Café or restaurant or… something else? I never heard about kafana until I arrived in Macedonia. When I heard the word I did imagine some kind of café, but I could not have imagined this. Traditional food combined with a lot of alcohol (mostly Rakija, beer and wine) and live folklore music. I do have to admit in the beginning I did not know any Macedonian folklore. So when everyone is starting to sing, the more drunk they are the more passionate they sing along, I felt a little… left out. But you get used to it quickly. And because I already love the Macedonian food and wines, a night out in a kafana has become a weekly routine.
From what I have noticed is that kafana’s are a part of the Macedonians and their lives. Not only Macedonians, but also other Balkan countries enjoy the kafana’s. And I can understand why, you sit down, relax, eat your favourite food and drink. Meanwhile you are listening to the old Macedonian songs (sometimes Serbian or Croatian songs as well) and it is like they forget all the stress in their lives and just enjoy.
Here in Skopje you can find a lot of kafana’s and different types as well. Let me explain to the ones that are new to the definition kafana from my experience until now.
- Calm kafana’s: you sit here, order food (mostly any type of barbecue meat and salads) and drinks. And on the background (somewhere far away) you hear the folklore music. Nothing special, but nice for the people who want to have a calm traditional Macedonian evening.
- Traditional kafana’s: everything here is traditional. The waiters wear traditional clothes, the kafana is furnished with traditional artifacts (like carpets on the wall or old pictures of the city). They serve traditional Macedonian food and food from that region where the kafana is located. The food is served in the traditional Macedonian clay pots and plates. And of course the folklore music. But now the band is walking around the tables and taking song requests from the guests. I think this type is one of the most popular for all generations, and don’t you think you it’s finished in two hours. You sit here and you eat a little and drink a little more, the entire evening. And of course later in the evening you will hear people singing louder and louder.
- Hardcore kafana’s: here it is more about the drinking than about the food. Everyone will order some food but not an entire meal. And now it is all about what are you going to drink… and how much. I always think that people order food so they can just drink more. And the folklore music is present and loud. Funny thing is although I do not speak the language well or understand it all, the longer I sit in a kafana with my wine the better I can sing Macedonian! Everyone is singing and in these kafana’s you will be confronted with the oro, just dance along with it.
I do have to say, the first time foreign people go to a kafana (I always like to take my family and friends at least one time to a kafana) they see the interior and think that it is a normal traditional restaurant. In the beginning of the evening I got questions like: ‘Why do they play so close to the table?’, ‘When will they have a break from singing?’, ‘Can we order sauce with the meat?’. But then when we are enjoying our meals and drinks, people get used to it and start to enjoy the music and the atmosphere that only a kafana can bring.