The Hadžibajrić cooking tradition

If Sarajevans were to direct a hungry traveler to just one place to fill their belly and to enjoy the flavor of traditional Baščaršija, that traveler would definitely end up at Hadžibajrić Aščinica in Baščaršija.

It is written that the Hadžibajrić family tradition of operating the aščinica dates all the way back to Bajro, who came here as a personal cook to the Ottoman sultan and then stayed on in Sarajevo, got married and opened an aščinica in Baščaršija Square in around 1860.

Family history

Bajro acquired quite a reputation in Sarajevo and became a chief (elder) of the aščijski trade. In his later years, he went on the hajj and was known as Hajji Bajro upon his return. It was a custom for one who had made the hajj to stop working, so he turned the business over to his son, Mustafa, and his descendants used the surname, Hadžibajrić.

The aščinica later fell to Avdaga, Mehmed, Smail, Muhamed, Ferid and Namik and now, for the first time in nine generations, the aščinica is being run by a woman, Mersiha Hadžibajrić, who spent nine years learning this trade from her late father, Namik.

Over the past 150-plus years of feeding locals and guests alike, the Hadžibajrić family has had their establishment in a few places: near Sebilj, at what used to be the Musafirhana at Sahat Kula, on Kujundžiluk Street....

The aščinica has been at its current location, Veliki Ćurčiluk 59, since 1964.

At Hadžibajrić, the food is prepared just like it was some 150 years ago, by using very few spices. The menu is made up of mostly meat items along with some “greens” and the golden rule is for “every dish to give its own oil”, meaning that no additional oil is added to meat dishes.

Food is prepared daily from the freshest ingredients and nothing is left over for the next day and the aščinica closes once everything has been sold.

All of the food is displayed in a hot food bar and served in metal dishes. The staff are kind but not subservient.

Food for commoners and kings

In addition to many traditional savory items, like Bey’s and tripe soups, Bosnian pot, the famous Hadžibajrić veal shank, various stuffed vegetables, ćevapi, rice…, they also serve kadaif and compote for dessert.

While it features a modest interior, kings and queens have feasted here, as proven by the photo of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, and his wife, Sophie, taken during the Olympics. There are also a few other photos and framed newspaper articles hanging around.

They say that up until WWII, food from the aščinica was sent by plane several times a month to Belgrade to be enjoyed by members of the royal Karađorđević family of Yugoslavia.

Maybe this is precisely what makes the aščinica so special – here somun is dipped in sauce by both commoners and kings! No one is more elite than another, but all who manage to get a seat at one of the aščinica’s hard, wooden tables feel privileged.

For, a guest has the feeling that when they visit Hadžibajrić Aščinica there is something much deeper and more meaningful than simply satiating one’s hunger and that a few square meters on Veliki Ćurčiluk embody the very soul of Baščaršija.