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My Plate’s Empty: Italian Food and Melancholy

We had spent a week in the company of ghosts. Nobody cared about the Balkan wars any longer, except perhaps a pathetic huddle of war veterans trying to speculate on the glories of their war. In Mostar, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and the smaller Bosnian cities, all that remained were the facades of the houses pock marked by artillery fire. Most people want to forget the past and look to the future. The food was generally bad, at times truly terrible. Once I mistakenly ordered a plate of Findus ‘sofficini’ in a bar in Pale, thinking I could read the cyrillic alphabet on the strength of my schoolboy knowledge of Ancient Greek.   Leaving Bosnia behind and venturing towards Belgrade, we thought of our destination as an oasis, if not of civilization at least of good restaurants and attractive cafés. The cafés were indeed inviting, with their outdoor tables  urging you to enjoy the open air life. Dining out was another matter, as the level of the restaurants had not improved greatly. That  was when we remembered a friend’s recommendation. “If you have time, go and say hello to Dag”. One evening we decided to act on our friend’s advice and, not without difficulty, finally found the Italian...