“Pick your lunch and catch your supper” - Macro Story #3: Food (FAMA Collection)

The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996

“Pick your lunch and catch your supper”

Macro Story #3: Food

The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days. "Being under siege" meant accepting the fact that the former way of living has disappeared and that the abnormal is becoming normal. Over time, the citizens of Sarajevo discovered methods of survival through innovations and creations, repurposing objects that were available to them, surviving despite permanent terror and destruction.

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

"We insisted that every yard of land should be seeded. But by ’93 there was a problem, no manure, and no pesticides. We offered the citizens of Sarajevo pigeon manure, and all the lofts in the city were cleaned out. Since there were no pesticides we went back to what our grandfathers and grandmothers had used, old recipes. Ash from heating stoves and planting selected plants that made use of it. Of course, we immediately gave instructions how to preserve food, drying, conserving and so on, for a considerable time especially in winter. Two of the brigades that were defending Sarajevo started two mushroom farms. Since the human body needs protein, we offered the citizens of Sarajevo meat products. At first, we recommended using snails and very soon there were no more snails in town. I personally attended several lunches or suppers organized according to our slogan Pick your lunch and catch your supper." - Besim Avdagić, journalist - magazine ‘Zadrugar’

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


The food supply was fast disappearing. UN humanitarian airlift began on July 3, 1992 to provide humanitarian supplies for Sarajevo. It was the longest airlift in the history of aviation, in the history of modern warfare: 467 days longer than the one in Berlin. Each UNHCR or UNPROFOR plane brought 30 tons of food and first aid supplies to Sarajevo. Every citizen of Sarajevo was entitled to 1,250 grams of beans, 300 grams of sugar, 300 grams of oil and 1 kg of flour during the distribution of humanitarian aid.

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

How much food is there in the city

"On about the 9th of April we took general stock of the foodstuffs we had in the city. And from then on, we carefully monitored the situation. Already towards the end of April, the 29th of April to be exact, our reserves had reached minimum, especially since there was no way we could pull out the food that was stored in those huge UPI warehouses in Rajovac." Muhamed Kreševljaković, Mayor of Sarajevo

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Mapping of the Siege of Sarajevo

The city bakery which was the citizens’ only source of bread was continually shelled and a part of its equipment was destroyed. Besides being shelled it also lacked electricity and gas and besides energy supply it often lacked flour, yeast and water. The distribution of bread was also made difficult by the shelling and a lack of fuel for the trucks. In spite of the difficulties, December 27, 1997 marked the day when the Bakery produced its one millionth loaf of bread for the citizens of Sarajevo.

FAMA Collection

© FAMA Collection; 'Survival Map (The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996)'


Survival was the basic need of every individual during the siege of the city. The citizens of Sarajevo learnt new skills, acquired new knowledge - inventiveness and creativity became indispensable in everyday life. Hunger took over the city and the citizens went everywhere in search of plants. Nettles and dandelions found their way onto market tables, at high prices. All green areas, parks, areas around buildings, and planters on balconies were turned into gardens. The citizens of Sarajevo came up with new recipes for dishes with a minimum number of ingredients.

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Meal preparation

"We especially cooked sort of a thick soup with chard and a bit of parsley and a little potato, it was really a delicacy when you added a potato, it improved the taste and the smell. We all lost a lot of weight. Ten or fifteen kilos. We could only satisfy our most basic requirements to stay alive. We didn't have any vitamins. They were lacking. Mainly vegetables, no hope of fruit, we couldn't even dream of it. We cooked the vegetables using minimum energy. With say fifteen pages of a magazine - in my case „Burda“ - you could make soup. My husband called them disgusting messes but they kept us alive." - Gordana Šerić, housewife

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Supplies at the city markets

"Some people had gardens and they would bring fruits to the market, but it was very expensive. I don't know the prices because I could not afford it. It was possible to buy a few cabbage leaves and cook them with rice. If someone had carrots in the garden or any kind of vegetables, at the market they could get 5 marks, 7 marks, 6 marks - just for a small bundle of greens, if you could afford it. I couldn't. Onions were very expensive, 30 - 40 marks per kilo. Garlic was so expensive that I did not even bother to ask for the price. The „Vegeta“ spice was so extremely expensive that I could only look at it. It was a difficult situation with flour. We received humanitarian aid but it was awfully expensive. There were a lot of swindles with flour. They would put plaster in the flour." Arifa Ćosić, housewife

