers with garlic) and šopska, which originates from nearby Šopluk (area between Pirot, city in Serbia near the border with Bulgaria, and Sofia in Bulgaria) but has gained fame all over Europe. Unlike its better-known cousin, the Greek salad, šopska is not topped with olive but with unrefined sunflower oil and is not garnished with raw peppers.  Although it looks like a poorer sister of Greek salad, šopska salad served in Niš and in the south of Serbia in general has a specific taste, thanks to the extraordinary quality of vegetables locally grown. Favourite winter time salads are pickled vegetables (turšija) and sauerkraut with crushed dried paprika. Local specialty is a salad made with dried peppers and leeks. It is tasteful as appetizer but locals also say that it is a cure for hangover.

The local taverns have recently reinvented some old forgotten dishes, such as ox tails, sheep burgers and donuts, kapama and lamb rolls. All these dishes, that were once part of the cuisine of the poor, have now become increasingly popular among the locals who are proud to offer them as specialties to their guests.
While we are still in kafana, let's mention the desserts such as the pancakes or baklava and tulumba, which are rarely prepared in kafana but can be bought in a nearby confectionery. Therefore, if you yearn for the sweets, it is better take a stroll to one of the local craft pastry shops or the cult confectionery "The Tram" that persistently survive in the main pedestrian zone in the city centre.

Speaking of favourite local spirits, it should be said that Niš is the city known for excellent brandy made of plum or pear and for famous wine growing. Niš is surrounded by vineyards and the best wines are made in the nearby villages of Malča and Sićevo. Several local wineries have been opened lately as the part of rural tourism offer, while perhaps the most attractive is the one in the village Malča where wine, just like in the ancient times or nowadays in Georgia, is kept in amphorae buried in the ground. Further to this, a number of local breweries have recently been established by local entrepreneurs and the new tradition of drinking locally produced beer has officially started. This beer production dates back to XIX century and Johan Apel, a native of Germany, who founded the brewery and after whom one whole area of the city is called Apelovac. Today this local beer is offered in all the taverns in the city and is an opportunity for local patriots to show off in front of their guests. 

Apart from visiting the taverns, traditional home made dishes are equally popular, and these include the so called ’’banice’’ layered pastry with cheese filling, stuffed paprika with minced meat and rice, fried and roasted peppers, roasted or fried green beans, beans soup with smoked meat, sarma (souerkrout filled with minced meat and rice) fried zucchini and eggplant to name just a few favourite dishes.

There are several quality fish restaurants in Nis, but fish is not among the most popular dishes here, and is usually served during  fasting. Also, and quite different from the rest of Serbia, neither roast meat nor ’’slow cooked dishes in clay pot’’ are popular in this area. In any case, whether you opt for the street food with countless barbecue kiosks, whether you start your morning with burek or you stay in a tavern for long hours, you will not leave Niš hungry or disappointed and you will soon wish to relive this local gastronomic experience once again.

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