Macedonia’s government is taking steps to trademark its version of ajvar, a traditional dish that exists throughout the Balkans with slight modifications and under various names, in what may be the latest epic battle of the Balkan Culinary Wars.
Ajvar is a slightly piquant, mushy relish made of red peppers and aubergines. Though available in stores throughout the year, domestic production is usually prepared in the fall and conserved in jars for consumption in the winter.
Macedonia is trying to trademark the product under the brand name Macedonian Ajvar, the Southeast European Times Web site, SETimes.com, reported last week. If the trademark request is granted, according to the media, the brand would receive protection as a product with a certain geographic origin.
“The Macedonian government is attempting to make ajvar a world-recognised product," government spokesman Ivica Bocevski told SETimes.com, adding that “branding would allow production to be standardised with the ingredients and its preparation listed on the labels. This, in turn, will guarantee quality and competitiveness at home and on the world markets.”
The initiative is pressing ahead despite earlier efforts by a Slovenian company to patent the product that failed when ajvar was deemed a generic name and not subject to trademark protection as one country’s property.
The name ajvar comes from the Turkish word havyar, meaning ‘caviar’. Though unrelated to fish eggs, ajvar has a similar, grainy texture.
Ajvar, as such, is a popular dish not only in Macedonia, but in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbian version is often prepared without aubergines.
Though known under different names, variations of the spread exist throughout the rest of the Balkans too: Bulgarians love their lyutenitsa – a red pepper and tomato dip, Romanians relish their zacuscă – a spread made of roasted eggplant, red peppers and cooked beans. But perhaps the predecessor of them all is the Turkish biber salçası – a paste made from red chili peppers.