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?