Read, Write, Run, Roam

Fake it ’til you make it: an American ajvar experience

Longtime readers already know about my love for ajvar, so you may not be surprised to learn that one of my most treasured departing gifts was a jar of the ruby goodness from my friend Anja. “My grandmother makes the best ajvar,” she said. “I hope you like it.”

“I love it already,” I said. I eyed the big glass jar and felt my mouth water a little. “I’ll bring it back to America and eat it when I’m homesick for Belgrade.” I imagined gently packing the jar in Politika newspapers and taping it in a Pekara Aca bag to make sure it would be with me on a cold, gray day in America.

Instead, Muz and I ate it two days later. All of it.

Readers, I couldn’t help it. I thought, “I should eat this with Serbian bread. I should enjoy this with Zlatiborski prsut and young cheese. What if the jar broke on the way over? What if–GASP–Muz ate all of it first?” (He does this. Frequently.)

Any Serbian lady over the age of 40 would just look at me and say, “RHOB, make your own ajvar!” But that seems…really hard. And time consuming. And I don’t know where to get roga peppers. So imagine my happy surprise to see this at a Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago: fake ajvar!

Sure, it says “Red Pepper Spread,” but we all know that just means, “ajvar for people who don’t know what ajvar is.” The ingredients were the same. The color….ok, the color was not the same, but I could get past that. When I was ready to try it, I had to force myself to spread it on bread and not eat it straight out of the jar. I popped the bread in my mouth and…immediately frowned.

It’s bad, readers. There’s no other way to phrase it. If you’ve never had ajvar it’s fine, but it lacks the smokiness and velvety texture I was used to. It had a slightly bitter aftertaste that (I think) was due to either using bell peppers or not skinning the peppers properly. Balkan bake (grandmothers) will not be happy about this. And I was increasingly disturbed by the neon orange color. Trader Joe’s “fake ajvar” is, well, fakakta.

Which leads me to a new quest for roga peppers in the D.C. area and a time machine. Or a Serbian grandmother looking to adopt. Any ideas?


11 responses

  1. Honey. There has to be a congregation of Serbs somewhere in D.C. with jars of the red goodness. We have a few stores in suburban Toronto (one of them is Polish) that stock it. I would never try to make it and I agree the Western version sucks balls. If you get desperate, I can send you a few very-well-packed jars. I am not kidding.

    February 28, 2012 at 12:04 am

  2. That is amazing. You are amazing. I might have to take you up on it, but I’m not giving up yet. I heard that a Turkish store (?) somewhere in the area has decent ajvar, but we’ll see about that…I also asked a Croatian lady I met last night about it and she only knew of a place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!

    February 28, 2012 at 3:23 am

  3. There is an American blogger who is married to a Serb woman and he has a blog He wrote about making ajvar in America, just a few days ago – check it out – if he could do it, it’s not that hard 🙂

    February 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

  4. Joanna

    Balkan Grill in Virginia. 😉 They have a small market next to the restaurant.

    Or Nazar Market

    Or… I have a jar I brought back from Serbia that I would be happy to share with you.

    February 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm

  5. Joanna

    Oh one more place! EuroMart in Rockville

    February 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm

  6. I feel famous now that my grandma’s ajvar is mentioned here!
    She promises to make some more when you come back.


    February 29, 2012 at 11:33 pm

  7. Agnieszka

    I’m a big fan of Ajvar and to be honest I would never tried to make it by myself. Not that I cannot cook. It seems to be too complicated. My Muz always makes jokes about me that my true love is serbian ajvar and then him. I always try to buy ajvar from different producer or home made to get the best taste of it! Love it!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

  8. I meant to email you about your fame! Glad she likes the compliment, and I can’t wait to have more.

    March 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm

  9. You’re the best, Joanna! You don’t want me near your homemade stuff—I’m afraid I’ll inhale it at this point.

    March 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm

  10. Ana

    Here is on line place – Euro Food Mart – they sell European (and Balkan 🙂 foods:


    March 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm

  11. Well, looks like a bunch of people beat me to it. Euro Food Mart is definitely the place to go. I spent 6 years in DC and frequented that place…frequently. Good luck! And yes, according to all of the Serbians that I’ve met, it’s a day-long process at best. How was it living in Belgrade, by the way? I was only there for a few days, but I can’t wait to get back! And your blog is fantastic!

    June 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm

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