Why would you visit Bosnian Specialties? To compare it with Hungarian and Romanian food and to fill out your résumé as an adventurous world-cuisine sampler, or to get a cheap and tasty meal, loaded with protein or carbs or both — your choice.
Or visit simply to feel the welcoming atmosphere provided by immigrants who are going through the 21st century version of the Hamtramck experience. The enclave is home to some 6,000 Bosnians, many of whom are among the 3,000,000 refugees of the 1992-95 war involving Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians.
Bosnian Specialties is unpretentious in the extreme, with seven round, well-spaced tables up a flight of steps, trying for a homey effect. Little rustic crosshatched roof effects adorn the windows and the corner table sits in a wooden bower twined with plastic grapevines.
The food brings to mind Greek and Romanian dishes, not surprisingly, given Bosnia’s location. Gyros are on the menu, as are Greek salad and various shishes. Desserts are rice pudding and baklava; moussaka is offered as a special. The national food of Bosnia, though, and the most popular dish at Bosnian Specialties, is chevapi.
To make it, the restaurant grinds beef, and then grinds it again with “secret ingredients.” (These might include tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, carrots and spices, according to my research). The mixture is then placed in a chevapi-making machine that forms sausage shapes when the cook turns the handle. The final step is grilling.
Chevapi can be served on its own or between slices of lepina — a round, filling bread, sort of like a huge grilled English muffin, but spongier.
Elmedina Gozic, who owns Bosnian Specialties along with her husband, left her native country during the war in 1992 for Croatia, then Germany, before settling in the town that’s been the point of entry for so many immigrants, and surely the most culturally diverse in Michigan.
She was lucky to find in Hamtramck a bakery that makes lepina for her. “Pita would be too tiny,” she says.
Portion sizes are indeed impressive at Bosnian Specialties. Besides lepina, and rice or fries, the $12 meat-extravaganza Bosnia Plate includes chevapi, shish chevap (on skewers), ground sirloin (pljeskavica) and veal kebab. I especially like the veal kebabs, plain though they are. A tall gyro sandwich on lepina covers the whole plate.
Another interesting dish is the burek — layers of phyllo pastry filled with ground beef or cottage cheese. The cheese version is comfort food, mild and bland and very filling.
Gozic offers parsley-flecked homemade chicken noodle soup, which I found not quite rich enough, but close. Greek salad is normal, though served with cukes instead of beets. Their baklava is the drenched kind rather than the flaky. My Spanish-speaking companion described her fried shrimp as duro (hard), and I agreed. But then there’s no reason to try dishes like this, or lake perch or a “corn beef with Swiss cheese” sandwich in a Bosnian restaurant.
A wintertime special of sarma — sour cabbage topped with ground beef and rice — ought to stick to your ribs.
Before visiting the restaurant, I went first to the Internet to bone up on Bosnian food. I remembered little from a rain-soaked week hitching through Yugoslavia decades ago, aside from meeting some English-speaking young men who wanted to go to Afghanistan, smoke dope and become “the perfect one.” Bosnia and Afghanistan used to evoke the Olympics and hashish; today each makes us think of war.
In fact, on the web, Google’s most prominent find for “Bosnian food” pertains to victims of war — a Church World Service list of foods deemed suitable for refugees.
I can’t resist sharing this chevapi recipe from a Bosnia-lovers discussion site. Someone wanted to know what Bosnian food to cook for her boyfriend, and “Jambrica” answers: “I belive that your boyfriend would be very happy to have cevapcice. It’s very simple, you just make it from fresh meet, like fingers and grill it. Of course you should put some salt and pepper, and have them not to well done. They are best juicy. And you serv them just whit bread and onion if you like, but it’s not very popular for kissing afterwords.”
Bosnian Specialties is open every day. No alcohol or credit cards.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.