Skela Bosnian Deli, at 956 Merivale road, is one of Ottawa’s great hidden gems. Tucked in a little plaza next to a Shell station it doesn’t look like much from the outside.
The front of the shop is a traditional European deli. Two large meat counters offer a host of sausages and traditional meats (I recommend trying the pljeskavica). The shelves are packed with pickles and preserves with names like zacuscă, đuvečand ajvar blagi. If you are looking for something sweeter, you might pick up a jar of kozackie (plum butter) or kompot truskawkowy (strawberry compote). A pair of large freezers, packed with traditional pastries, meat pies, and complete meals ready to take home, sit across from the deli counter.
Nestled in the back is a tiny eating area: more of a family kitchen than a restaurant. The walls are covered with traditional Bosnian artwork, tools and farming implements creating a warm and charming atmosphere. There are copper kettles, irons, flasks, fishing nets and several wooden engravings depicting cities like Zenica, Srebrenik and Travnik. There is an open kitchen and about six tables, so you can watch your meal being prepared or chat with the cook. Skela is a place for community, conversation and food.
The Jakupovič family opened Skela 10 years ago when they immigrated to Canada from Bosnia. Fudo Jakupovič was a butcher back home, but during the war he spent eight months in a concentration camp and decided he had to move his family away. It was his idea to open a deli with a place to sit so that the community in Ottawa could have somewhere to gather. Their clientele includes many expats from all over Europe as well as Canadian troops who served in Bosnia that are looking for the food they fell in love with there.
Fudo is a big, friendly man. He sat and chatted with me, showing me pictures of lamb he had roasted in his backyard roastery while his daughter, Alija, prepared my meal. I ordered the čevapi: a traditional spiced beef kabob served between slices of somun (a fried pita-like flat bread). My meal came with kajmak (spiced creamed cheese); ajvar (a vegetable spread made from roasted peppers and eggplant; pickled peppers and fresh onions). It was all delicious, true comfort food. The meat was flavourful and moist and the ajvar offers a nice smoky accompaniment.
The feeling you get while eating at Skela is that you are one of the family. The setting is charming and cozy. People from the community are constantly coming and going, sitting down to chat with Fudo or his wife Mirveta or simply picking up a prepared meal to go. The menu is small and simple but the food is great and very affordable. It’s one of my new favourites and I highly recommend you check it out.
Bryan has taught English in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Toronto and Ottawa. In his travels, Bryan has eaten: bull’s tail, sheep’s brains, horse, kangaroo, black bear, alligator and numerous spicy dishes ranging from the mild to the volcanic. He has sampled dishes from every continent except Antarctica (although he recently discovered a recipe for penguin ragout). Bryan is not a picky eater.