By SGN | 14 Feb 2023
When Mitre moved to Singapore in 2005 as a commercial pilot, he was no baker.
But after learning from a Montenegrin friend who worked as a pizza chef, he began to attempt traditional North Macedonian breads, consulting his mother on recipes and offering the bakes to friends at potlucks and gatherings.
The response was always one of delight and surprise. “This is so good,” his friends would remark. “What is this?”
Across the states of the former Yugoslavia – including North Macedonia – bread is life. For Mitre, classics like kifla (soft bread rolls), pogacha (sweet or savoury swirls), gevrek (sesame-encrusted bagels) and burek (flaky filo pie stuffed with beef, spinach or feta) hold warm memories of home.
“In Macedonia, we have burek morning, noon and night,” Mitre shares. He remembers how, during high school lunch breaks in his hometown of Prilep, all the kids would dash across the street to the bakery, jostling with each other for a slice of burek. “The burek was so yummy. I was eating it every single day.”
Recreating the flavours of home
In 2015, Mitre married Katerina, who holds a degree in economics and previously worked in her family’s art business. Growing up in Skopje, North Macedonia’s capital, she would help her mother make kifla and take charge of cookies whenever her grandmother had to prepare a feast for a festive occasion.
However far she is from home, these nostalgic flavours occupy a special place in her heart too. “When I came to Singapore, I was pregnant,” Katerina recalls. “And I missed my mother’s kifla, so Mitre went to buy the flour and tried to make it – they were very good!”
About four years later, the pandemic hit, and Mitre’s flights were grounded for four and a half months. After considering their next steps, and with the encouragement of friends, the couple decided to open a bakery in Singapore and sell beloved breads of their homeland. But first, they had to undergo an intensive period of recipe experimentation to get the taste of their products just right.
Getting recipes from family members was easy, but adapting them to local conditions in Singapore was a big challenge, Katerina shares. “Everything is different here: the ingredients, the weather. It took us a lot of time to do trial and error.”
When it came to burek, Mitre knew he wanted to recreate the taste he so loved in his youth. Incredibly, he managed to persuade the very bakery near his high school to share their recipe – promising not to pose any competition, since their shop would be 5,000 miles away in Singapore!
The first and only in Singapore
Roughly a year later, when everything was falling into place and the Krajoskis were less than 24 hours away from opening day in Katong V – a mall close to their home – a no dine-in rule fell upon F&B establishments nationwide. Nevertheless, the bakery proceeded to open the next day to an overwhelming crowd who were eager to get their breads to go.
Over time, the bakery has attracted ex-Yugoslavians, who never dreamt they would be able to enjoy authentic tastes of home in Singapore. But most customers are locals, including many who’ve travelled to North Macedonia.
“I was very surprised to meet Singaporeans who have been to my hometown. They told me they hiked through the forest. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing there?!’” Mitre laughs.
Besides introducing Balkan breads and pastries, the bakery also offers dine-in sets that acquaint customers with the art of proper drink pairings. “We say in Macedonia that burek and yoghurt go together like a frying pan and its handle,” Mitre notes, referring to the yoghurt drink made in-house from a family recipe.
He tells customers that pairing burek with coffee is a no-go, like eating chicken rice with honey instead of chilli sauce. Likewise, pogacha should only go with specialty coffee (imported from Italy), while baklava tastes best with Balkan coffee (aka Turkish coffee).
Riding on the success of their first outlet, the couple opened a second in underground mall CityLink in April 2022. In contrast to the early days of the business, when both baked and covered all duties, Katerina now oversees operations while Mitre takes care of finances and administration. They’ve also welcomed onboard a professional Serbian baker who brings greater precision and efficiency to the kitchen – watching him stretch burek dough is a sight to behold.
Yugoslavian bakes are heavier and denser than the fluffy breads and soft sponges that Asian tastebuds are used to. Burek, unlike an airy croissant, can serve as a full meal. Despite this, Mitre is glad how well their offerings have been received, and how their bakery is the first of its kind in Singapore.
“In my hometown of 60,000 people, there are at least 20 bakeries selling nothing but burek,” he says. “Now, in a country of 6 million, our bakery is the first and only one.”
A new home for the family
Moving to Singapore was a big adjustment for the Krajoskis. Mitre remembers getting so baffled, 18 years ago, by the indecipherable abbreviations that permeate local conversation, to the extent that he didn’t know the taxi driver meant ‘Terminal 2’ by ‘T2’. The most dramatic difference, though, had to do with pace of life.
“Life in Macedonia is quieter, almost slow motion, especially in my hometown,” Mitre shares. “One day there feels like one week in Singapore.” During the summertime, he says, people would lounge outdoors in the main square, sipping coffee and chatting up friends who pass by. In Singapore, he finds himself constantly on the move, circling multistorey carparks for a parking spot, or riding elevators and escalators to get to his next destination.
As for Katerina, it was local cuisine that took some getting used to, although her adventurous palate grew to love it and she even misses Singaporean food now when she’s back in North Macedonia.
Ultimately, Singapore represents a new home for the couple where they can plan for the future, find career and financial stability, and establish a safe environment for their two kids. “Many Singaporeans may not see this, because the grass is always greener on the other side,” Mitre observes.
While the family continues to preserve certain aspects of Macedonian culture – speaking the language and celebrating Christmas in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where a round loaf is divided to see who is the lucky recipient of the concealed coin – they have very much assimilated into the Singaporean lifestyle.
“We are very localised,” says Mitre, who became a Singapore citizen 10 years ago. “Our friends are mostly local. The kids go to local schools, they speak Singlish and Chinese, they love local food. When you ask them, ‘Where are you from?’ they always say, ‘Mummy and Daddy are from Macedonia, but we are Singaporeans.”