Rakija: connecting people in Balkan and fixing problems since forever
In my last blog for Balkan Roads, I introduced you to some of the most typical characteristics (or stereotypes) of Balkan people, our customs and traditions. Of course, Balkan is a broad term that includes many countries and nations and we do differ a lot in various ways.
However, if I had to pick one thing, only one thing in common to all the Balkan nations, something we all share… that would have to be our love for – rakija. If you already haven’t heard about this drink- you’ve probably still haven’t visited Balkans! There is simply no other explanation. So for all of you, Balkan virgins: rakija is a traditional strong liquor from South – Eastern Europe, typically made from fermented and distilled fruit like grapes, plums, apricots, pears, cherries or raspberries. It can also be infused with other flavors such as honey, walnuts, rose but mixed with various healthy herbs as well.
Every culture has its spirit, and rakija is Balkan’s.
Travelers know they will drink rakija here, just like in tropical countries they will sip cocktails, in Mexico shots of tequila or vodka in Russia. But regardless of the fact that you can find a traditional drink almost in any country, not everywhere do nations worship it as we do it here.
Let me picture it for you.
For many people in the Balkans, rakija is not “just” a drink. Rakija can be used as a massage lotion but above all – it is a medicine. A cure, and a cure for more or less- everything. And our parents and grandparents taught us these facts from an early age.
For example- if you would hurt your knee and come running and crying to your grandma, she would tell you- don’t you worry, child! Baka has a cure! She would go to the kitchen and come back with a gauze and a bottle of some transparent liquor in a Coca – Cola bottle with a Fanta cap which you would childishly consider to be water. Then she would pour that magic water on the bandage, tell you to be brave and stoked your knee on fire. You would of course scream, because it would burn, and would never trust your “baka” (grandma) again. But the wound would heal. Eventually.
Rakija will again be offered as a magical cure for various different diseases such as your fever, throat sore, muscle ache lotion, flu, and what not.
Some completely different situation where rakija will again be presented to you as a solution to your problem is another type of ache. And that’s a heartache. Nothing heals a broken heart better than a shot of šljivovica. Or 10. At least, for a brief moment, you not only forget the person who caused you this trouble, but you also easily forget everything. In this situation, a person who is offering you rakija is most probably your friend who stands beside you the whole time and of course, drinks with you. In Balkan, we take this commitment quite seriously. Does rakija heal the broken heart? Well- at least for the next day when you will be more occupied with getting through that horrible hangover. Also, once you are out of it – the world really does look like a better place.
So, if your travels take you to Balkan, be aware that you will meet plenty of locals who will offer you this magical drink. Moreover, if you roam the villages, many of them will have their own brewed rakija which they will with much pride offer to you. Even if you don’t drink- please don’t say that to a Balkan person. They will take it as a personal offence. Because rakija is not only a cure for various issues, it is also a magical bond that makes two strangers very best friends.
I will conclude this story with a verse from a famous Croatian poet:
“No rakije, rakije, rakije amo,
Jer utjehe nema u vodi.”
(But Rakija, rakija, rakija bring,
Because the comfort doesn’t lay in the water”)
Whether you will enjoy this drink or not – be sure to drink it responsibly. Rakija contains about 40% (Often much more) of alcohol and therefore can be very harmful if it is consumed in large quantities. Like with everything else in life – the key is in moderation.
Author: Lara Kapović