Of meat, cheese and how do you pronounce that again? (Balkan, Yugoslavian Home Cooking)

Let it be known for the record that I’ve never succeeded at any attempt of being a vegetarian. I have done so, countless times, and failed the same number of times as well.

See I don’t have any trouble eating vegetables, soy, tofu, gluten and what-have-yous. In fact, I love eating them. Ask any office mate what I eat for lunch at the cafeteria and they’d unanimously say “basta yung healthy“. Go on, have a poll.

The thing is, I can’t seem to give up meat. Any kind. I tried, I really did, but I can’t. Lamb, more so. Just thinking of it makes me drool. Oh, I can’t get enough of it.

So anyway, this isn’t a post on me having another go on vegetarianism. Au contraire mon ami, this post is all about meat.

I, with the usual suspects, was invited one evening to try out dishes from Balkan, Yugoslavian Home Cooking. Say what? Balkan? Yugoslavian? Yep, same reaction I had when I received the invite. I think I have to apologize to my geography professors for this but I even had to look up “Balkan” and “Yugoslavia” via Wikipedia. Fail. (Oh well, another day, another lesson learned…)

Our group was hosted by the commanding but amiable Marco Batricevic, collegiate basketball player turned restaurateur. His account of Balkan Express’ three-month ROI success, anecdotes about his resto’s celebrity guests and stories from his hometown all charmed us, as much as the red interiors of the place did. I found Balkan warm and inviting, and equally chic as well. Design elements like various portraits from Serbia, and that not quite obvious traditional ceiling detail, rounded up the whole experience.

Red and wood. Not too casual, not too uptight.

I especially liked this photo. I want one in my room.

On to the food! Here’s the feast that we shared that night:

Cevapcici: The signature Serbian sausages made from spiced ground beef.

These Serbian sausages aren’t as spicy as their Hungarian counterparts, but the Cevapcici still had this distinct kick from the proprietary blend of spices Balkan uses. The texture reminded me of a very fine grind of meat but one level coarser than your usual sausage. Marco tells us this may be served in a bun as well. Batak, on the other hand, was chicken thigh dialed a notch higher. This was a prime example of how to execute dark meat: tender and succulent. The heaps of cheese on top didn’t overpower and actually paired well with the dish. In my opinion, the side ketchup and mayo  was not needed.

Batak: Boneless chicken thigh, grilled to perfection, topped with molten mozarella.

Speaking of cheese, just look at this autopsy shot of the Stuffed Pljeskavica:

Stuffed Pljeskavica: The burger stuffed with mozarella.

My goodness. I went ballistic over this. Perfectly gooey mozarella encased in the same textured and seasoned meat as that of the Cevapcici, this was a winner in my books. As with the sausages, this may be served with a bun as well. Not a bad idea, really, because Balkan bakes their own bread and they do it really well. I asked Marco if it’s called anything, but he just answered “Well, bread.“. Haha! Seriously, theirs is akin to a soft Ciabatta, and can stand on its own merits.

Pljeskavica: Traditional Serbian burger.

Pljeskavica: Traditional Serbian burger. Autopsy shot.

We also got to taste their take on Goulash. I was a bit surprised with this one because one, it didn’t have potatoes and carrots, and two, it had pasta, rotini to be specific. Marco explained this is as rustic as it gets, and the one I’m used to are versions from other European countries. I wasn’t too fond of this because I thought the meat was too lean, but if you want a hearty and a tad peppery soup, go for this one. Now that I think about it, I should’ve used their bread to sop up this tasty soup.

Goulash: The classic beef stew of the Balkans.

Next up, Sarma. As visually unappealing as it was, this was one dish that was very interesting to the palate. The acidic notes from the pickling of the cabbage was mild, and  the filling was fortunately not mushy. It tasted so much of ground meat goodness, I didn’t even realize there was rice there! I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but the uniqueness of this one makes up for it.

Sarma: Pickled cabbage rolls stuffed with beef, rice and spices.

Butkice: Tasty pork knuckles served with baked potatoes and carrots.

We were then treated with two best sellers: Butkice and Jagnjetina. With just one bite, I already understood why these were a hit. Both fall of the bone, these were simply sinful, sinful, sinful pork and lamb awesomeness. The pork knuckles had a sweetness to it that reminded me of hamonado, while the lamb was well, lamb! (Sorry na, lamb fanboy here). Kidding aside, the lamb was fork tender and didn’t taste game-y at all. They say it was baked but texturally and flavor-wise, it was more like our nilaga or bulalo.

Jagnjetina: Imported baked lamb; so tender it falls off the bone.

Fortunately, the carnivorous theme was broken a bit by two vegetable offerings. I fell in love with the sweetness of the roasted bell peppers. I think I was one of the few who gobbled this up. I appreciated  it because it cut the richness of all the meat we’ve eaten thus far, and it sort of served like a palate cleanser. The Sopska, on the other hand was lost amidst everything. Hehe. Marco tells us that for them. salad isn’t eaten as an appetizer, but is consumed in the middle of the meal. Interesting. If you’re a fan of feta, go have this. Half a bowl of this salad is almost just that. :-P

Off the menu: Roasted peppers.

Sopska: Cucumber, tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, and olives on a bed of lettuce.

Cheap, but decent wine. Don't think twice about getting a bottle if you want your vino fix.

We finally(!) closed dinner with two crepes, one with Nutella and the other with apricot jam. To be honest, I didn’t taste any difference from other crepes I’ve tasted before, but it wasn’t bad either. I believe it’s a good last taste and feel to have in your mouth, especially after all that beef, pork and lamb overload.

Palacinke: Traditional Serbian crepes filled with Nutella and apricot jam.

After dinner I was like: “Dear tummy. Please forgive me. We’ll have veggies for the rest of the week, I promise.” Haha! Part of the fun was trying to guess how to correctly pronounce each item in the menu. If I’m not mistaken, the general rule is to read the c’s as ch’s and the j’s as y’s. Marco! Help!

Going back to the topic of being a vegetarian, I just have to find the right balance. Right now, I’m following the weekend reward principle: healthy living from Monday to Friday, then indulge on Saturdays and Sundays. It works for me because I get the best of both worlds. And the thought of giving up meat? Hay. With good food such as Balkan’s, how can I?

Balkan, Yugoslavian Home Cooking

Balkan, Yugoslavian Home Cooking
G/F Mariposa Building, 109 Perea St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Philippines
+63 2 846 0744
+63 917 547 4188

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