The Kitchen Debate Or: The Language Thing Pt IV

Part IV of a series on observations on those minor linguistic differences in the language formerly known as Serbocroatian. And this time a bit beyond – for it does concern something that’s among the most important things for people on the Balkans.

This guy is eating a bowl of grah in Sarajevo’s Baščaršija. Just a few kilometers southwest of here in a suburb somewhat misleadingly called Istočno (East) the same dish might be called pasulj čorba.

Baščaršija lies in the Bosnian Federation, one of two entities that officially make up Bosnia and Hercegovina. Istočno is part of Republika Srpska, the other entity.

In German, that distinction would not be made. It’s called „Serbische Bohnensuppe“ – Serbian bean soup. I do not know why it’s considered particularly Serbian in German speaking countries.

The same goes for another typical dish of the region, djuveč – a rice dish usually with meat. Germans and Austrians usually call it „Serbisches Reisfleisch“ – literally translated as Serbian rice meat. Nobody actually knows where djuveč comes from and people don’t really care. So the German translation is a bit confusing.

Grah or pasulj čorba is one of the region’s most favorite and typical foods, whether you eat in a Bosnjak restaurant or a Croatian or a Serbian one. The only difference being that Bosnjaks generally use smoked beef to make it. Serbs and Croats put smoked pork in it.

Parting Bread

What’s obscured by the chair is the obligatory bowl of bread you’re served with all meals except dessert. Bosnjaks and Serbs call it hl(ij)eb. Croats have started calling it kruh.

Kruh is an older Croatian (and Slovenian) word that got out of fashion and was revived after Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia.

But then again, it might also be a lepinja or small bread (the German word Brötchen actually is the more appropriate translation here). That term is the same in all three dialects.

Turkish Roots

With the exception of grah or pasulj čorba, where there are distinct terms, when it boils down to soup, Bosnjaks and Serbs show their Turkish heritage. Both use the Turkish word čorba.

Croats will call it juha, again in alliance with Slovenians – although they may use the term čorba for thicker soups on occasion.

Sometimes the knowledge that quite a few Turkish words have been adopted can be misleading, though. Balkan kajmak has little to do with Turkish kajmak. Other than that both are basically clotted cream.

Turkish kajmak is sweet, Balkan kajmak is salted and tastes a bit more like sour cream.

Some German Snuck In

A German term that has been almost universally adopted in this part of the world is Schnitzel – spelled šnicla here. That’s because Viennese scallopes  – fried pork or veal in breadcrumb – are very popular here, along with several varieties without breadcrumb.

Even in Zagreb where chances are you won’t find it on the menu. It’s mostly called odrezak there. The term šnicl still exists but doesn’t seem to be much in use now.

At any rate, both terms don’t just describe the same food. Both the original German Schnitzel and odrezak mean: chopped or cut off. And odrezak is an official term in dictionaries of all three dialects and also in Slovenian.

I Love That Stuff

The name of another very tasty food is also almost certainly based on a German word: Čvarci. That’s basically pork rind: Fried pork lard whose fat has been extracted by the heating.

One of the most popular foods made with it is pogačice sa čvarcima, sometimes also čvarci or čvarce for short. It’s basically pastry made with fried pork lard. I love that stuff by the way. But then again, that goes for all the foods I’ve mentioned here.

You can get that throughout Croatia and Serbia. Pork not being very popular with Bosnjaks it’s harder to find in areas of Bosnia with a great Bosnjak Population.

Čvarci would be called Grammeln in Austria and Southern Germany. Yet, pork lard that it is made of is „Schwarte“ in German. A native speaker of a Naški dialect would likely pronounce that word čvarte. From there it isn’t a long stretch to čvarci.

Common Roots

But then again, this could be an example of coincidental similarities you find throughout Indoeuropean languages.

Just take the Naški word for people: ljudi. It sounds a lot like the German word Leute and in fact, in some German dialects it would be pronounced in a very similar way.

Ljudi and Leute certainly have the same roots – at some point millenia ago before the formation of protoslavic and protogermanic languages.

A Uniting Bond

One of the regions most popular foods goes by the same name not just in all of the Naški dialects but also in all neighboring languages: Palačinke.

The love of them is a very uniting bond, especially for people(s) who love their food as much as they do on the Balkans. And that’s worth another story, soon to follow.

Click here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three of the series “The Language Thing”.

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