SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The cuisine in this capital city is a heady blend of Turkish, Hungarian, Austrian, and Italian cooking. Cevapi is Balkan fast food at its best, cheap ($4-$7 for a portion of five or 10 cevapcici, or little cevapi) and most filling. The grilled dish is a mix of two kinds of minced meat, usually beef and lamb (not pork, since approximately 80 percent of Bosnians are Muslim), formed into finger-size sausages and served with somun bread, a yeast-raised, more substantial cousin to pita. Raw, chopped onions and kaymak, a salty, creamy cheese, are served on the side and partner perfectly with the slightly spicy meat.
During the two years we lived in Sarajevo, my young children asked for their kid-speak version of cevapi, “boppy,” almost daily. We spent many weekends wandering around Bascarsija, the old Turkish section of town, with the mouthwatering aroma of grilled cevapi enveloping us, trying to determine our favorites. Here they are:
Zeljo 1 and 2: “If you haven’t eaten at Zeljo, you’ve never been to Sarajevo” say the guidebooks, and when you sit at one of the long tables, elbow to elbow with locals, eating this traditional food and drinking the beloved kefir-like yogurt drink, you will understand why. Named after the local professional soccer team, these cevabdzinicas, or cevapi places, have a fan base nearly as devoted to cevapi as they are to soccer.
Kundurdiluk 19, 011-387-33-447000
Hodzic 2: Located in Bascarsija Square (often called “pigeon square”), Hodzic 2 has the best people-watching of our picks. My children chased birds and kerchiefed grandmothers would pat their heads while we waited for our cevapi and watched a continuous army of backpackers, well-heeled locals, and tourists go by. The somun here is dipped in broth and grilled, resulting in a savory pocket to tuck your meat into.
Bravadiluk 4, 011-387-33-239855
Mrkva: Around the corner from Hodzic 2 is Mrkva, clean, with quiet upstairs seating and relaxing outdoor tables. With four outlets in Sarajevo, it has the most diverse menu of healthier options such as grilled chicken and salad.
Bravadiluk 13, 011-387-33- 532519
Kastel: Surrounded by low-slung Ottoman buildings, Kastel serves Banja Luka-style cevapi, which are spicier and cooked like bricks of four together. Proponents say serving the meat this way preserves its juiciness, and the damp, steamed somun bread will sop up any remaining morsels.
Mali Curciluk 9, just off the Ferhadija, the main pedestrian-only thoroughfare in Bascarsija