On the road
In 2016, Tharik Hussain, went on a road trip through what he calls Muslim Europe. In this extract from his book he is visiting Bosnia
The coffee and culture of Bosnia, plus Dubai delights
Tharik Hussain’s road trip meanders through six countries in the western Balkans, what he calls Muslim Europe. Three of these countries have a Muslim majority population, including Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In this extract, Tharik is with his daughters, his wife Tamara has returned to England for work, and a Bosnian friend, Mevludin Sahinovic, exploring the little-known fort in the town of Vranduk, in the middle of the country. Mevludin has brought Tharik here to show him evidence of a pre-islamic Bosnian identity and teach him how to drink coffee the Bosnian way.
The steep, cobblestoned pathway to the entrance leads up and past the small Džamija Sultan Mehmeda II El Fatiha. A sign outside said the Ottoman guardians, TIKA, had also refurbished this mosque recently.
Resembling a small white house, the mosque had a light wooden minaret, the first I had seen in Bosnia. The minaret had the green flag of the Balkan Muslims flying from it, and outside the mosque sat three middleaged women in hijabs.
“They are local women,” Mevludin explained as we salaamed them. “They look after the mosque.” We headed up towards the small citadel, passing a stone trough above which, inscribed on two tablets, were the names of local martyrs from the Bosnian War. Above, the sky remained overcast, giving the fort a truly medieval look.
We entered the main turret to find medieval displays across two floors. On the ground floor was a dinner table set out, complete with glass goblets, plastic food and a bright red tablecloth. This was overlooked by two glass cabinets displaying the regal velvet cloaks Bosnian royals wore.
The male piece was in the royal colour of purple and had six gold fleurs-de-lis. Although commonly associated with French royalty, Mevludin explained that six of these stylised lilies were in fact on the coat of arms of the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia.
He also explained that they were used briefly after the Bosnian War on the actual flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The upper floor was empty except for a quaint wood writing desk with an inkpot and a feather quill on it.
Leaving the small museum, we walked along the edges of the fort’s wall, which looked up towards the surrounding green hills where mist could be seen rising up near the summits like smoke from a fire.
The Bosnian kings had certainly picked a dramatic setting. At one end of the wall was a small iron cannon loaded on a wood frame, but otherwise there was not much else to see. Anaiya pointed out we were the only ones in the fort, as we headed down to the grassy inner court. In the middle was an archer’s target, and Mevludin spotted a wooden bow and its accompanying blunt arrow.
I assumed these were for display purposes, but Mevludin insisted we should have a go. This excited Anaiya more than anything else we had seen today and, after being told the dos and don’ts, Mevludin and I left the girls to carry out some target practice and headed for the fort’s small cafe. “I think it is time for you to learn how to drink Bosnian coffee, Bosnian style,” Mevludin said, as a small
“It is time for you to learn how to drink Bosnian coffee, Bosnian style”
platter arrived with two medievallooking bronze ladles, containing thick Turkish coffee masquerading as Bosnian, and two small, ceramic, thimble-shaped cups to drink it from. In the middle was a bowl of sugar lumps.
“How to drink coffee?” I asked, looking puzzled, but Mevludin had already begun his demonstration by popping a large lump of white sugar in between his teeth. Realising he could no longer talk, he popped it back out. “So, you begin by putting the sugar, not in your coffee, but between your teeth like this,” he said, before showing me again and then removing it once more.
“Then, you have to suck the coffee through the lump of sugar, like this.” He popped the sugar back between his teeth and this time brought up the small thimble of coffee to his mouth.
He then began sucking the brown liquid through the sugar, making a low, slurping noise. I watched, intrigued by this bizarre method. Somehow, Mevludin managed to finish half of the cup using the one lump, before it fell away in his mouth.
“The sugar has to be this oldfashioned hard, lumpy stuff,” he said, holding a piece up. “I see, and why is that?” I asked, looking closely at the lumps, which resembled little chunks of crystal. “Because they haven’t been processed in the same way as modern sugar lumps, they don’t disintegrate as quickly,” he explained. “OK, now your turn.”
I rummaged through the sugar bowl for a nice big lump. “Yes, that’s a good one,” Mevludin said, approving of the huge white chunk I had picked up. I popped it in between my teeth and, bringing the thick brown coffee to my lips, began sucking. The warm coffee tasted extremely sweet as it passed through the sugar lump, slowly washing tiny granules through with it. After a few seconds, I could feel the lump begin to disintegrate, until suddenly my mouth was awash with sickly, sweet, sugary coffee. “Not bad for a first time!” Mevludin laughed, watching my anguished reaction as the lump disintegrated.
“A very novel experience,” I said, washing the remaining sugar in my mouth down with more coffee, “but I think I prefer to put the sugar in the cup where it spreads more evenly.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. To be honest, nobody really drinks the coffee like this any more, except maybe some of our elders. In fact, not many people even drink this type of coffee any more; all the trendy lattes and cappuccinos have taken over.” “And you?” I asked.
“Yes, I still like to drink Bosnian coffee. I like the thick, grainy taste and the bitterness, but maybe this is because it reminds me of Bosnia.”
“I must admit, I’ve had this coffee in many places – mostly, former Ottoman lands – and I’m not the biggest fan, although it’s nice every now and then. It’s just too bitter for me,” I said, pulling out a bottle of water from my rucksack. “But thanks for showing me the proper way to drink it. I don’t think you could have picked a more appropriate place to teach me how to drink coffee the Bosnian way than sat in the castle of Bosnian kings!”
I laughed and Mevludin joined in, before pointing out that it was very unlikely the Bosnian kings would’ve ever tasted coffee, as it arrived much later with the Ottomans. This made us both laugh even more.
Extract from Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey into Muslim Europe by Tharik Hussain (out now, Bradt Guides, £9.99)