Ruth writes: Trying new and different cuisines is one of the joys of Toronto. I heard about the recent Serbian food festival from a Serbian newspaper I found in a sweets shop run by Serbians. I decided to go. It was full of surprises.
The festival was on the grounds of the All Serbian Saints Church (Orthodox) on Dixie Road in Mississauga. I arrived two hours after its announced 10am starting time. A big tent was set up with tables and a bar in its parking lot. Empty chairs were by a stage. Obviously I was too early for the performances. But the parking lot had fires roaring in two metal containers beside a huge spit that looked like a giant lathe. On the lathe was a headless, naked bull with two legs missing. Vegetarians would probably leave the premises at that point. The men doing the cooking said they had started the fires two hours before and would begin slicing off pieces of meat in about another hour. Every few minutes they basted the carcass with a brine “soup”.
Other dishes were ready to eat. Friendly volunteers explained them. The posted menu with prices was helpful.
The Lepinja or Serbian bread looked appetizing too. So was the Podvapak sausage with sauerkraut. I ignored the salad and fries. They were not exotic for me. Volunteers offered Prebranac or baked beans, the Cevapi sausages and stew. Goulash – beef stew. Yes, goulash was the term the volunteer used when he gave up trying to spell the Serbian word for me. He said it was cooked for four hours with onions, and “secret ingredients”.
All the hot dishes were served with fries and salad. I wanted to sample. I didn’t want to fill myself up on a heavy meal or even the crepes with jam.
A friendly Serb invited me to see more barbecuing. Pigs and lambs were on other spits in a hut behind the stalls. The lambs were naked with bones showing. I could see the thick, rough skin of the pigs, their ears and snouts. Skewers held the animals in place. Of course the animals were not alive when trussed but I suddenly thought about how protected from animal cruelty our supermarkets have made me.
I settled on three different kinds of pastries: the burek looked good, its meat covered in an appetizing pie crust. But I wasn’t hungry yet.
The church building was inviting. It was big with metal doors covered with portraits of many of its saints.
The priest inside said I could take pictures. The art was amazing. I spent about a half hour studying it.
Magnificent religious paintings in the Orthodox tradition covered the walls from floor to domed ceiling. An attendant explained that three painters from Serbia had created them from memory – no preliminary sketches, no pictures from which to copy. The priest said specialists who had decorated 47 churches throughout the world had been responsible. They had painted from 2010 to 2012. The result could be considered another art museum for our city.
I wandered outside among the few stalls. One was selling wooden plaques. Another was offering Serbian souvenirs.
Two of the cooks were wearing interesting tee-shirts. 1914-2014 – the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. The war was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. I hadn’t expected an interesting history lesson too, and an insight into Serbian thinking about it.
I finally bought the three pastries. The meat burek was disappointing because it was cold by then. One of the others pastries was actually tough. The sweet one was good.
After I ate, I saw the men slicing off pieces of beef but somehow I had lost my appetite for it. Besides, it was too late then. I had eaten. We had other plans for dinner that evening. We had no room in our refrigerator for more food. I seemed to be making excuses for myself.
I asked a volunteer about a Serbian restaurant. She said there were many but mentioned the Zam on the Queensway. I think I’ll give it a try or wait until next year’s Serbian Food Festival. Maybe I’ll finally get to sample some more Serbian cuisine after the memory of the spits fades away. But I was glad the festival reminded me of some basics about my own food. And our Serbians had something else to think about besides the many Syrian refugees trying to pass through their homeland.
Please share your experiences in multicultural Toronto with us, and let us know about other free or nearly-free events. Write to me at email@example.com.