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Five Serbian Sandwiches Worth Going to War For

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Look, I’d do anything for a sandwich because I know what a sandwich is, one poor, hungry man tells another in Rajiv Joseph's Archduke (onstage at the Mark Taper Forum through June 4, 2017). In Joseph's darkly comic take on the origins of World War I, global history hinges in part on three young Serbs' desire for sandwiches. Will they assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand once their bellies are full? Or will they blow off the chance to make themselves immortal to grab a snack?

All the talk of sandwiches in the show got us wondering…what kind of sandwiches do they eat in Serbia, anyway? It turns out that like most Serbian cuisine, their origins come from around the Balkans and beyond—not surprising given that the country has variously been part of the Ottoman Empire, the Austria Empire, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as a union with Montenegro.

Here are five Serbian sandwiches that sound pretty delicious to us.

  1. Cevapi

    Cevapi (pronounced “chay-VOP-ee”) are finger-sized, uncased sausages—usually grilled—that can be eaten with a fork and knife or, for our purposes, stuffed into a pita or flatbread. Different Balkan countries have different riffs on their ćevapi, which arose during Serbia’s period under Ottoman rule. The sausages might contain pork, veal, lamb, beef, or some combination of these meats, along with seasonings like garlic, onion, and paprika. Cevapi sandwiches often include ajvar, a traditional Serbian roasted red pepper sauce.

  2. Pljeskavica

    The New York Times calls this sandwich the wholesome Mediterranean ancestor of a Big Mac. These thin, smoky, grilled burgers are made with ground lamb, beef, and onions, and can be stuffed with other ingredients like cheese, ham, and/or mushrooms. They are usually served on lepinja, a soft, fluffy flatbread. Pljeskavica is one of the national dishes of Serbia and is beloved across the Balkans.

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  3. Kajmak

    Kajmak is a fresh dairy product made in Central Asia and the Balkans that is sometimes described as a fresh cheese, sometimes described as clotted cream, and sometimes described as cream cheese (at least in English). One blogger calls it the region’s cream cheese, mayo, and ketchup all in one for its ubiquity in the Balkans. It can be eaten as an open-faced sandwich on bread with honey, spread directly on a bagel, or sandwiched, preferably on warm bread so it gets melty, kind of like a Serbian grilled cheese.

  4. Kobasica

    This spicy Serbian smoked sausage contains pork, paprika, and other seasonings, and sometimes beef as well. Unlike cevapi, they are in casings, and they can be eaten hot or cold. Kobasica is the Serbian version of kielbasa, essentially.

  5. Komplet lepinja

    A high-calorie hangover cure of a breakfast sandwich, komplet lepinja is soft, fluffy flatbread (lepinja) containing eggs and some other toppings like cheese, cream, gravy, lard, and/or ham. It’s a specialty of western Serbia, and it makes sense that such a hearty sandwich comes from the Alps.

Curious about whether a sandwich really sparked World War I? Check out this Smithsonian.com story on assassin Gavrilo Princip's sandwich.

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