Before our visit to Belgrade I didn’t really know too much about Serbia, except that it had recently been involved in a war and some massacres against civilians in the Balkans. The United States and its NATO allies had bombed Serbia only a short time ago and today Kosovo in Serbia’s south has declared its independence. But Serbia is no longer an enemy and I wondered what the people who were Bulgaria’s neighbors were like.
While we were visiting Trg Republike Square in the center of Belgrade we came across the city’s Tourist Information Bureau. There were a number of souvenirs offered inside and I chose something that I felt would make my understanding of Serbia more complete. The book A Guide to the Serbian Mentality was a collection of short essays geared to help the reader grasp the essence of the Serbian people and their way of life. The author, Momo Kapor, was described as the Serbian Efraim Kishon, and this humorous approach interested me and I bought the book.
Some of the essays were about Serbian food. First I learned that in the country, the only time one eats chicken is either if the chicken is sick, or you are sick. Also, although Serbian cuisine is very tasty (and Jodie herself bought a Serbian cookbook), there is no food that really originated in Serbia. Everything you eat in Serbia has its origins in Turkey, Greece, or elsewhere in the Balkans. We found this to be true in Belgrade’s restaurants, where shopska salad and rakia were offered as local cuisine just like in Bulgaria.
But wait, there is one Serbian food that is unique according to Kapor, and apparently found nowhere else in the world. There is a white cheese called kajmak that is skimmed from freshly boiled milk and which bears no resemblance to other cheeses like mozzarella or sour cream. In fact, when we had lunch at a restaurant in Niš, the owner came to our table with a dish of kajmak that his wife had made, and we found it quite tasty. As Kapor relates in one of his essay, kajmak is so revered among Serbian émigrés all over the world that he used to sneak it through customs to them on his visits, hidden inside Nivea cosmetic cream containers.
I found the essays in the book quite amusing, and together they did paint the picture of Serbians and their way of life.
Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010) was a Serbian painter, novelist and short story writer. By training he was a painter, having graduated from the Academy of Figurative Art in Belgrade in 1961. He exhibited his works all over the world and has illustrated his own books and the books of others. His literary career began in the 1960s when he served as a writer of radio, television, and theater dramas. His novels and books, which have been translated into a number of languages, are still on the Serbian best seller lists.