Author: Vasko Joshevski
People who have taken part in Youth in Action training courses would surely agree that one of the most well-liked activities on the schedule of the course are the intercultural evenings. All the participants gather together, waving their national flags, wearing some characteristic piece of cloth, showing videos and brochures, singing and dancing their traditional songs, and inevitably—offering the drinks that are typical for their countries.
As it turns out, this last “method” of presenting your country is probably the most popular one. It is nice to see how people easily remember the names of the drinks they tried during some previous training course. You can always hear someone asking the Polish guys, “Hey, have you brought Żubrówka?”, or somebody else secretly telling the Macedonians to save a bottle or two of Skopsko for them.
As time passes, many training courses have been organized, and some of these drinks have become quite famous. So, let’s see which bottles attract the largest audience during the intercultural evenings (and apparently, are the first to be emptied).
Żubrówka. One of the best Polish vodka brands. What makes this vodka different from the others is its unique ingredient—bison grass, which grows in northern Poland. You can see a specimen of this particular herb in each bottle of Żubrówka. The very name of the drink is derived from the Polish word for the bison that feeds on this grass.
We are still on the Baltic coast. Trejos Devynerios (meaning “three nines,” or simply referred to as 999) is a Lithuanian drink made of twenty-seven (three times nine) different ingredients. It looks like a really complicated recipe. There are three variants of 999: red, green, and brownish. I have had the opportunity to try only the green one, known as Green Nines, and I must say that it has a rather weird taste.
Now, let’s get down to some hardcore Balkan stuff. Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro…there cannot be a feast or a ceremony in these countries without the host offering the guests a small glass of his homemade rakija.
Rakija is a very strong drink (often containing more than 50% alcohol by volume) produced from different kinds of fruit. In Macedonia, for example, it is traditionally made from grapes, but the mixed-fruit rakija is very common, too.
Rakija is usually combined with a vegetable salad (shopska, preferably). In winter, it can be heated a bit and sweetened with some sugar or honey.
Which Balkan rakija is the best? Well, this is a very sensitive question. You know how the Balkans work: each country always argues that they are right, and all the rest, especially their neighbours, are wrong. Each country claims their right to everything, and blames the neighbours for “absurdly” presenting other countries’ land, or history, or whatever else, as theirs.
Anyway, couple of months ago, during an intercultural evening in Albania, a rakija contest took place. After long discussions and negotiations, a neutral commission, consisting of representatives of non-Balkan countries, announced that the Serbian slivovica (rakija made from plums) should top the list.
Greek ouzo may be labeled as another member of the rakija family, especially if you take into consideration its striking resemblance with the Turkish rakija (Turkish raki): they both have that distinctive flavor and they both turn milky when mixed with cold water. Very strong drinks; I wouldn’t recommend drinking them without any “meze” (a vegetable spread) close at hand. Turkish rakija, for instance, goes well white cheese.
There is no need for a best Balkan beer contest, since I think almost everyone would agree that this title is assigned to Skopsko. However, we need some geography here: Can Slovenia be regarded as a part of the Balkans? If the answer is yes, then Skopsko might be rivaled by their Lasko.
Nevertheless, talking about beer, and not mentioning Germany doesn’t seem right. Unfortunately, I still haven’t had the chance to meet German participants in these training courses and try original German beer. Czechs and Belgians, I salute you now, too. The European beer throne is all yours.
Similar circumstances limit my choice of quality wine—no Frenchmen or French evenings so far. Therefore, while waiting for them to happen, I would have to refer to my beloved Balkans again. And there, the audience’s “mashallah” (I’m citing a friend of mine from Vlora; “mashallah” is an Arabic phrase expressing delight and appreciation) go to the most famous Macedonian wine brand, T’ga za Jug.
T’ga za Jug is a semi-dry wine, with a lovely aroma and beautiful dark red colour. If you consider yourself a gourmet, this is the right thing for you.
It is interesting to note that the name T’ga za Jug, which translates as Longing for the South, is taken from one of the most emotional poems in Macedonian literature. You certainly won’t find a better illustration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “wine is bottled poetry.”
The Balkans drinking journey cannot be complete without the Albanian cognac Skenderbeu. Personally, I’m not a big cognac lover, but I have to admit that this one is definitely worth trying. You can also find a cognac set with a wooden base, a nice souvenir or gift for you friends and relatives.
And at the end, something lighter. Bunar (meaning “well”) is a cocktail that is extremely popular in Macedonia. At first, I was pretty sure that the same thing applies to the whole region, the whole Balkans, but then I was surprised to find out that many people have never heard of it.
All you need is one liter of white wine, a quarter liter of mineral water, and another quarter liter of Schweppes. Mix all that in a jar, and finally, add ice and some chopped lemons or oranges. In just a couple of minutes, you will have one of the most refreshing drinks you have ever tasted.
P.S. After intercultural evenings, participants usually go to bed with a very, very big smile on their face.
This is one of the winning articles of the Mladiinfo Article Writing Contest. The content of the articles does not necessarily represent the view or the position of Mladiinfo.