Scenery in Prozor-Rama
Winter Cheer in Prozor-Rama, Bosnia & Herzegovina
North-west from the famous city of Mostar and its Old Bridge is a deep, narrow valley traversed by a crystal clear river. Thickly wooded mountains soar dramatically on either side as the road gently curves higher and higher. After a journey of around one hour from Mostar you reach the mountain town of Prozor, meaning “window” in the local language. Its “window” is this dramatic river valley, through which winds the only road to the south.
Ante and Anica with cracked wheat (bulgur)
Ante and Anica Čuljak are from a village in Rama, the region surrounding Prozor town where natural beauty and ancient traditions abound. A smiling Ante and Anica in full Rama traditional dress invite us into their home, with shots of local rakija (plum brandy) immediately being served alongside a mezze of home produced smoke dried meat. It’s the true spirit of Balkan hospitality. “Have more!” they grin as soon as our glasses are empty, jumping to refill them. They live alone and delight in visitors, as one son is living in faraway New York and the other in Zagreb, Croatia.
Mezze and rakija (plum brandy), Ante pouring wine
Married for more than 40 years, Ante and Anica still practice the ancient customs of their ancestors. Anica learned to sew traditional dress from her mother. “All mothers from around here made their daughters learn how to sew, and traditional dress is made completely by hand. No part can be made with a sewing machine” she says with a grin. Anica still knows all the complicated techniques and patterns; she sewed both hers and Ante’s. “But my children don’t know how to sew, and many young girls today do not know either. Times have changed!” Some in Rama wear traditional dress every day. Others, like Ante and Anica, wear it for special occasions and for church.
Keske (top) and Anica finishing the dish with melted butter
On the stove is keske, an ancient Balkan speciality of cracked wheat (bulgur) that is served around Christmas. After Ante and Anica show us the traditional method of cracking the wheat outside, we go back inside to sample some. Originally of Turkish and Middle Eastern origin, keske is made by mixing cooked chicken meat (and fat/skin) and salt into the boiled wheat. The entire thing is then boiled together before plenty of butter is added. It is not exactly a low calorie dish, and Anica stressed that the fattiest chicken possible should be used! Keske tastes as rich and creamy as it sounds, but it is only eaten once a year around Christmas! Ante and Anica could not imagine the festive season without it.
Ante’s sausages in his meat smokehouse
Before we leave, Ante shows us his meat smokehouse which, being a skilled stonemason, he designed and built himself. Dry smoked meat (suho meso-literally ‘dry meat’) is a key ingredient of Balkan cuisine, particularly in the winter months when many rural families still make their own. There are sausages, ribs, fillets and other cuts gentle smoke drying. Depending on the cut, ‘dry meat’ can be eaten as part of mezze or act as a flavour base to many stuffing, sauces and stews. Being Roman Catholic, Ante smokes mostly pork cuts, with Muslims in the region commonly substituting with beef.
With our appetites whetted, it is time to say goodbye. “We hope to see you again” they both say. I am certain that I will return again to this pretty village beneath soaring mountains, to once more sample home made smoked beef and plum brandy.