WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Skela’s pljeskavica, the Balkan Big Mac
DesBrisay Dines

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Skela’s pljeskavica, the Balkan Big Mac

The burger beloved in Bosnia is topped with tangy sweet ajvar, ketchup's sophisticated European sister.

The Place: Blink and you’ll miss the tiny storefront marked Bosnian Deli as you drive along Merivale Road. Once inside, head straight to the back, past refrigerators packed with feta and assorted smoked meats and shelves crammed with jars of pickled peppers, sauerkraut, and dried soups. There, you’ll find a tiny cheerful family-run café that serves homemade specialties from Bosnia and beyond.

The Deal: I first learned about pljeskavica (pronounced PLYESS-ka-vee-tsa), the beef-patty beloved in many Balkan countries, in a New York Times article published last year. When a friend told me her chowhound of a brother had spotted them in Ottawa, I had to check it out. There are only a few other items on the menu at Skela, including goulash and fresh cevapi (traditional small sausages). If you’re lucky, you’ll land there on a day when the Mom of the family that runs the place has whipped up a batch of burek: a springy and crispy spiral pastry stuffed with meat or feta cheese.

The Dish: Pljeskavica are made from ground meat and minced onion; a seared solid puck of significant size and density. According to the NYT, the word pljeskavica comes from pljesak, a regional word for clapping the hands, the motion used to press the burger into a thin round. At Skela, the seasoned meat patty is seared on a flat top griddle rather than charcoal grill, then topped with chopped raw onions and smeared with ajvar, a tangy sweet and slightly piquant vegetable relish made with roasted red peppers. (Ajvar plays the role of ketchup with added pizzaz.) Rather than mayo or cheese, there’s a dollop of something like sour cream that quickly melts into the meat. Another unique element of the dish is the bun, a traditional thick, puffy pita-type bread called lepinja. The young woman who served my lunch explained that it is brushed with chicken stock and fried on both sides. The result is a light crusty bread with an appealing sheen, extra moisture, and delicate flavour. And for those who have acquired the taste, there’s a side of “sour coleslaw” sprinkled with black pepper.

The cost: $8.50

Skela: Fine European Food, 956 Merivale Rd. 613-321-6692.