Balkan food in the United States shows best food traditions of people who emigrated from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Croatia, and Montenegro. It brought its own food traditions, dishes, and became the reason for the establishment of national cuisine restaurants. The United States like Balkan cuisine because it is “healthy”, includes many ingredients of best quality such as pork, mushrooms, spices, bread, dairy, vegetables, fruits, seafood, etc. In the United States, the spread of Balkan cuisine and thematic restaurants are connected with the first immigrants’ concentrations.
Brief History and Culture
The United States have experienced large waves of immigration that turned the country into multinational one. Particular historical events as the World War I and the World War II were the reason for many Europeans, especially from Balkan states, to emigrate. These immigrants were representatives of many national groups with their own culture and, of course, cooking habits. The documents that legalized Balkan people’s immigration into the U.S. were for Yugoslavs — Persons Act of 1948, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953; for Croatians — the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 (American Immigration Council, 2014). People were seeking to escape communism governments, the World War II, expansion of Soviet Union influence, and the pro-Serbian dominance of Tito.
Food Habits and Typical Meals
Food traditions, which now have an imprint on Balkan food in the United States, emerged because of geographical peculiarities of these countries. Their geographical location led to the existence of common elements between the culinary traditions of the Balkan countries neighboring cultures and cuisines. Thus, the “Balkan cuisine” is more collective term than a separate cuisine.
The cuisine of the Balkan Peninsula peoples has specific elements, such as addiction to pork, pepper seasoning, and presence of soup in each meal. Due to severe winters and short growing season in this region, the Balkan cuisine is mainly composed of dense and hearty dishes. A meal may include some starchy foods (for example, boiled potatoes and noodles may be together as a side dish to the main course while being accompanied by bread or rolls). All kinds of root vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, and turnips along with cabbage and cauliflower are the basis of all the Balkan cuisine. Stuffed peppers and vegetable patties are in every country of the Balkan Peninsula. People pick and dry seasonal mushrooms. Products of wheat, rye, and oats are common because these crops ripen quickly, and people store them for a long time. Some countries have also cultivated grapes for consumption fresh, and as dried raisins and its processing into jams, syrups, and wine. The cultivation of olive trees and corn is common as a sign of the influence of Mediterranean culture.
Spices in the Balkan cuisine are in moderate quantities. Their purpose is to shade the primary flavoring qualities of the product. The mandatory condition is only fresh ingredients. Green pepper goes to salads, and hot red pepper is for the seasonings. One of the most widespread cuisines in the United States is Serbian. It has incorporated elements of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and the Austro-Hungarian cuisine. Serbian cuisine combines the traditions of different countries: there harmoniously coexist kolivo pastry, baklava, nut roll (orehovnik), and Sachertorte. Influence of Turkish cuisine is manifested, for example, that in almost any restaurant you will certainly be offered kyufta, kebab, Asha-kebabs, all kinds of shish kebabs, etc. In northern Serbia, which was influenced by the Hungarian, Romanian, and Bulgarian cuisine, there are widespread pork dishes, hominy, and corn tortillas.
Balkan people are very fond of meat. Meat dishes are a special pride in Eastern European cuisine. Meat dishes include sturgeon, Danube catfish, roasted turkey, and royally roasted piglets. Even former Yugoslavia, which was under the Turkish influence and, therefore, the Muslim tradition, widely uses pork fat. Within the boundaries of the former Yugoslavia, you would taste chevapchichi pleskavitsa — patties of minced meat; Serbia has a special type of barbecue — razhnichami; in Croatia, people eat much fish (Balkan delight, close to home; dining out, 2010). People enjoy boureks (filo pies filled with meat, vegetable or cheeses), Albanian baked lamb, and rice dishes as sarma (rice parcels wrapped in vine leaves or sour cabbage, depending on the season) in Macedonia. Most of the Balkan countries have access to the Adriatic Sea and are willing to use its fish resources. In Croatia and Herzegovina, it is common to cook fried catfish, girice (fried sardines), marinated tuna, mackerel with mushrooms, carp with garlic, and even cuttlefish risotto (Salter, 2015).
In agricultural countries, people preferred flour and meals out of it. Most meat dishes are prepared with flour sauce. In Hungary, there is a kind of food called tarhonya (egg barley) that which replaces rice. Tarhonya is often presented in soups, stuffed peppers, and stuffed cabbage. In former Yugoslavia, there was a variety of cakes, rolls, and strudels.
From dairy products in Balkan cuisine, especially in Greece and Bulgaria, yogurts, kefir, baked milk, and particularly clotted cream (kaymak) deserves a special attention. People use it as a kind of seasoning or one of the components in the preparation of meat and fish. Mature clotted cream has a pungent, spicy taste, and yellow color.
Balkan cuisine has its special drinks. For example, in Serbia, coffee is cooked in a unique copper pot, having a Turkish name “dzhezva”. Coffee is prepared as follows: first, the water is boiled with sugar, and then a part of it is removed, then coffee added and again brought to reflux, and then the remaining water poured.
Popularity in the USA
In sum, Balkan food in the United States emerged because of immigrants from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Croatia and Montenegro. These people brought own food traditions, dishes, and established own restaurants of national cuisine. For example, in San Francisco Bay Area, there are such Balkan cuisine restaurants as A.G. Ferrari Foods, Bosnian Euro Grill in Santa Clara and the Yellow Pages (Greek), etc. Rich, savory, including many ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, and spices), etc. — the United States now have a boom of organic and healthy food. Balkan cuisine fits the notion of “healthy”. For instance, Greek cuisine includes phyllo dough, creamy sauces, olive oil, beans, nuts, and seafood together with small amounts of wine. Celebrities are extolling Greek cuisine in media. Bulgarian cuisine includes many yogurts and special alcohol (as rakia). Bulgarian restaurants in the U.S. are Bucharest Grill and Park Bar in Michigan and Mehanata Bulgarian bar in New York.
Summary of the Learning Experience
There is an increasing interest in foreign cuisine, which is tasty, healthy, and unusual. More and more consumers seek for “exotic” European food, and the Balkan cuisine is an excellent example. From consumers’ perspective, food made of best meat, fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy, cheeses, spices, creamy sauces, olive oil, nuts, and seafood seems alluring.
From Balkan food restaurants’ perspective, there are extra opportunities to advertise their cuisine in a very nice way appropriately to current trends — as organic and very healthy one.
This is a useful assignment because it gave me an opportunity to explore not only food habits of Balkans but also history, most interesting dishes, and where to find thematic restaurants in the United States.