I come from a country that doesn’t exist. Yugoslavia is no longer, apart from in our memories – and in the food that lives on. In New York, you can travel to almost all the former Yugo republics and sample the specialties that once made our country so unique and varied.
Let’s start with Bosnia. Expats flock to Old Bridge (28-51 42nd St; 718.932.7683) in Astoria to chow down ćevapi, minced beef sausages served with a flatbread and two yummy sides – a cheesy spread called kajmak and a spicy red-pepper purée by the name of ajvar.
For best burek in town, head to one of three New York locations of Djerdan Burek – in Astoria, Brooklyn or Midtown West. Burek is a deliciously flaky pie made of phyllo pastry and stuffed with either spinach (zeljanica), cheese (sirnica), potato (krompiruša) or ground beef. It’s traditionally washed down with a glass of yogurt.
At the tiny Cevabdzinica Sarajevo (37-18 34th Ave; 718-752-9528) in Astoria, it’s all about the grilled meats again, especially ćevapi. Quite a contestant to Old Bridge above, this no-frills spot has a devoted following.
Next we’re off to Croatia, in Queens. In the basement of Istria Sport Club (28-09 Astoria Blvd; 718-728-3181) in Astoria, an unassuming restaurant serves Croatian specialties with emphasis on staples from Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in the northern Adriatic. The homemade pasta known as fuži is fantastic, as is the grilled fish, and the garden in the back where you can play bocci.
A similar menu can be found at Rudar Club New York (34-01 45th Street; 718-786-5833), another Croatian social club in Astoria where food has an Istrian twist and expats gather to celebrate special occasions.
Lastly, you can travel all the way to Serbia at the latest ex-Yugo opening in New York: Kafana (116 Ave C; 212-353-8000), a cool little bistro in the East Village. You can also taste ćevapi here but, unlike in the Bosnian joints above, these are made of pork. The lamb stew is stellar here, as is the prebranac, a baked bean stew.