Friday, June 7, 2013

Bosnian Spit-Roasted Lamb

On the second full day of our trip to the Balkans we drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovna (a 252 mile trip that Google Maps indicated would take just under five hours and actually took much longer than that). The 134 miles of driving from the Croatian border at Slavonski Brod to Sarajevo is some of the most interesting driving I've ever done. This region of Bosnia was hit hard during the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995 during the breakup of Yugoslavia. It is extremely beautiful, lush green everywhere, mountainous, with a narrow windy road full of potholes. The drive provides evidence of the horrors of war as burned out and bullet-hole ridden buildings dot the side of the road. Traffic is slow, large trucks backup traffic and drivers dangerously (desperately) pass many cars on blind curves in an effort to get past the big trucks (mostly, but also other slow cars) that are backing up traffic. On several occasions I marveled as an extremely aggressive driver was allowed back into a lane of bumper-to-bumper vehicles as an on-coming car just missed it. 

It is very rural and poor. All along the route people were out working in their large fields by hand. Road-side vegetables and fruits were one way the locals had to make money, but of more interest to me was the spit-roasted meat we saw for sale. It was mostly lamb, but I did see one pig. As I spotted a spit-roasted lamb off the side of the road at an opportune moment, I pulled off and Judy was incredulous that I wanted to eat some of what she said looked like a dog, "look at the long tail." 
Spit-roasted lamb in Bosnia-Herzegovina
For Americans, virtually every sheep has a short tail because the tails are docked when the lambs are young. Docking prevents fecal matter from accumulating on the tail and hindquarters of the sheep and makes it easier to shear them. However, docking does reduce the meat yield of the lamb and some ethnic buyers, Muslim's in particular, prefer unblemished lambs, and this part of Bosnia is primarily Muslim. An unblemished lamb is one that has not been docked, castrated or had its horns removed. 

As I got out of the car and approached the lamb-on-a-spit, set very near a home, just off the road, 
the owner came out and I spoke in English (unintelligible to him) and motioned to him with my hands that I wanted to buy some of the lamb (along-side the lamb were four large roasted chickens). He used his hands and drew them to the hind-quarters of the lamb, questioning how much of it I wanted. I motioned to the back of the lamb, thinking of the wonderful lamp ribs, and pointed to a portion of the back. He pulled out a large knife and carved out a fairly large section, 
more than I wanted or could eat, basically leaving the lamb with two halves. 
Then he took the mid-section into his house and I motioned that I wanted about half of it, still much more than I could eat, but I felt guilty after having him destroy the stability of the spitted-lamb. 
He then motioned a chopping action and I nodded yes to having him cut it into smaller pieces. He wrote down the equivalent of about $20.00 in Bosnian Marka's and put the lamb in a plastic bag. It took a few seconds for me to communicate my desire for some paper towels, as I figured this was going to be eaten in the car on the-fly, and he produced two sections of paper towel. Oh well, at least it was something. 

We drove for awhile and eventually Judy suggested I try some. It had cooled down a bit by then. She handed me some chunks which I held in my fingers and ate while I drove. Being the good wife, she prevented me from eating some of the really fatty portions I was craving. Lacking any salt, I was craving it for some of the inner meat and really relished the saltier, crispy outer layers. The lamb lacked the distinctive "lamby" taste that I really love. That was a puzzler for me. I was expecting a gamier lamb, as this was obviously home-grown (a herd of sheep was visible in the pasture behind the man's house). I still can't understand why?

I ate about as much as I could on the drive. Later we stopped at a gas station and bought some wet-wipes and I was able to really get my hands clean, the paper towel was not doing a great job.  Ultimately, unfortunately, we arrived in Sarajevo just in time for our pre-scheduled city tour. After a three hour tour and time to find and get to our hotel, I couldn't risk eating any more of the lamb which had been sitting un-refrigerated in a bag in our car. Many more times on our trip I longingly thought about that split-roasted lamb, wishing I could have some salt and pick out the choice pieces, unencumbered by a steering wheel and a drive along a crazy road. Like our encounter with the sheep-herder in the Sharri Mountains of Kosovo and eating lamb cheese, this was one of my favorite experiences of our trip. 


  1. At least our little stop got us off the road for fifteen minutes so that my heart rate could return to normal for a few minutes. I must admit that the pictures do not leave me craving another bite.

  2. The pictures make ME crave another bite and I wasn't even there...

  3. wow. i never seen a lamb roasted like this, it is not common in the Philippines, but i like lamb when i visited New Zealand.. lechon manok is popular in our country..