Serbian culture stays strong despite cancellation of Serbian Days Vancouver

Photo by Dan Walton

Even though Serbian Days takes a break this summer due to COVID-19, members of the local Serbian community and everyone else are still able to experience flavours from the old country.

“Hospitality is a big part of our culture,” said Natsa Lazic of the Balkin Bakery. “Food is a big part of the festival but there is also dance, and presentations from the little children’s school, where they learn poems or songs that originated in Serbian language, all during the day. Then dinner and dancing always follows in the evening.”

Serbian Days are hosted by the Saint Sava Church. Every year since 1971, the two-day celebration has been held during the Labour Day long weekend.

“And it’s not just Serbians – other communities are also invited. Those from Greek, Italy, or neighbouring countries always come to share their own dances or presentations,” says Lazic.

During presentations from each cultural community, Lazic points out music is one of the easiest ways to recognize artists’ origins.

“Without looking at anything, you can always recognize what region the songs came from,” she adds.

While it can be difficult to describe the nuances of a particular genre, she said trumpets and accordions are used to produce much of the music she is familiar with from the old country.

No major festivals in the year of COVID

With large gatherings off limits this summer, it is presenting a challenge for most people to express their culture through hospitality. But despite the social distancing measures in place, Lazic says business has remained steady at the Balkin Bakery.

Lidija Nikolov, owner of Balkin Bakery. | Photo by Dan Walton

Their family business, for the past 10 years, has been supplying the Lower Mainland with authentic southeastern European food, year-round.

“We import that flavour that makes people think of home or different lands, or place where they grew up,” she says, adding that kajmak, burek, and pitas are among the popular items. “We try to make them fresh, bake and deliver daily so that we create the most authentic flavour that we can.”

The menu at the Balkan Bakery was inspired by the recipes from Lazic’s mother, Lidija Nikolov.

Upon arriving in the Lower Mainland, they began connecting with other Serbian Canadians through the St. Sava Church and the community centre.

“We felt a need to be a part of the community and share the culture and see where the culture fits in,” says Lazic. “It was a nice feeling to feel more comfortable.”

Familiar tastes from the Balkans

Despite connecting with other Serbian immigrants in Vancouver, it felt like some of the authentic tastes of Serbian cuisine were missing in the area; but it wasn’t before Nikolov recognized the need for the Balkan Bakery.

“When my mother knew she wanted to make a business out of baking, she perfected her recipes, and made sure that portions were standardized so that the product is consistent and unique,” says Lazic.

“Cooking, trying out new recipes, it was something that came very natural to her: the food we make is very typical and common in Serbia.”

Pastries from the Balkan Bakery mostly stay true to Serbian traditions, and they make use of imported ingredients to authentically capture the tastes of home. However, their food does come with a hint of Canadian influence.

“We like to use a lot of cheese,” says Lazic. “I won’t give out the secret but my mom made sure she picks a couple of different local cheeses and mixes them into a perfect fill for her pastries.”

While many Canadians enjoy the tastes of Serbia, Lazic says their business is primarily supported by immigrants from the Balkans.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances preventing Serbian Days from happening this summer, members of the local Serbian community are still able to connect in person through St. Sava Church, which has been holding regular services since the end of June, and is open daily.

For a taste of the Balkans, please visit www.nikolovbalkanbakery.wixsite.com.

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