Serbian Food in London: “only meat and spice, not like American hot dogs.”

Serbian -English Cuisine in London: Paya and Horse

Authors: Eleni Andreadi Marinakou and Alex Heaton

From the outside it seemed like an average London pub, but Serbia revealed herself inside. We sat at the bar and tried to devise a plan to learn more about the Balkan language and culture. First we examined the menu, full of different foods we now recognized from our Serbian lessons – unfortunately we missed the serving times and we thought we’d missed out on trying some traditional Balkan food. The menu was divided into two sections; one with the normal English pub menu and the other with Balkan cuisine. An interesting mix, just as the bar was a fusion of two cultures. On the walls hung religious artefacts, such the icons of St. Sava, books about Serbia and the Balkans were stacked on tables and a live music area was set up in the far end of the bar. However, Horse and Paya is not representative of a single culture. The pub was friendly to all people, with a classic setup serving popular drinks and had English flags on the windows to celebrate for the World Cup. Our first contact was with the owner, an eccentric man dressed in a leather jacket and a red hat adorned with badges. We ordered dva piva (two beers) to start our conversation with him.
owner paya and horse

The owner of Paya and Horse

What followed was about two and a half hours of interesting conversation starting with him handing us books about Serbia to look through and giving us reasons to visit. He talked about lovely cheap cottages that can be bought for £3000 in Bačka in the Northern region above Belgrade.

paya and horseHe also told us a story about a friend discovering artefacts from the Roman Empire along the Danube; such as a helmet and a sword. Despite us missing the food serving times he still brought us a couple of ćevapi to try: “only meat and spice, not like American hot dogs.” This led to a lengthy talk about health and the importance of taking care with what you’re consuming (Coca Cola and Ketchup are bad for you; you know). After all his philosophy was you can overcome everything – except drugs. The highlight of our talk with him was when he talked about Serbian history. He explained how for him Serbia is not east or west but rather a stepping stone that must be crossed when travelling between the two. He linked this to certain historical misfortunes that were detrimental to the country of Serbia such as the Ottoman invasion.

menuHowever it was important for him to talk about the strength of the Serbian soldiers during this conflict and the determination and resolve shown. He did reflect on how history can not be changed, signaling that Serbia is moving on from the past. Nevertheless, what has happened in the past has influenced cultures and is what has made us who we are today.

He told us of the large Serbian community in London (40000 – 60000) and the waves of migration from Serbia to London. He arrived in London in 1999 and by working hard got to a position where he now has his own pub. Another anecdote of his was when he wanted curtains for his bar. Asking Serbian women he would get the same frustrating answer of: they’ll do it another day…so he did it himself and told us how important it is to have another skill in your repertoire.

paya horse menuFrom the menu: “Only meat and spice”

As time passed and last orders were called there was just enough time for him to go through a crossword in a Serbian magazine with us, teaching us new words and to our surprise coming across one relevant from our Serbian lessons: ADA a river island such as those found in the Danube.

ada-kalehOnce there was an island: Ada Kaleh is one of the Danubian river islands which got submerged after the Danube Dam was built in 1970s


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