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

- Virginia Woolf

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Gardens as the only source of food

„One day a nice woman named Šemsa came by and offered me a part of her garden. It was about 30 or 40 square meters. I accepted it with enthusiasm. It's true that Babića Bašta is far away from Marijin Dvor, it meant risking death at any time, but out of my love for gardening and our need to survive, I accepted it. I planted everything in that little garden. And that saved us. We were sick of rice and macaroni. But when we finally had some greens, a leaf of cabbage on our plates, we were ecstatic. I even grew beans in that little garden. But in Sarajevo there wasn't a single stick or pole on which to grow beans. But there was an antenna in the garden that had no function because there was no electricity during the war. So I took some rope and tied it to the antenna.“ Sulejman Begović, pensioner

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Humanitarian aid

"Already at the end of 1993 we have lost on weight in average from 15 to 30 and even 35 kilograms because of hunger. What we were receiving in the humanitarian aid was in total of 190 or 150 grams, and that was below the minimum in quality. As there were no milk or powder eggs, no juices, no vitamins." Mustafa Kadrić, Pensioners' Association

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


The citizens of Sarajevo realized that they had to create an alternative way of life in order to survive. One of the important aspects of this new way of life was the repurposing of objects in order to replace everything that was not available during the siege. Inventions and recycled objects became survival tools.

© FAMA Collection; 'The Art of Survival' Guide

Snakeskin shoes

One snakeskin shoe made enough heat to cook beans: the value system and the general purpose of things changed, but, most importantly, a new mindset was needed. Snakeskin shoes had previously been a sign of social prestige but they were not comfortable for running under sniper fire. They still served a useful purpose by providing a fire for a family lunch in a city without any kind of fuel.

The new normal

The siege of Sarajevo showed that a person can survive a disaster and remain a human being. Sarajevo chose culture as its weapon of defence against terror. Citizens walked the streets under the impact of grenades and snipers to perform their daily tasks of survival, went to theatre performances and exhibitions as a way of resistance and defence of the human civilization. A new normal has set in. One civilization disappeared, and a completely new one was simultaneously established in its wake.

© FAMA Collection; 'Sarajevo LIFE' Magazine

‘Sir, actors are dying!’

"Well, I guess it's kind of sad when I remember a play, or rather my favourite role that I have ever played, by the croissants that the director stole from the Holiday Inn and served us before the beginning of the rehearsal, just so that we would be strong enough to spend ten hours doing the play. That was probably the sweetest and the best payment that any actor has ever received." Admir Glamočak, actor

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Can you describe the „family economic chain“?

My husband received cigars in the army, I worked without any income (out of love), we received humanitarian aid, and vegetables from the garden from my mother-in-law and my mother.

year of birth: 1964
profession: journalist
gender: female
city district: Bistrik

© FAMA Collection; 'The Art of Survival' Guide

© FAMA Collection; 'Sarajevo LIFE' Magazine

What words do you no longer use?

"Meat." Zlatan Fazlić - Fazla, singer

© FAMA Collection; 'Sarajevo LIFE' Magazine


The need to establish some kind of balance in the midst of chaos arose spontaneously. In order to maintain mental health, every citizen of the besieged Sarajevo tried to keep himself in balance by bringing his old way of life to the now changed conditions.


New Year's celebration

"We received a package of ZDF TV station, which were sent to the employees of TV BH> Those were presents that contained all the necessary ingredients to make pizza. That was kind of a Beckettesque situation, because we had nothing to bake pizza in, so we had to make a fire and heat the whole kitchen. We had yellow cheese and ketchup and everything else that is necessary for such a meal. There were different kinds of pizza inside that package and that was something new for the whole family. That made things look less dark that they were and we were in a good mood. We didn't watch television. We listened to music that was played on cassette players, which were connected to power batteries. People with batteries were happy, and I'm glad that I was one of them." - Una Bejtović, Music School student (December 1992)

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


"And 30 years later, New Years bring some new hope that the next one will be better, of higher quality, happier, healthier. Thank God, we do not wish each other that the next New Year’s celebration doesn’t happen in war. However, what may have remained a constant in my life is the desire to always have a great menu for New Year's Eve and to go shopping for food before the celebration. Maybe also from that time, when we didn't have much, to this day I really appreciate every piece of food on the table and enjoy what we have today, which we didn't have back then." - Una Bejtović, PR expert (March 2024)

© FAMA Collection; Macro Story: 'The Siege of Sarajevo - Then & Now'