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A village kafana in Borač, Šumadija District, Serbia.

Kafana (pronounced [kafǎna]) (in Serbian and Slovene), kafene\kafenë (pl. kafenejet\kafenët) (in Albanian), kafeana (кафеана, in Macedonian), kavana (IPA: [kaʋǎna]) (in Croatian), καφενείο\kafenio (pl. καφενεία\kafenia) (in Greek), cafenea (pl. cafenele) (in Romanian) are words used in the former Yugoslav countries and Albania for a specific type of local bistro which mostly serves alcohol and coffee, and often also light snacks and other food. Most kafanas feature live music.

The idea of a social meeting place for men to drink alcohol and coffee started in the Ottoman Empire and spread to the Balkans while it was under Ottoman rule. Over time, this became the modern kafana.

Etymology[change | change source]

  • Serbian (Cyrillic): кафана (kafana), pl. кафане (kafane)
  • Serbian (Latin) and Bosnian: kafana pl. kafane
  • Croatian: kavana, pl. kavane
  • Macedonian: кафеана (kafeana), pl. кафеани (kafeani)
  • Albanian: kafeneja\Kafenë pl. kafenejet\Kafenët
  • Greek: καφενείο (kafenio), pl. καφενεία (kafenia)
  • Romanian: cafenea, pl. cafenele

The word 'kafana' is taken from the Turkish word kahvehane ("coffeehouse") which is in turn taken from the Persian word qahveh-khaneh (a compound of the Arabic qahve [coffee] and Persian khane [house]).

In Macedonia, the word kafeana is sometimes used as if it means the same as meana, while the variant kafana (adopted from Serbian folk-songs and made popular by artists) may be used for the kafana described in this article; however, both terms are used as if they have the same meaning by some people.

Nowadays in Serbia, the term kafana is used to describe any informal restaurant serving traditional cuisine, as well as some other kafana dishes like Karađorđeva šnicla.

History[change | change source]

Kafana at palace Albania, Belgrade, 1910s.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, running a kafana (then usually called mehana) was a family business, passed on from generation to generation.

As the Balkan cities grew in size and became more urban, the kafana also changed. Some started serving food and offering other things to customers since the owners now had to compete with other similar places around the city. Most bigger towns and cities in this time had a Gradska kafana (City kafana) located in or around main square where the richest and most important people of that city would come to see and be seen. Prices in this kafana would usually be higher than others around the city that didn't have such an exclusive location.

Live music was first used in kafane in the early 20th century by kafana owners looking to offer different kinds of entertainment to their guests. Naturally, since there was no mass media these bands were local and would only play folk music that was popular in the local region.

As the 20th century began, Balkan cities saw lots of rural people move in, especially after World War II, and kafane changed for this. Some stayed the same, caring for the upper-class, while others began to change to be better for the new rural population who mostly worked in factories and on construction sites.

This is when the word kafana slowly began to mean something that you did not want and that was only for lower classes of society, like a ghetto. By the 1980s, calling a restaurant a kafana almost became an insult and most owners would not call their restaurants kafane. Instead, they used words like restaurant, cafe, bistro, coffee bar, &c. instead.

Now, the kafana is thought of as a place where sad lovers cure their sorrows in alcohol and music, gamblers waste lots of, husbands run away from mean wives while shady businessmen, corrupt local politicians and small criminals do business. Going to kafane often is seen as something that more men would do than women, and "honest" women dare only visit finer ones, and usually while they are with men.

This is mentioned in late-20th century folk songs, like "I tebe sam sit kafano" (I'm Already Sick of You, Kafana) by Haris Džinović, "Kafana je moja sudbina" (Kafana is My Destiny) by Toma Zdravković, and "Čaše lomim" (I'm Breaking Glasses), by Nezir Eminovski.

Further reading[change | change source]

  • "Kafana kao naša svakodnevica i obrazac ponašanja". Kultura. doi:10.5937/kultura1651158K.
  • "Kafana u ravničarskom selu - od bircuza do kafića". Kultura. doi:10.5937/kultura1651167S.
  • "Kafanski imenoslov". Kultura. doi:10.5937/kultura1651136B.
  • "Gostionice - preteče kafana". Kultura. doi:10.5937/kultura1651119D.
  • "Kulturni koreni srpske kafane". Kultura. doi:10.5937/kultura1651088K.

Other websites[change | change source]