Ajvar: Codename Red Pepper Spread

Ajvar. Many folks in the US have no clue what it is. Honestly, I was one of them until I traveled to the Balkans. During my initial trips, I would see it spelled and not know that it was pronounced “eye var”, but now I know and now I love it.
Basically, as you can see with the Wikipedia link provided, it’s a spread made from red bell peppers, garlic, and some eggplant. The mixture varies from region to region, but whatever the case, it’s good on just about everything. And whatever it isn’t good on, use Nutella. The Slavs who eat it, will always warn you that’s it’s really spicy. For someone from the Northern Midwest who has never had Mexican food, maybe it is. For me, it was about as spicy as red onions and garlic. A decent pep, but nothing crazy.
So, once I got a taste for this delicious treat, I naturally wanted to find it in the US. No such luck. Supposedly, you can find it at “ethnic” stores in some areas that mainly import Russian food. Ask the people working there and they’ll shake their head and not know what you’re talking about.
I was somewhat dumbfounded and had no idea why I couldn’t find this red demon spread anywhere. Then, one day when at the eternal Trader Joe’s, my girl and I were browsing the spreadables aisle and came across “red pepper spread” that was made in Bulgaria. This seemed promising, so naturally we bought it. Once home, we found out that yes, this was indeed ajvar. While not as tangy or amazing as the ones we’ve both had in the Balkans, it was a very passable substitute.
The moral of the story is that if you’re looking for Ajvar, look for Red Pepper Spread. And if you can’t find it at your local market or even Whole Foods (what’s up with that?!!), then check out the TJ’s and try, try, try to avoid buying the cheesecake.

3 Replies to “Ajvar: Codename Red Pepper Spread”

  1. I love ajvar too! I became aware of it on my first trip to Croatia in 1998. I had the mild ajvar. When I got back to the States I searched high and low for it and discovered a “hot” ajvar. Even better, I think.

    Locally in Philadelphia I can buy these at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Fresh Grocer and Super Fresh.

    1. I did find out yesterday that you can get ajvar at Whole Foods as well, but it’s super expensive and they only have one. From Greece! TJ’s seems to be the best bargain with the most flavor. Of course, now that I’ve found it, I want to find the best. The stuff my distant family would bust out with their homemade wines has been the best I’ve had by far.

    2. We, too, love this stuff after having it every day on our eggs in Croatia. Found it by chance at Big Lots, under the Roland label, and made in Turkey, It is very good, It can be ordered on line, by the case (Google it).

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