Our story on Macedonian cuisine started in one of the best restaurants in Skopje. We were lucky to get a glimpse into the busy kitchen at the Furna restaurant. Chef Natalie Bojadjievska was an interesting personality who has even worked in Afghanistan. She selected a dish for us that in her opinion reflected the spirit of the home-grown cuisine: Macedonian pan.
Pork and beef are mixed with eggplant, zucchini, onion and spices. It was very tasty. We also got to visit the green bazaar, a market where you can buy fresh vegetables and fruits. Once a week the locals come here to run their errands. Macedonian people love green and red peppers, tomatoes and very tasty white cheese. What was stunning for me is that the kitchen really reflects the seasons and everything on the table is locally produced and very fresh.
Our story naturally also included a visit to the wine region. Thanks to an abundance of sunshine and rich soil, the conditions are perfect for growing wine in the country.
We had a fascinating encounter on our visit to the Popova Kula winery. Owner Jordan Trajkov was once a businessman. When he did his MBA in the United States he paid a visit to the Napa Valley in California. When he saw the surroundings it struck a chord and he immediately knew what had to be done in his native country. His grandfather and father both owned vineyards but sold their grapes to the big wineries. Trajkov felt that he wanted to take up the mantle once more and continue the tradition of wine producing in his family. For months he traipsed up and down every hill in the Tikveshiya valley, the main wine district in the Povardarje region. Here, the wineries nestle around the river Vardar. When he discovered the hill of Popova Kula – which means “priest tower” – it was love at first sight. Shortly after, his first grapes were growing. He dreams one day of a flourishing wine tourism region like Napa valley in his own backyard.
We also enjoyed the luxury of an afternoon with a family in their so called “Vikendica”, or weekend house. Many people here have one just like this where they spend as much time as they can. The Jovanovski family bought theirs seven years ago and they try to spend every weekend there to take in the fresh breeze and enjoy a barbecue. For the holiday on the 1st of May they invited their children and friends to get together and cook. What fascinates me is that the generations mix so well together and young and old alike enjoy each others company.
Back in Skopje we visited the best hotel in the city, Aleksandar Palace, renowned for having one of the most exquisite kitchens in the country. Chef Gievski Ljupco actually has an entry in the Guinness World Records for preparing over five tons of Ajvar, a relish made principally from red bell peppers and garlic. He cooked stuffed red peppers for us and invited us for a huge dinner, another opportunity to sample all the delicious fresh dishes. He told me that an average dinner in the country lasts for at least three hours. The hospitality is something I will never forget.