Thursday, September 8, 2016

THE PA MELTING POT - PART 7 - 3 - Southcentral Europe: SERBIANS

The Melting Pot:  A look at the evolution of food in Southwestern Pa.  Part 7 - 3 SOUTHCENTRAL EUROPEANS: Serbs

The greatest numbers of Serbs arrived during the peak period of immigration to America between 1880 and 1914 from Austro-Hungarian Croatia, Slavonia, and other parts of Yugoslavia, Vojvodina, Turkey and Montenegro. The overwhelming majority of Serbian immigrants were uneducated, unskilled peasants from the countryside so they turned to the mining areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, etc. and to the big industrial cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the east, working in steel mills and related industries. They did not plan to stay long, just long enough to make money and return home to their families with earned money.  There was another mass immigration after World War II.

The number of Serbian Americans is supposedly over 440,000, however, it is difficult to determine the exact number who came to America in the early waves of immigration because immigration records often did not distinguish between various Slavic and, especially, South Slavic groups. The term Slavonic was used in recording immigrants from various parts of Eastern Europe. Census statistics compiled before World War I had further confused the issue by listing immigrants by their country of origin. Thus, the Serbs could be included in with the Croats, Slovenians, Austro-Hungarians, Turks, Bulgarians, or Romanians, or simply listed as Yugoslavs after 1929. (This paragraph cites information from
Centuries of Austrian and Austro-Hungarian rule richly influenced Serbian cuisine, especially Serbian desserts and confections with a unique mix of various traditions: Kolijivo (wheat pudding with religious significance), Baklava, Nut Rolls and Sachertorte (Austrian chocolate cake or torte).

Srpska Kuhinja (Serbian cuisine) is a mixture of cuisines, sharing characteristics of the Balkans (especially the former Yugoslavia) and and The Mediterranean (Greek, Turkish, Austrian and Hungarian). The national dishes include Pljeskavica (a ground beef patty), Cevapi (grilled minced meat), and Sarma (grape, cabbage or Swiss chard leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat, or a sweet dish of filo dough wrapped around a filling often of various kinds of chopped nuts).

Most people in Serbia will have three meals daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner as do we.  Breakfast in Serbia can be large and can consist of a choice of: tea, milk, milk coffee or cocoa milk, pastries or bread served with butter, jam, yogurt, sour cream and cheese along with bacon, sausages, salami, scrambled eggs and kajmak (a non-aged cheese similar to clotted cream).

The national drink is the plum brandy Slijivovica (slivovitz). Other distilled beverages are Komovica, Pelinkovac, Rakia (plum brandy) and Vinjak.  They drink fruit juices, mineral waters and Turkish coffee.

A number of foods which are simply bought in the West, are often made at home and include Rakija (fruit brandy), Slatko jam (Slatko is a thin fruit preserve made of fruit or rose petals) and various pickled foods. 

The Serbian population is alive and well in southwestern PA:  the American Serbian Club of Pittsburgh ( has food and music on some Friday and Saturday nights & is located in the South Side) and many other Serbian organizations.  There are multiple churches in Allegheny County. There are a few restaurants and a deli (in Dormont) serving/selling Serbian/Yugoslavian food.





Monday, September 5, 2016

THE PA MELTING POT - 7-4 - Southeastern Europeans: Croatians

The Melting Pot:  A look at the evolution of food in southwestern Pa 
Part 7 Southeastern Europeans -  4 - Croatians

Map of Croatia

There are 1,200,000+ Croatian-Americans in the USA with 50+ lodges and 250,000 (largest settlement in USA) in PA. In the early 1990’s it was estimated that 200,000 Croatians lived in the Pittsburgh metro; today 50,000+ They originally settled in in the Northside and in Millvale.

Croatian cuisine can be divided into 10 regional areas (I will cover the three main ones) with their specific cooking traditions. Generally most dishes can be found all across the country with local renditions. World-class produce combined with Italian and central European influences provide a Croatian diner’s delight. Following are three samples.

Istria (northwestern Croatia near Venice, Italy)

Istrian is the most exquisite cuisine. FOCUS:  fresh, quality ingredients (heavy Venetian) and specialties reflect this: Manestra (vegetable soup) is similar to Minestrone and Fritaja (omelette with vegetables) which is a version of the Frittata. Also a hand-rolled pasta called Fuzi (a hollow pasta shaped around a chopstick or rod) is often served with Tartufi (truffles) and game meats.

Croatian Prsut (prosciutto) is from Istria and Dalmatia. It’s more rustic (thicker and stronger tasting than the Italian) but the flavor is impressive.  

Istria’s green nectar olive oil is famous internationally. There is an olive-oil route for local tastings from 94 growers.  Like wine, olive oil is at its best when combined with food that complements its subtle flavors.
Istria has mapped out wine routes too with access to very popular wines for tastings.  Istria’s grappa (Italy produces many grappas: grappa is a brandy made from pomace which are pressed skins and seeds of grapes. These Croatian brandies (35%–60% alcohol by volume) are worth sampling:  Medica (honey) and Biska (mistletoe).  

Dalmatia (southwestern Croatia on the coast)

The Adriatic Sea provides the area with top quality fresh fish.  FOCUS:  the local fish recipes use simple ingredients such as garlic, tomatoes and herbs.  Seafood preparation includes Na Gradele (grilled seafood) or served as a Brodet (thick stew with red wine, sage and thyme). Besides seafood Pasticada (beef stewed with wine, spices and dumplings) is a treat served with red wine.
Pag Island produces Paski Sir (pungent cheese which has been soaked in olive oil and aged in stone) and top quality lamb.
Dalmatia produces wines and local brandies such as Rakija and Slijivovica (plum).

Continental Croatia (northern Croatia near Slovenia and Hungary)

The flavors in this area are influenced by central Europe.  FOCUS: sausages, sauerkraut, bread, dumplings and meat, for example.
A very popular dish is Pecenje is a roast with more than one meat: Svinjetina (pork), Janjetina (lamb) and Patka (duck). It is served with Mlinci (baked noodles) or roasted potatoes. Another popular dish isZagrebacki Odrezak (fried bread crumb covered veal steak stuffed with ham and cheese) served with Palacinke (crepes). The region of Slavonia bears strong Hungarian influences (one is a liberal use of paprika). On menus you can find Gulas (goulash), Fis Paprikas (carp, pike and perch served with vegetables and noodles) and Slavonian Kulen (paprika flavored sausages served with soft cheese, tomatoes and peppers).

Sweets are Orahnjaca (walnut cake) and Makovnjaca (poppy cake) which are served strong local coffee.

For recipes from 1700s to 1960s and modern day links versions, visit . Christine Willard, a native of western Pennsylvania, researches and blogs about the food unique to western Pennsylvania.  She currently resides in North Carolina.  Her blog can be found at