Macedonian Cuisine: Mother of Melting Pots
Many of the recipes in the Balkans share names – although differentiate in spelling. Take mousaka (Greek) musakka (Turkish) and Musaka (Macedonian.) Just don’t ask who “invented” the recipe. Every culture in the region has tried to lay claim to these treasured dishes – often by offering a small, but significant twist.
For instance, all mousakas are primarily based on sautéed eggplant and tomato as their base. The Greeks layer in mince meat, the Bulgarians use potatoes instead of eggplant, and the Macedonians add a layer of custard on top that when heated in the oven, browns to perfection.
Another national dish of the Ottoman Empire is the delish-on-a-stick kebob. Although that’s the way “we” usually eat the dish. Get a skewer, throw on some shrimp or chicken, add some veggies and drop on the BBQ with a bit o’ marinade. That’s the amazing thing about cooking – the incredible history that’s behind what seems like a simple meal to prepare.
The kebab developed through the Middle Ages, and popularized during the Turks expansion into Southeast Europe (they lay claim to the shish version.) In the Balkans, kebob is referred to as Cevapi, and served on a plate or in a flatbread with chopped onions, sour cream or even cottage cheese. Stick? What stick?
In the region, one could say the “mother” of cultural cuisine is Macedonia. Halfway between Belgrade and Athens, the capital Skopje is not just the birthplace of Mother Theresa, but also a blend of both Christian and Muslim culture. This confluence of customs is evident in the country’s kitchens.
Reflecting Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, and even a little Italian and Hungarian spice, the warm climate of Macedonia provides excellent conditions for growing a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits, which make for delicious wines. And yet, the national drink is the mastika – double distilled and filtered from the roots of the mastic tree – found on the Greek island of Chios.
So, whom does the drink really belong to? Just about everything has evolved from the Greeks, including Western philosophy. But the country endured invasions from the Romans, barbarians, and a 500-year occupation by the Turks. Even the Greeks weren’t impervious from the influences of these cultures.
The next time you’re cooking that kebob, or anything for that matter, think about the etymology of what you’re eating. Where did it come from? What’s the history? Discover a recipe’s roots and perhaps a new place to go and explore.
Now that’s something to chew on.