The great cevapcici quest
- Joanne Lafler
Some of you know that ever since 1972, when we were in Munich and I first tasted grilled sausages called "cevapcici" (pr. "che-VAP-chi-chi"), a traditional food of the former Yugoslavia, I've been looking for places in the Bay Area that serve this item. Earlier this year, Melanie Wong found the Del Monte restaurant in Sunnyvale, which serves cevapcici and other Balkan food, but-- at the risk of sounding like a faint-hearted Chowhound-- I must admit that I've not gotten down to Sunnyvale from Oakland yet. HOWEVER, my daughter Ruth alerted me to a "Serbian Food Festival," held in October at a Serbian Orthodox church in Moraga, a lot closer to home.
When John and I walked into the courtyard next to the social hall I could smell the sausages on the grill. Had to contain myself, though, in order to pay the ridiculously cheap admission price, peruse the entire menu and buy tickets for our food purchases. John ordered a "combination plate" that included sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls and red potatoes), kobasica (a smoked sausage, similar to kielbasa but indescribably better), kupus (cabbage) and bread. I stuck to my guns and ordered a plate of freshly-grilled cevapcici (finger-sized, slightly spicy grilled beef rolls) with onions,feta cheese and bread. We shared a "side" of srpkja salata (tomatoes, red onions and feta cheese) and bought a piece of gibanica-pita od cira (savory cheese pastry) to take home. Serbian cuisine is an interesting intersection between Mediterranean and northern Slavic. We sampled the strudel and took some assorted cookies with us to keep the cheese pastry company. My brilliant husband thought to ask where the cevapcici had come from and was given the name of a sausage factory and retail market in Oakland.
Thus began the second phase of my quest. With daughter Ruth in tow, a few weeks later I visited the International Food and Meat Market on International Blvd. at the corner of 52nd Avenue in Oakland, which is open to the public only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the meats and sausages there are a few shelves of canned, bottled and packaged goods from the Balkan peninsula, including coffee (Balkan grown-- Ruth wondered?). The bad news is that one must buy in bulk, and I didn't know what I could do with $25 worth of cevapcici. It will have to wait for a family picnic/barbeque. I did buy a large bag of kobasica, some of which I shared with Ruth, some of which went into my freezer and some of which went into Lafler stomachs later that day. And I couldn't resist a package of sweet peppers in what turned out to be an incredibly rich cheese sauce.
The third phase of the quest will be the Del Monte Restaurant in Sunnyvale. My thanks to Melanie and the ever-vigilant Ruth Lafler.
As an addendum, we had a big party for my Mom's 70th birthday and of course, bought a box of the cevapcici from Internationl Food and Meat Market for the grill. She was surprised and delighted, and all the guests thought they were delicious.
This strikes me as a perfect Chowhound item, in what might be called the classic, or Calvin Trillin, sense--an obscure ethnic food, first encountered on a trip to its home territory, then rediscovered at an ethnic church fair, finally tracked to a specialty producer serving the ethnic market. Many, many thanks.
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