The English hate immigrants. That glossy sheen of fake tolerance is a complete crock of shit. We’re as racist as any nation of white people in Europe. The only difference between us and America is that we are old school colonialists; We disenfranchise our immigrant population casually.
Hundreds of years of monarchy and class based society is hard to bury under any EU directive. Even the Dutch, famous for their tolerance and racial fairness, has white players sit with whites and blacks with blacks every time their football team gathers to compete. They’re desperately trying to cover up that a large portion of their electorate are staunchly voting far right. Whereas English police build chicken wire fences and let Syrian refugees drown in the Channel, Serbian cops put down their coffees and imaginary traffic violation rules books and carried every child to safety. They wrapped them in blanket, they gave them toys and food and a place to stay if they wanted (admittedly a squalid bus station, but Sangatte is far worse). Amazingly, however, every single immigrant seemed to prefer risking being shot by EU soldiers than stay in Serbia. The mistake was feeding them. Every Syrian literally took one look at Serbia and seemed to think: I didn’t run from decapitation at the hands of an Isis warrior to stay and eat burek for the rest of my life. It says something about a country when a starving, penniless refugee would rather walk through Vojvodina with a bag of Smoki in his stomach than stay here.
Still, London’s reputation for being the culinary capital of the world is largely thanks to immigration. Indian immigrants into the UK after WWII gave English people their first experience of flavour. They brought with them not only the spices that fuelled our trade-based global naval supremacy during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the knowledge of how to blend them too. They taught us how to marinate the right meat and vegetables, flavour the correct grains of rice (properly washed, for a change) and serve up spicy, rich, savoury cuisine; complete with several types of Tandoor breads and crispy flatcakes, rotis, and poppadoms that no English person had ever tasted before. Usually the English invent something, then some other nation runs with the idea and kicks our butts at it. Football… Subways… Racism… Take your pick. This time, Indians brought us their food, and now we do it better than they do.
Belgrade has its culinary fashions too. A few years ago every restaurant in town had to have sushi on the menu. 2 days drive from the nearest sea, spongy, re-frozen rotting salmon was wrapped up in supermarket sushi rice by every Goran and Zoran in Dorćol. Luckily all that extra mayonnaise (an Osaka tradition, I believe) drowned every toxic bite.
Belgrade sushi actually beats the record for the fastest diarrhoea I’ve ever had; shaving a full 3 minutes off of the previously held fastest time set by JAT airways on-board ‘sandwich’. This was before our air-space was owned by Saudis.
Recently, the fashion of Indian food was almost taking hold here in the Serbian capital before it mysteriously disappeared from town. My theory is that it was too ‘ljuto’ for the average man-purse wearer.
The Indian ambassador, wonderfully sweet and spicy individual that she is, selfishly, marvellously imported a couple of highly capable chefs from Norway, her countrymen, yanking them away from a highly civilised and well sourced position in the diplomatic corps over there and had them come and work in Belgrade. They opened a charming little place just off of 27og Marta, called Swad. Very little advertising, terrible location, laughable interior decoration, but it had curries, naan, and tandoori meats. All cooked from scratch, spices ground and toasted in kaharis, food served in a painfully slow but thoroughly authentic fashion. Pricy by Belgrade standards, waiters from chubura who’d literally learned the word Bhaji the previous day patiently warned every customer that a lot of the food on the menu was indeed, ‘ljuto’. I forgave every slightest transgression of the place because the curries were spiced perfectly, tomatoes diced and skinned and cooked to soft and succulent excellence, the sauces soft and fragrant, the meats tender and grilled on the tandoor before being gently, lovingly added to genuine, delectable Indian dishes. I loved the place. Adored it. It was my one, spicy refuge from pljekas and the scourge of ‘international’ cuisine. Inevitably, as soon as the place began to make money, the usual mysterious forces showed up and forced them into closure. It seems that sometimes, in Belgrade, it doesn’t pay to be different. Now, there is a wilderness once again where there was once at least a tiny oasis of Indian goodness in town. And yes, that place by Ustanička Ulica, Diwali. It’s crap. I’d rather have a curry-sauce chicken Big Mac at a New Delhi McDonalds.
Spicy food is almost like homosexuality here in Belgrade. It seems like it’s everywhere, but people still claim to hate it. Strangely, tons of those flavourless green peppers get sold on piazzas day after day and every pljeka and pizza stand has a bowl of tucena paprika on the counter. Sadly, it seems, that for now extra salt is all the flavour we’ll get in Belgrade, at least before a new wave of colonialism hits us.