Josh McJannett is a part-time local tourist with a full-time appetite for delicious food, authentic cuisine and a good story.
Carlington’s Skela Bosnian Deli is an unassuming, even forgettable looking shop, on a fledgling strip of Merivale Road.
Sandwiched beside a Shell station and the after hours shisha bar housed above it, Skela’s somewhat anemic storefront probably isn’t what springs to mind when searching for a local tourist destination.
For those who have long known what the rest of us have been missing, the building’s bland exterior belies a trove of delicious flavours, cultural nostalgia and an inspiring optimism for a troubled region’s best traditions and history.
Seven years ago, former Bosnian refugees Mirveta and her husband Fudo Jakupovic decided to make good on a dream to create a place where they could keep cultural tradition, cuisine and memories of a happier homeland alive. From traditionally Eastern European meats and cheeses to imported spices, soft drinks and chocolates on offer, Skela was designed to respond to the tastes of an ex-pat community craving a taste of home.
For Ottawans looking for something off the beaten trail, Skela is the perfect spot to take in a taste of the Balkans. The Jakupovics’ storefront refrigerators are brimming with homemade regional favourites like cevapi (spiced ground beef cylinders served with a spicy sauce and raw onion), kajmak (sweet creamed cheese) and stuffed Bosnian pita (think salty and delicious cheese-stuffed puff pastry); all prepared fresh on site.
Adding to Skela’s charm is Fudo’s vast collection of traditional Bosnian artwork, tools and crafts which adorn just about every free surface in the space.
In addition to a popular storefront, Skela boasts a cozy eating area that feels more like a family kitchen than a restaurant. Patrons help themselves to a Fanta on their way to the kitchen doorway where they greet Mirveta with warm familiarity and put in their requests for made-to-order favourites, before sitting down to traditionally prepared coffee; rich and black like earth.
The Jakupovics arrived in Canada with their two young children in 1993, fleeing growing hatred and violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The conflict spreading across the former Yugoslav Republics had become altogether too personal. Following Fudo’s hellish internment in a concentration camp, the family decided they needed to get as far away as possible.
Impressively, the Jakupovics count a diverse crowd among their regulars, including ex-pat Croats and Serbs—a thought that must have seemed unthinkable as they prepared to flee their warring homeland 18 years ago. The political hatred and division of those days feels far away from Skela’s red leather booths where a group chews over last night’s soccer score and boisterously recalls a friend’s antics at a local bar.
Taking it all in while digging in to a warm plate of delicious cevapi, Skela feels every bit the warm, Bosnian kitchen hang out the Jakupovics dreamed of creating.
A big thank you to the Jakupovics for taking the time to share their story, and Josh – thank you for writing such a heartfelt piece about this very special place. We hope to see more of you soon!