Scenes from a Cafe in Sarajevo

by Bushra on March 18, 2015

When I was in Sarajevo last month, I walked into Cajdzinica Dzirlo-Tea House for some Bosnian coffee on my second full day in the city. I heard that this particular cafe was really good from a couple of sources and had been looking forward to checking it out. At that point, I already had Bosnian coffee twice and had become a fan of the caffeinated drink. Bosnian coffee is similar to Turkish coffee but, well, I gotta be honest with you all, I actually liked Bosnian coffee better than Turkish coffee.

When I walked into the Tea House, I was greeted with a smile from the owner, who told me through broken English and hand signs that he spoke 6 languages. English wasn’t one of them and we didn’t have any language in common, but that didn’t stop him from being incredibly polite. I asked for Bosnian coffee and while I sat and waited, he pulled a book on Bosnia from the shelf and motioned me to look through the book, which was fortunately in English.

After he made the coffee, he sat the tray of coffee down in front of me and waved his hand to signify for me to give him a minute and to not reach for the coffee just yet. There was some hot water in one of the cups and he proceeded to pour that into the ibrik, bringing the coffee that was already in there almost to the brim. He then slowly stirred the drink with a small spoon and carefully scooped the crema from the top of the coffee in the ibrik into the now empty cup. Then, he slowly poured the coffee from the ibrik into the cup in a manner that kept the crema on top of the coffee.

Sarajevo - At the tea house

Sarajevo - Bosnian coffee

If I wanted, I could take the sugar cube and dip it into the coffee, eat the coffee-soaked sugar directly from the cube, and then drop the rest of the cube into the coffee. I didn’t usually take sugar with my coffee so these cubes usually went untouched on my part. I did partake in the Turkish Delight though, taking bites in between sips of my coffee.

The coolest thing about getting coffee in this particular cafe was something that I didn’t quite appreciate until later. As I was enjoying my coffee, I had a conversation with a Bosnian lady who I believe was the owner’s wife. She knew English quite well and so we were talking about where I was from, what I thought of Bosnia so far, and my plans for the for the rest of the trip. I even asked her about the different types of kaymak (spelled “kajmak” in Bosnian) as I wasn’t sure how kaymak in Bosnia compared to the stuff in Turkey. She wrote down the kind that I may like and said that they would have it at the market.

I was thinking about that exchange recently – can you imagine a foreigner coming here to the States, sitting down for coffee, and then having a conversation with an owner of a cafe in their own native language? I’m talking about going into a cafe and having someone born and bred in the United States speaking in whatever language their customer happens to speak.

Or even, how often do any of us have conversations with owners or workers in the cafes that we frequent? How many of us take it beyond “Hi, how are you? I’m fine, and you? Fine, thanks.”?

Maybe I looked like I was open to talk since I wasn’t focused on my phone. And since my brown skin in a sea of Europeans signified that I wasn’t from around there, that may have encouraged conversation as well.

Either way, I feel like it’s not until I travel that I have come to enjoy and understand the importance of conversation with strangers. I don’t want to limit those moments to just when I travel though. I’m sure there are plenty of interesting people all around me and I don’t even know it.

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Mostar

Side Note: In my post Five Cups of Tea, I wrote about how tea has overthrown coffee as the drink of choice in Turkey. In Bosnia on the other hand, it’s still very much all about coffee. People seem to drink it all day and I’m totally fine with that. This article talks a bit more about the process of making Bosnian coffee.

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