It was half-past midnight, and folks in the photo above were lining up for late-night street snacks. Actually, they pretty much queue up day and night at this bakery that has been operating for over one hundred years, and now is one of just a few Macedonian-owned businesses in this Albanian side of town.
I started most of my days in Skopje with a burek for breakfast -- either cheese, meat, or spinach-filled -- paired with tart sips of liquid yogurt (which well-traveled Macedonians claim they can’t get in the states). Having that yogurt with a simit pogachais another popular treat, and, as you can see below, it is a rather greasy affair, composed of buttery burek (getting cut up), stuck between a roll (sort of a bread sandwich). Need I say how delectable this was?
In the background of above photo are yet-to-be-baked rings of sesame-coated djevrek. Throughout our time in Macedonia, and other countries in the region, my wife and I eat these breads like potato chips. I also like my kebapchinja, ground sausages made from lamb and beef, and especially used to enjoy them in the old part of town, the Turkish Bazaar.
This area, too, is almost exclusively Albanian. When I first visited more than a decade ago, the old town was considered the hip spot to hang out. Then events happened, political stuff we won’t get into, and things are very different now: Macedonians no longer frequent the shops and cafes here. I returned for the kebapchinja but these weren’t as good as they once were -- probably because we couldn’t find the shop that used to prepare them so well. Locals steered us instead to Capaebo Saraevo, which at least satisfied the desire.
We originally met our friend Goran Trajkovski, singer/songwriter of the famous group Anastasia (he wrote and performed the soundtrack for Before The Rain, Macedonia’s Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Film), through chef Klime Kovaceski, native of Ohrid and longtime owner of Miami Beach’s beloved Crystal Cafe. Goran (use this link to listen to his current project, a cabaret he has written and performed for Circo Europia), along with his friend Zarko, took us to two acclaimed restaurants. The first, The Roulette Club Restaurant served the tastiest mezze platter we had on the trip -- and the best grilled pork ribs (svinski rebra) my wife and I have ever tasted. It was the freshness and quality of meat that made it so; the sausage was great, too.
The second restaurant, Kamin Chamo, is the type of place where you have to know somebody to get in. Bill Clinton ate here once, and on the day we lunched, at the next table was the host of Macedonia’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. My wife asked him if he had fun hosting the show. He said no. Below are photos of the obligatory mezze and raki, an overview of the feast, and turli-tava stew.
Strangest dish was also the tastiest: kukurek, or braids of pork gut -- can’t tell from the photo, but inside the wrap are tender morsels of meat. Our last dish was verbally translated as “mussels with potato”, which I was looking forward to. Turned out to be “muscle of beef” (govedski muskul), a delectable and tender brisket-like braise.
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Tomorrow:A small, idyllic resort town on a pristine stretch of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. It shall remain nameless -- too special a spot to punish with publicity.
-- Lee Klein