Bosnian American Foodways
Foodways — the ways that groups of people procure, prepare, and consume food, according to their own traditions — are an important way for people everywhere to perform their belonging to cultural groups. When they first arrived, Bosnians in Bowling Green did not have access to many of the items key to their food traditions, such as specific seasonings and tools needed in the kitchen. Over time, a growing number of Bosnian restaurants and groceries have opened to better serve the community’s needs. Through the community’s ability to make do and adapt, Bosnian foodways have flourished in Bowling Green.
Bread and Pita
“If we don’t have bread at home, we’re doing something wrong and we’re all starving. You have to have bread. There’s always bread…You make bread and then you think about what you’re going to serve with bread.” – Senida Husić, 2017
As in many cultures, bread is an important aspect of Bosnian foodways traditions. One particular type of bread, lepina, is commonly served alongside dinner or used as a component in dishes such as ćevapi.
Listen to Senida Husić and Amer Salihović talk about the importance of bread in Bosnian culture:
“Bread is a big deal…my mom makes pita and I don’t eat anybody else’s pita other than my mom’s.” – Mersiha Demirović, 2016
“I remember when I was 12 years old, it was like a rite of passage, my mom teaching me how to make bread…There’s definitely certain things that, I think most Bosnian families, or most Bosnian mothers, try to pass on to their Bosnian daughters…Learning how to make a pita, that’s definitely one of those examples.” – Mersiha Demirović, 2016
While lepina looks similar to the style of flatbed called pita that is generally associated with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foodways, the word pita in Bosnian culture refers to a flaky, savory pastry. A staple in Bosnian cooking, pita is a savory dish made by stuffing and rolling a large sheet of thin dough, similar to phyllo dough. A long, thin rolling pin called an oklagija is used to roll out the dough, and ingredients for stuffing include ground beef, potatoes, spinach, or cheese.
Listen to Mersiha Demirović describe how learning to make pita is a rite of passage for many Bosnian girls in an interview with Ann Ferrell:
First you start out with the basics of making bread. That’s super easy, you just need a couple things to make it happen. But then when you want to make pita you need more things. You need first of all the oklagija, then you need something to roll it out in. So, finding the oklagija, — I honestly — I think my mom used a glass to roll it out, and then they’d go to the store and all they could find was the short [rolling pins]…So that wasn’t big enough. So we ended up [buying]….a curtain rod…it was a wooden curtain rod….We still have that and we still use that….This one has history with us and we still use it to this day. — Senida Husić, 2017
When Bosnians first arrived in Bowling Green, it was often the case that families were not able to find rolling pins that were similar to the oklagija, a long, thin rolling pin used to roll dough for pita. The rolling pins that are typically sold in stores in the United States were too short and thick for making pita. Many families had to improvise, using dowel rods or curtain rods as rolling pins.
Listen to Senida Husić tell the story about her family’s rolling pin in a conversation with Amer, Nicole Musgrave, Brent Björkman, Kate Horigan, and Virginia Siegel:
A type of pita, burek is a meat-filled pastry, traditionally layered instead of rolled. However, depending on the region, burek is found in rolled variations, as well.
Ćevapi is a dish of small beef sausages wrapped in pita bread and served with raw onion and sour cream.
“When Wal-Mart started carrying Bosnian groceries, that was huge. Like, I cannot tell you how many phone calls went between my dad and everybody around the city or even around the state because it was such a big deal…We have Bosnian grocery stores here…it provides that, I guess, little bit of Bosnia with you still. Food is definitely, definitely very, very important. I think something about it, if you will, does remind you of Bosnia because you can’t go to Cheddar’s and order ćevapi, but you can do it, you know, at the Mediterranean food store….so you feel like you’re not sacrificing a certain preference of things.” – Mersiha Demirović
Also the Bosnian word for “cabbage,” kupus is a popular cabbage stew made several different ways depending on the country’s region. Kiseli kupus refers to sour, fermented cabbage mostly prepared in spring/summer and eaten for the wintertime. Before the cabbage heads are cut for eating, the heads are soaked whole in salt and water, ideally in warmer temperatures (indoors during colder months). Some families also use the juice in which the cabbage has soaked as a home remedy.
Suho Meso is a smoked, dried beef which is a popular staple that can be stored and eaten in the wintertime. Large pieces of local meat are first cured in salt, seasoning, and garlic. The meat is then rinsed in water and hung by hooks in small outdoor smoke houses to dry. It is smoked over a small, ventilated flame from one log at a time of specially selected wood. The length of time to smoke meat depends on the weather; cold, dry weather is best, and in these conditions the beef may be ready in a few days.
Baklava is a rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. Recognized as deriving from Turkish influence, baklava is often served during holidays such as Eid.
“One thing Bosnians are good at is cooking the food. The food is a big part of our tradition, as well. Um, with coffee we like to have baklava. It’s a nice sweet.” – Kenan Mujkanovič
Vegeta is a popular all-purpose seasoning mix that is used throughout the Balkans consisting of dried chopped vegetables, herbs, and salt.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of spice Vegeta. It’s like a, just like a seasoning that we use in our culture and, just recently when I was in Seattle, our friends came a few months after us and they asked my mom, you know, ‘What should I bring?’ and she said, you know “you can’t find – there is no Bosnian store here – so you need to bring Vegeta. It’s the seasoning.” – Dijana Muminović
The Husić Family’s dinner table, dishes including kupus and riza/pirijan (chicken and rice). The bread served in this photo was also baked with a layer of cabbage on top, to add flavor.