This past weekend saw us girls have a picnic along the Thames in Richmond. The weather was gorgeous, wasn’t it? All that sun and warmth sure seems like a long time ago… Mirna, our friend who is Hong Kong bound, had recently returned to London from her native Croatia and had packed her suitcase full of food for our planned picnic – I think she packed half the shop in there!
That afternoon, while waiting for a tardy picnicker, we paid heed to the rumblings of our tummies and started by tucking into these rich salty flaky pastries called čvarkuše. They’re traditionally drinking snacks (salty salty!) though I could have them anyday! Though flaky, they’re much denser than puff pastry and scattered throughout the insides are bits of pork scratchings. We were too nice – we saved one piece for the latecomer!
When the trio finally came together, we selected a nice grassy spot by the river and laid out our things. And what wonderful things emerged from Mirna’s bag! She’d brought burek, a pastry similar to phyllo but thicker wrapped around a filling and baked. We tasted three kinds: meat, cheese (made with a fresh farmers cheese) and zeljanica (cheese and spinach). My favourite was the meat, but perhaps mainly because there was cheese in almost everything we’d sample that day and I was getting a bit cheesed out. From that Wikipedia article, it seems that this burek shape originates from Bosnia.
Another similar dish we tried was her mother’s homemade štrukli, a layered cheese and pastry dish (the leftmost container in the top photo). I do believe the cheese is mixed with egg and some cream too which again makes for a very rich dish! We added to that richness still by eating it and the bureks with dollops of creme fraiche.
Apart from these pastries, there was also a platter of cheese and meat that Mirna had lovingly put together that morning. There was a dry sheep’s milk cheese, paški sir, that reminded us of pecorino romano. There was a smoked cheese, dimsi, that was my favourite – very eatable in large quantities. The meat was a cured pork loin, pečenica, that was very lean and full of meaty flavour; it’s not dissimilar to the cured loin in Spanish cuisine.
A wild boar pate rounded out these cold treats – a most delicious spread that resembled pork rillettes.
Everything we ate with a corn bread (kukuruzni kruh) she’d also trucked back in her check-in luggage – that’s determination! This bread is entirely unlike the cake-like American dish of the same name – this is just a bread made of ground corn flour. That corn gives the bread a pleasing yellow tinge and tasted fantastic and not at all like maize. What a great picnic that was – thanks again, Mirna.
But wait, that’s not all! Mirna has brought other treats from home in the past – all of which I’ve wanted to blog but just never got round to it. One was this chocolate/hazelnut sweet called Bajadera, made by Kras. It just melts in your mouth and reminds me of a cross between Nutella and a ganache – lovely stuff. I was quite pleased and surprised to find it recently at my local Middle Eastern shop too. Kras’ biscuits are equally excellent – there must be crack in them or something; I polished off half a bag in under 10 minutes once.
And how can I forget this fantastic dried fig and orange jam?! She’s never without a jar for us when she comes back from her trips home and I can eat this out of a jar with a spoon. So good. You’ve got the crunch from the fig seeds, the sweetness of the figs and a slight tanginess from the orange; this is seriously gorgeous stuff. If you do come across it, I’d seriously recommend you pick up a jar (there are other brands apart from this one, I think).
And about a month or two ago, Blai and I tried a little cafe in Acton that serves food from the Balkan region – Cafe Vardar. It’s not really a place you’d run into as though it’s on the main Uxbridge Road, it’s a little far off from any of the main shopping areas and is actually situated inside a pub building. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Anyway, we got in and ordered cevapi and sarma, all the while texting Mirna with updates and advice. Cevapi is their word for kebabs (cevapcici is the diminutive) and what came out was a small pile of extremely meaty small kebabs (like skinless sausages?) served with ajvar (I blogged about that here before) and chopped onions. Oh yes, it was good. We must’ve had gloriously oniony, meaty breaths after this lunch and I’m looking forward to ordering it again but with a side of chips! I’ve also been told to try the cevapi at Mugi in Ealing Common so watch this space.
The sarma turned out to be huge cabbage rolls, filled with meat and rice – tasty but very heavy things. Unfortunately, they got a thumbs down from Mirna when she saw the photos as there was too much of the rice filler. Homemade ones are mainly filled with lots of meat and very little rice. Still, they were cheap! This and the cevapi and two drinks came to only £13.
Thanks again, Mirna, for all you’ve taught me about Croatian food. Something tells me I have lots more to taste!
The Vale, Acton
(corner of The Vale and E. Acton Lane)
London W3 7JT