Empenadas

We had left Buenos Aires and were in Cordoba when a man there gave us two warnings about Bolivia.  First, he mentioned the crime there, but said there is crime everywhere.  Then he mentioned food, and we thought we were in for the usual lesson about not eating fresh vegetables or street food.  But no, he struggled to describe the food there until we supplied the word for him – hot.  His eyes lit up, and he agreed, “Hot, yes.  The food there is too hot.”  Before Argentina we had spent six months in Mexico, and we both love hot food, so his words were more a promise than a warning, but the fact that an Argentine might think food was a bit too hot and flavourful was not a surprise.

The food in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires, was often disappointing, and one of the main reasons for that was it was so limited.  Steak, empanadas, pasta and pizza represent most of the food options easily available to us, at least in the neighbourhood we were in.  The steak was very good but not the best ever (as we’d heard beforehand), the empanadas inconsistent (even in the same restaurant), and the pasta unexciting.  We had read in travel guides that despite a huge influx of Italian immigrants to Argentina long ago, the Italian food options were “boring” and the travel guides were right.  The “exciting” topping on the pizza was ham.  No salami, no pepperoni, nothing but ham and cheese, no matter what pizza place we went to.  Sandwiches, too, were invariably ham and cheese.

They start with good products in Argentina, like some of the best beef anywhere, but they just don’t do much with it.  The steak is nicely cooked to bring out its natural flavour but they don’t put any seasoning on it in most restaurants.  In over a month in Argentina, we saw pepper on the table once.  Really, just one time, in dozens of visits to restaurants.  To give ourselves a little variety, we had hoped to cook some of our own food in Buenos Aires, but when we visited the grocery stores and looked at the spices available, our hearts sank.  There would be literally a total of from 8 to 12 varieties of herbs and spices in a store with a good selection, leaving me to wonder whether Tang would make a good substitute for paprika.

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We usually have a plan for where we are going although the plan changes hourly. Still, I think Sarajevo marked the first time our travel plans changed because of a good steak.

When we left Montenegro, we headed up the Adriatic coast to Split, Croatia. We first got a room for one night, then a second, then two more. We liked Split and Diocletian’s Palace and it was a pleasant break.

As we travelled in Montenegro and Croatia, people kept telling us that Sarajevo was the most beautiful city they’d seen, and a couple of people also mentioned Mostar, which was on the way to Sarajevo. So, off we went to Bosnia and Herzegovina for two nights in Mostar and three in Sarajevo. Mostar has anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 people, depending on which person you speak to or which source you read, but by staying in the old city center near the bridge, it seems much, much smaller. It’s a lovely town. Sarajevo is bigger, but it has a nice old town, and it felt comfortable. We enjoyed the food, too, filling up on burek and čevapi most days.

Eventually our last night in Sarajevo arrived and we were at a loss as to where to go next. No one was pointing out the next great city, or telling us where they’d just come from and had the most wonderful time. We were in quite a funk because all the options seemed to have problems. We knew eventually we were heading northwest toward Venice, and we didn’t want to head in the opposite direction, but the Schengen treaty would keep us from heading out of the Balkans too soon. Staying in Sarajevo was an option, but while it is quite pretty and we were enjoying it, we felt we needed to move on. If Sarajevo ends up feeling a bit of a disappointment to us, it’s not because the city isn’t wonderful, just that it didn’t live up to the hype of being the most beautiful city in Europe.

As we pondered what to do, we sat down to dinner. Then our steaks arrived. Now, Amy is from Texas, where they have good beef and they know how to cook it, but this steak rivalled anything we’d had there. It was tender and tasty and the only problem was it needed to be about twice as big as it was. After the first bite or two we agreed we needed to stay in Sarajevo another night, just so we could come back to the restaurant to get the steak again.

We had to find another place to sleep for the extra night because the pansion where we were staying was booked, and we didn’t have much else to do or see that final extra day, but the steak was worth it.