By Medina Malagić
At the teahouse owned by Husein and Dijana Džirlo, it is like being in two places at once. As we sit on the benches in front of the café, Džirlo describes it as being in the heart of Čaršija, but at the same time you are not in Čaršija. From this vantage point, there is a direct and open view of the Sebilj fountain, offering a picturesque and almost mystical view of the oldest part of Sarajevo.
How it all Started
Having lived in Italy for nearly 20 years and then in Switzerland for several years, Husein Džirlo and his wife decided to return to Sarajevo in 1997.
What is now Čajdžinica Džirlolay empty and unused for nearly 40 years. Next door, Husein’s father owned a shop where he made traditional Bosnian furniture, and would use this space only when needed.
Dijana explains that the decision to open a tea place was a spontaneous one. “While thinking of what to do, we had in mind that we wanted to do something different, something that has not been tried before. We wanted this to be unique, something that breathes with our Bosnian tradition. But we did not want to open a typical café. We wanted to include a more nutritional aspect to all this”, she said.
She goes on to explain that at one time, the tradition was for every Bosnian house to have medicinal herbs, such as mint, dog rose, chamomile, and the like. So they began their teahouse with this concept in mind, and gradually began importing first class teas that are not grown in this area.
Around 50 different types of tea are served at Čajdžinica Džirlo. In addition to the traditional Bosnian teas, there is a much larger selection of organic South African, Indian and Mediterranean teas that are imported from a German company that deals with the export of teas.
One Year Later
Dijana and Husein said that when they opened their teahouse, they immediately saw that such a concept could succeed here, but that they needed time. They are still learning about the art of tea and giving all their efforts to promote a tea culture in BiH.
In BiH, there is not really a culture of drinking tea in this sense. A teahouse is a novel concept here. Not only do the majority of people here not know what rooibos tea is, the ubiquitous presence of traditional and modern cafes in Sarajevo and throughout BiH is also indicative that this country is still predominantly centered on coffee.
One year later, and their teahouse is bustling with local and foreign guests. Even thoughmany of their guests are foreigners, there are more and more locals who frequent this teahouse. While tea will certainly not replace coffee as the focal point of any form of socialization here, the success of Čajdžinica Džirlo demonstrates that an alternative is welcomed here.
A Place That Feels Like Home
Čajdžinica Džirlo is located on a street called Kovači, a narrow and cobble-stoned lined street situated on hill just minutes away from the Sebilj fountain. It is here where Husein and Dijana spend their day not only serving their guests, but also greeting and conversing with passersby, neighbors, acquaintances and friends.
People come here for a cup of tea or coffee and often end up staying for hours. It is a place where you can spend hours and not even realize how long you’ve been here. Even though their teahouse is located in the corner of a quiet street, the door to Husein and Dijana’s teahouse is always open, beckoning people to walk in and experience something unique in Sarajevo.
The interior of the teahouse was decorated by an architect from BiH, and is replete with antique-looking teapots, cups, bowls, photos scattered randomly throughout the room and an entire shelf that displays all of the teas on offer.
Husein and Dijana also describe the unique location of their teahouse in creating the ambient that attracts so many people here. Overlooking pigeon square and the Sebilj fountain, guests here are afforded a view of the main square of the city swarming with people. From the position of the teahouse, it is tucked away in a little corner at the beginning of Kovači Street and allows guests to feel like they are in a more concealed part of the city that is infused with its own particular and ineffable charm.
“Wherever tourists are, they like to stumble upon streets that are tucked away in a corner, away from the main street. Everything that is located on a main street is prepared for someone or something. But this here, located in the corner, this is something authentic. Tourists like to see something different, everyday life, that soul. This shop is a little different from the rest”, says Dijana.
She says that it is a place that is especially attractive for foreigners who like this ambient. “There is a very Bosnian feel here with our traditions, but at the same time there is something new”.
This tiny teahouse located on a quiet street in the old part of Sarajevo stands out as a place that truly embodies the fusion of tradition and novelty.