To Cook or Not to Cook: My Battle Against Street Food in Belgrade

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(A burnt pizza found by accident in the early hours of the morning and photographed by Huseyin Aysan)

I fell in love with Belgrade for its omnipresent and affordable food. Belgrade is a land of plenty.  Whenever I am hungry here, all I have to do is to get out into the street and choose an eatery for my taste. Some people I know here have been living for months on end without cooking a meal on their own. For years even, maybe. However after I finally settled down in Belgrade with my dear H., street food looked more like an enemy to me than a friend. I tried to resist its lure and set up a kitchen of my own.

To tell you the truth, cooking for me was a notion from the worst of nightmares. Maximum I would cook in Europe was oats, until I discovered the pleasures of crunchy muesli with yoghurt. Maximum I could prepare me in Asia was a hand-sliced mango. Thus for 28 years, my life was a clear blue sky without a cloud of smoke from my own kitchen. I managed. I didn’t bother. Then I came to Sweden, where I got spoilt with boredom and struck with the necessity to cook me some tasty food, in order to keep on living. And what would you think? Oh, I loved the process! Since that time it was hard for me to stop experimenting in the kitchen. And once I was back to Belgrade, I couldn’t even look at an easily hunted meal. To get the best out of it I needed to cook it myself. However, in my quest I stumbled upon a harsh fact: it was easier to eat out in Belgrade than to set up a kitchen of my own.

Where would you buy fresh produce in a big city? My choice would vary from country to country, but in Europe I would definitely opt for a grocery store. They are a simpler way to start stocking up and getting used to local prices. And it worked for me everywhere, except Belgrade. I’ve spent hours rummaging through piles of vegetables and lamenting their poor quality. Until I discovered a grocery market. That was the place to go with my shopping bag.

As I remember, it was winter and I craved desperately for greens, especially spinach, since I couldn’t find it in any store. And if I chanced upon it, packed and extremely expensive, it was a holiday. What I couldn’t grasp was how the locals managed to bake all their spinach bureks when there wasn’t a decent bunch of spinach in a store?

At the end, a kind soul pointed me a market, the best in the Old Belgrade. I was a bit sceptic, but on entering it I understood that my life was a life of misery. In front of my eyes there were heaps, mountains, everests of spinach! Wait! There were any vegetables you could think of, right in front of me, in the middle of winter. I walked around the market as if hit by a lightning. I got me a huge bag of spinach, which costed me a mere 1 euro, and for the whole week, whenever I opened my fridge I was showered with fresh lush greenest of green spinach.

Our house started filling up with fresh produce, as well as pots of young basil and strings of garlic, but one problem remained: we still juggled around with two plates and one pot. Barely enough to keep at bay the omnipresent street food of Belgrade, which arose from ashes, again and again, like a phoenix. The only way to fight it was to increase our kitchen ammo; that is kitchenware.

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