Things have been quiet here on the blog as I finished the first draft of my 13th novel, Rattlesnake. I also had two laptop meltdowns and a traumatic phone upgrade, all of which have sucked away far too much of my time. I’m planning a (probably quarterly) newsletter in the near future, with excerpts, free stories, updates, contests, etc. You can sign up using the form off to the right or by going here: http://eepurl.com/bau3S9.
So let’s talk about ajvar.
It’s pronounced ahy-vahr. I believe it’s native to Serbia, but it’s also very commonly eaten in Croatia, where I’ve lived. It’s made of roasted red peppers, eggplant, and spices, and is used as a relish or spread. I like it on a sandwich or on roast chicken, or just eaten beside the main course. You can get it in varying degrees of sweetness and spiciness. My small neighborhood groceries in Zagreb always had a large selection, but since my understanding of the language is rudimentary, I usually just chose a jar at random. A lot of people make their own, and I can tell you that homemade ajvar is especially delicious.
Unless you have a Balkan grocery store near you, ajvar is fairly hard to come by outside of that region. I did see some jars of Bulgarian ajvar during my last trip to CostPlus, an import store here in California. The jar in the photo is a Croatian brand.
If you’re not familiar with foods from the region, I’d describe ajvar as sort of like salsa or chutney, but not quite.Which gets me thinking about foods that are specific to a place and hard for anyone else to understand. Like peanut butter. Although it’s a sandwich staple in the US, every European I’ve spoke to finds the concept odd. (I tell them it’s sort of like Nutella minus the chocolate, but that doesn’t help much.) Ketchup is apparently mysterious in some places too. Once, when I was in Ljubljana, Slovenia, our waiter sussed out that we were Americans and proudly brought us a bottle of ketchup. We were eating pizza.
I think nearly every place has some food like this–something beloved to the locals but puzzling or unknown to everyone else. What are some of the foods like this in your region?