I first heard it whispered about in the cozy kitchen of The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo. Čajdžinica Džirlo, or ‘the hippie tea shop’ as the girls at the hostel put it. It was my second day in Bosnia and I was having breakfast with some other guests at the hostel, girls from Spain and Britain. We got to talking about when they told me I had to visit this place, near the Ottoman fountain in Baščaršija, the old town market.
One girl grabbed a map and the place was pointed out and circled. “It’s awesome,” she said, “You have to go.” I did go, and it was awesome.
Finding Čajdžinica Džirlo
You can’t miss this spot. If you start at Sebilj, which is an old Ottoman fountain in the middle of Baščaršija and a common meeting point, you only need cross the street north and stick diagonally to your right, where you’ll begin ascending up a hilly street called Kovači.
This quiet street in the old part of Sarajevo is where you’ll find the tiny and bright tea house.
The friendly owners of Čajdžinica Džirlo
The second time I visited the tea house, it took me a moment to find the entrance because a crowd of school kids was blocking the way. They were surrounding a man sitting on a bench out front and asking him for autographs and to take his picture. Shrugging, I went inside.
Dijana Džirlo greeted me as I entered. She and Husein are the couple who founded Čajdžinica Džirlo (čajdžinica means teahouse) after returning to Sarajevo after the war.
Dijana led me to a seat and shook her head. “Poor guy,” she mentioned to the fellow being mobbed by children. “Who is he?” I asked. “Dino M,” she replied. I must have looked blank because she added, “he’s a pop star.”
Yes, turns out I crossed paths with one of Bosnia’s most succesful artists. Only in Sarajevo.
The first time I went, I’d barely sat down when Husein came over and greeted me. I immediately liked him. His extravagant energy, big smile and pirate-like appearance, plus happy demeanor makes it impossible not to chat with him. He is the very definition of a people person.
Don’t speak Bosnian? No problem.
We got to talking, and it turns out he speaks a handful of languages. Our conversation started in English, then switched to German where he’s more comfortable. He also speaks Italian quite fluently — he lived there for several years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few other languages he knows too.
I told him I was a photographer and that I was off to scenic Lukomir in a few days. On hearing that, he grabbed a well-thumbed book of beautiful photos from Bosnia to look through for inspiration. It reminded me of pouring over old copies of National Geographic in my Dad’s study. There’s nothing better than a worn out old adventure book with a broken spine. He told me to come back after I visited Lukomir so I could show him my photos.
Are you starting to see why he and Dijana are the most amazing people? If Hussein and Dijana don’t win you over, the tea house cat Mimi sure will.
I told Husein I didn’t know what to drink and he told me I had to try the salep, so I said, “Okay, I’ll have the salep.” Two seconds later I said, “So, what is salep?”
Salep is a thick, milky drink with a base of orchid root flour. It’s combined with hot milk, sugar and cinnamon and tastes very much like drinking hot tapioca pudding.
When you get the drink you add the sugar and cinnamon on top, then using a long spoon stir it vigorously to make sure all the orchid root flour dissolves. The consistency is almost like a milkshake. The first time he brought me salep, Hussein stirred it up himself to show me. You can give it a beating. You don’t want any flour left on the bottom.
Other than salep, there’s a huge choice of tea available, and of course, Bosnian coffee.
When you go
If you go, please say hi to Mimi the cat for me, or try the salep and have a conversation with Dijana and Husein. I can’t tell you how much I love this little shop. There’s just such a magical atmosphere of cross-cultural meetings and adventure and friendship.
I went back several times while I was living in Sarajevo for a month, and brought several friends there as I was kind of obsessed with showing it to everyone. You can sit there for hours and there are even blankets if you get cold. There are books and always good conversations available in the little tea shop that feels like home.
If you go, I’d love to see your photos! Post them in the comments below or tag me on Instagram, @melhadtea.
Kovači 6, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Hours: 8:30 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. Daily