Eldin Husic and his wife Adnela Halebic-Husic are bringing the cuisine of the Balkans to Cookstown Road.
The menu is small and thorough: about six items and desserts. The prices are very, very reasonable, with every dish coming in under $10. The recipes are secret, each with a colourful history tying into an element of Balkan culture. The cuisine has an East-meets-West vibe: seasoned meat and cabbage stews, alongside Turkish desserts.
Everything is homemade and as traditional as one can get this far from the country of origin. Eldin Husic sees the restaurant as a way to provide a stable life for his family after leaving his home country more than 20 years ago.
Husic was born in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, but at the time was still part of the Yugoslavian Republic. Husic left his home in 1990 to join a military academy at the age of 15. After his education, the Yugoslav wars fractionated the republic into its component states. The religious nature of the conflict took over the once secular nature of the union, leaving religious minorities in each country without home and in grave danger.
Husic recalls fondly before the war, how the four major religious factions lived in harmony within the City of Sarajevo. Seemingly overnight, the city and the peoples were divided. The city would be under siege and embargo for four years. After his graduation from the military academy, the religious and political nature of the conflict left Husic as a refugee for two years within his own country. He lived in fear that his Muslim name and identity may be exposed.
Husic immigrated to Canada as a refugee in 1996. When he was told he would be sent to Newfoundland, he looked at the map and figured because we were an island, it would be like Miami, or the Bahamas. He was appropriately disappointed.
Husic began working at The Ship Pub in the kitchen as a cook and later at The Duke of Duckworth.
In 2002, Husic moved to Korea to teach English. He found a niche: being a non-native English speaker himself allowed him to approach it from a mindset similar to his students. He worked his way up to become associated with some prestigious clients. However, issues with visa for his wife and children compelled Husic to want to start something more permanent. He moved back to St. John’s in January of 2017 with the intention of starting a restaurant serving the food of his home country after 15 years in Korea.
Starting a restaurant as a refugee can be a dizzying process. Husic recounts navigating the minutiae of health codes, legal jargon and accounting-speak as a non-native English speaker. Everything seemed complicated. Husic recalls his countless trips to Kent, where he feels his accent made people even more eager to help, saying “I honestly think that Newfoundlanders are much kinder to strangers than to themselves.”
Husic has many plans for his restaurant. He sees it not only as an opportunity to share Balkan food but the culture as well. Starting small and doing it right – being faithful to the food and recipes of his home country are priority number one for Husic.
In the future he sees The Balkan Kitchen as having the potential to become a cultural centre for Balkan culture in the city. Cultural nights, live music, and traditional dancing workshops are just a few of his ambitions.
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