When I walked into the tiny shop in Astoria that is the Adriatic Meat Market, there was a lot of good-natured smiling from the men hanging out in the store’s one aisle, as they chatted with the butcher in a language unfamiliar to me. I felt like a stranger in a strange land; there were virtually no products with English labels. Unfortunately, I am not at my best in these circumstances, usually feeling like an intruder who should inconspicuously back out the door, probably knocking over a can or two on the way. However, there is also no way to render oneself inconspicuous in a store the size of the average Manhattan apartment living room.
I was there representing Serious Eats: New York, so there was no turning back. I introduced myself to the butcher, Zoran, who frowned slightly, and said, “No good. I used to buy meat from them, but no more. No good.”
I explained that, as far as I knew, no one at Serious Eats sold meat, either good or bad, and that I was there to buy some cevapcici (pronounced “chivappy”), which I would later write about on the Serious Eats site. I don’t know how much got across, but Zoran was all affability and patience. I was told that the cevapcici come eighteen to a container, and are sold fresh or frozen. When I requested fresh, Zoran beamed his approval and explained that he had just made them half an hour ago.
I asked if the skinless, juicy sausages were of Romanian origin, as my original source, artist and eater extraordinaire Jim Lorey, had told me. Zoran smiled, and said no, they were Croatian. And that Croatians made them first. And better. Much better. In this particular version (and there are many), the cevapcici are made from beef, lamb, and pork, with a bit of garlic. I was going to ask Zoran about the spices he used, but feared that this would lead us down a linguistic path from which neither of us might ever return, or recover.
The word cevapcici is related to the word kebab, and one can also see a resemblance to some variations of kibbe in these skinless sausages, which look rather more like elongated meatballs than anything one might find on a skewer. Traditionally, they are grilled over an open fire, then served with bread and raw onions, which sounds fantastic, but is sadly is not an option on this cold November day.
Zoran advised that, in lieu of grilling, the sausages could be baked. He grinned and popped a Croatian candy, Bananko, into my shopping bag. Clearly the language of food is universal.
Adriatic Meat Market
44-10 Broadway, Astoria NY 11103 (map) 718-777-7116