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Postcard #1: Bosanska kafa in Bosnia

There is no journey too arduous for a solid cup of coffee

Mel Hattie
Mel Hattie
3 min read
Postcard #1: Bosanska kafa in Bosnia

Every other week for the rest of the summer, I’ll be sharing a short “gourmet postcard” with you. These will be four non-fiction stories of food memories from somewhere in the world. They’ll all take place at different times of day: morning, high noon, dinnertime, and dusk.

In between these postcards, I’ll continue to post short fiction. This tasty non-fiction series will be light, bite-sized reads that can be enjoyed at the beach or between campfires. Just picture yourself sitting outdoors at a café on a sunny day, sipping your coffee, and reading this tidbit from me. I’d send them all to you by hand, if I could.


Bosanska kafa in Bosnia

It’s getting on late morning when we pass a huddle of sheep by the side of the road and turn the last rocky corner into Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest-altitude and most remote village. It’s tucked into the side of Bjelašnica, a large mountain southwest of Sarajevo, and is home to semi-nomadic Bosniak sheepherders. We’d passed them on the way up—old men dressed in fluorescent jackets, sometimes carrying a shepherd’s crook. A twinkle in their eye that made you wonder if they’re really men, or mountain spirits.

Lukomir is accessible via a ten-mile hike or by truck on crumbling switchbacks—except in the winter, when the only way to access it is by ski. It’s a cluster of small stone houses: short, squat, and steep to protect them from snow. Between their eaves hang wash lines dripping with freshly dyed wool in hues of red and orange.

In one corner of the village is a mosque with a white minaret and an emerald roof. The village doesn’t so much end intentionally as simply fall off a sheer cliff, with an 870-metre drop into the Rakitnica canyon below. Looking down the cliffside, you see the odd sweater or water bottle, or a sheep that fell and is now lost to the maw. According to legend, a dragon once lived in this valley. On a ledge, perched precariously close to the cliffside, sits a small stone building, shut with a dark wooden door, that I’m going to go ahead and call “Bosnia’s most remote outhouse.”

As we admire the view, a short woman with grey hair tucked under a white kerchief and a face like a leather glove appears and tells us to come into her home.

“I am the café,” she says.

We enter her one-room house and remove our boots in the entry, as is customary. Her name is Sevda and she wastes no time in preparing the instruments of bosanska kafa: Bosnian coffee. An entrepreneur, she also lays out several pairs of hand-knit mittens for us to purchase. No doubt made from the same wool hanging up on the wash line. The village economy is sheep. And the occasional curious tourist.

Sevda heats water on the stove in her džezva—a copper pot with a flared base. She pulls out a banged-up metal tin and dips into it to add coffee grounds to the hot water. As the sandy mixture heats on the stove, a caramel foam with white swirls bubbles up from the bottom. This is the good stuff: the crema.

One at a time, hands moving slowly, Sevda places tiny white cups rimmed with copper in front of us, along with a dish of sugar. She puts a spoonful of the crema into each cup, so everyone gets some of the good stuff, and then she goes back around and tops us all up with coffee from the džezva.

We drink. Bosanska kafa is like a gritty, bitter stew. It’s hot, thick, and meant to wake you up. After several personal failures, I’ll tell you: you don’t want to drink the last sip of your Bosnian coffee. You’ll just get a mouthful of coffee grounds, like wet sand.

It’s at this point that you might say: “Mel, this sounds an awful lot like Turkish coffee.” But if you value your life, in Bosnia you will never, ever call it that.

We sip and Sevda shows us a picture of two men on her wall: family that have left to look for work in Sarajevo, the capital. It’s hard to convince young people to stay and herd sheep when just thirty miles northeast, the city offers opportunities and modern comforts. Lukomir has been inhabited for hundreds of years, but Sevda’s generation may be the last to grow up here, die here.

On the hillside outside her window, glittering, carved, white marble stećci—medieval tombstones—wink at us in the sunlight.


Credits

Roadrunner: A film About Anthony Bourdain came out last week and I saw it in the theatre. It left me with an ambiguous mix of feelings, equal parts sad, haunted, and inspired. A great reminder for anyone, no matter where you are in life, to continuously check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. Canada’s Suicide Prevention Hotline Number is: 833-456-4566

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