The Human Ingredient
In a previous article we looked into two characteristics of the St. Louis food scene that made it special, namely its diversity and its modernity.
Today we’ll explore another aspect of this vibrant food culture and that is what we’ll call the human ingredient. Like any good art scene, the culinary experience in St. Louis has transcended the confines of the plate and in doing so has found itself at the heart of communities. A perfect example of this human ingredient can be found in the story of the Bosnian food scene in St. Louis.
Today, Balkan Treat Box is considered one of the places to eat in St. Louis, however its beginnings can be traced back to a love story and a community of refugees. The Bosnian war displaced many people from their homeland in the 1990s. Among them was Edo Nalc who, like many Bosnians, settled in St. Louis, Missouri.
It was here that Edo met his future wife Loryn Nalc and it is their love story that gave Balkan Treat Box its menu. When the couple began dating, in the Pre-Netflix and Chill era, Edo would often take Loryn out to local Bosnian restaurants (meal delivery St. Louis was not a thing, unless it was pizza) and regale her with tales of his mother’s recipes.
These stories prompted Loryn to start experimenting with Bosnian food, trying to look up recipes online or on Youtube, most of which were a resounding failure.
Soon she graduated from Youtube videos and started learning from Edo’s aunt, who lived nearby. Through her lessons she found herself integrated into a community of older Bosnian women, who were all too eager to teach her the culinary traditions that had been passed down, mother to daughter, throughout the generations.
This experience led her to visit the Balkans, where she studied cooking with Edo’s family. Taking these experiences she carefully crafted the highly curated menu which focuses on the Ottoman impact on the region’s cuisine.
Nowadays, Grbic is a name synonymous with Bosnian cuisine in St. Louis, however before the Grbic’s were restaraunter’s they were community organizers and coordinators for Bosnian refugees. They helped waves of displaced Bosnian natives find jobs, get paperwork and settle into their new home of St. Louis years before Grbic even opened its doors.
In 1972 Sulejman Grbic, a trained butcher, immigrated to St. Louis from Bosnia. He always wanted to open a restaurant, so when he finally bought one in 1998 he was all too eager to present it to his less than thrilled wife, and trained chef Ermina, on Valentine’s Day. Due to their heavy involvement with the Bosnian community, the Grbics had no problem finding clientele for their restaurant which emphasizes the Austrian influence on Balkan cuisine.
Even as restaurateurs they managed to still be a source of guidance as when Balkan Treat Box was just opening, the Grbic’s offered encouragement and support, giving Loryn access to their sausage maker.
Thus we come full circle, from Grbic’s to Balkan Treat Box, the themes of love and community act as the common threads which continue to weave the story of the Bosnian food scene. Love and community are the quintessential markers of food, as eating has always been a social activity shared with loved ones. Nowadays leaving your home to eat at a restaurant or spending all day in the kitchen cooking a big meal is not even necessary with services that handle meal delivery St. Louis. However delivery or not, there is nothing more human than friends and family gathering over a meal.
The human ingredient is one which adds a new flavor to any plate of food, one that helps a simple traditional dish of Cevapi transcend the plate and capture the heart as well as the taste buds.