What’s the easiest way to get to Texas? Well, I reckon that depends on your locale at any given moment. Ringo Starr might have said to take a left at Oklahoma but I think it’s easier if you look for the big blue stars above the front door just west of Old-Town.
Texas, a Tex-Mex restaurant
in Sarajevo, Bosnia,
lures diners from across the
Old-Town Sarajevo, that is. On the east bank of the Miljaska River, in the foothills of the Alps, is a little slice of heaven the citizens of war-torn Bosnia simply call Texas. One of only three American-owned businesses, the restaurant has been open six months, offering southwestern fare seven days a week to a culture unabashedly willing to try just about anything Yankee.
“I’ll have the bah-ree-toes,” is heard from one table. “A Texas steak and a margarita,” comes in a thick Slavic drawl from another. The enthusiasm is high and the blood pressures even higher with each customer’s inaugural bite into a bowl of fiery chili. Folks with curious appetites come for a legendary taste and leave with flaming lips and Willie Nelson lyrics in their heads.
How did I get to Texas?
The boss-lady, Bethany Lindsley, summoned me. A native Texan with the motto, “the secret is to believe,” she said that whatever I was doing back in the States could wait and that I needed to get my hind-end across the earth on the double. Combine 30,000 troops in the area, all yearning for a taste of home, with a little pro-American sentiment amongst the natives, and the only logical conclusion was to open a Tex-mex restaurant amongst the rubble and bomb-hollowed buildings. My job? To manage a Bosnian wait-staff, teach them how to act American and sell the heck out of some fajitas.
The thing we wanted to accomplish from the outset—besides the suspension of disbelief—was the creation of authentic, lip-perspiring, satisfying Tex-Mex food, presented in a festive atmosphere with prompt, yet courteous, service. This was a tall order for a place where residents are only now, after six years, beginning to realize what it is to live in structures with four walls and plumbing. Not only was fun not exactly a priority then, but ingredients and basic restaurant equipment were practically non-existent.
Still, we managed to get Texas off the ground, and a few unconventional, yet absolutely necessary, practices continue to keep us afloat. Amongst the most evident oddities is that we employ shoppers, two inventive fellas who work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, scouting the city for ingredients that might possibly “Tex-ify” the food. They are briefed daily on the needs of the moment and then sent on their way to scour the local markets. Bold experimentation is the most important element here, and from this unflappable daring Bosnians have learned to create Tex-Mex food to rival any made back in the States.
No Substitution for a Quick Mind
No cilantro to be found? No worries. This dish needs more cayenne? Add more paprika.
Warfield “Paco” Rodgers, Texas head chef and resident magician, has become a master at substitutions. Using ingredients never before found in Tex-Mex food, Paco has conjured up a spicy southwestern menu and a loyal clientele to go along with it. Once thought a near impossible concept in post-communist Eastern Europe, now it’s all in a days work.
One evening a table of Texans told me that they almost cried after eating the fajitas and enchiladas. “We gave up home when we came to Eastern Europe—we thought—but after the hot jalapeños and hot sauce (made of a local pepper called a fefferoni in a paprika-based salsa) we have a new reason to remember home.” The native Texan troops are equally bold when a dish is not up to snuff.
After some tasty experimentation and input from the staff, the very special Texas Margarita was born. It defied all odds and stands up to its nightly billing as the best margarita in town.
Because of the oddity of the ingredients we use, we pay a bit more in production costs but we also have an inordinate amount of return customers. Locals who never dreamed of consuming hot “anything” now can’t get enough of the “five-alarm” chili. Daily trips to the market to buy all the avocados available in the entire country—at ten times stateside prices—are crucial to the postwar population traveling from far across town for their weekly guacamole fix, especially on the occasion they find we are sold out.
It is not only the food with which we must be inventive, either. As the sole importer of tequila to the country, we take pride in our margarita. “My first job upon arriving in Sarajevo was to concoct the world’s greatest margarita without the aid of sweet and sour mix or even limes, which simply do not exist in Bosnia,” said Gavin Asdorian from behind the finely polished dark wood and brass of his bar. “When I inquired about getting limes to mix the drink properly, the Bosnian employees thought I was nuts. ‘Green lemons,’ they said, ‘why on earth would anyone want to eat unripe fruit?’ To my happy surprise, cocktail guides don’t even mention limes in the ingredients. This gave me some confidence and room for improv.”
After some tasty experimentation and input from the staff, the very special Texas Margarita was born. It defied all odds and stands up nightly to its billing as “the best margarita in town.”
This is not to say that we aren’t prepared with enough fresh meats and vegetables to give the customers everything they ever imagined Texas (or, as the phonetic-minded Bosnians spell it, ‘Teksas’) could be. It is just that this is not America, where the ingredients needed to make the perfect enchilada abound in grocery stores on every corner. On any given night it is the employee’s job to improvise and create with the resources available. One evening, after three rushes and the threat of a fourth, the kitchen announced that the week’s supply of flour had