• The Milanovic family sell around 150 different meat products, including 12 different styles of bacon. (Audrey Bourget)Source: Audrey Bourget
After decades of selling European-style smallgoods, this Melbourne deli is as popular as ever – and that's because it's a family affair.
Audrey Bourget

3 Sep 2021 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2021 - 11:05 AM

When Ivan Milanovic worked as a chef at a Melbourne hotel in the 1970s, he noticed the photos of several colleagues on the wall who'd been given the opportunity to work around the world. Knowing he was a hard worker, he asked his boss why his photo wasn't there. 

Ivan recalls, "He said my English was not good, so I said not to worry about that, that I could fix that."

Ivan had arrived in Australia just a few years before from Croatia, where he'd worked as a butcher. He hails from Slavonia, a province of Croatia that shares borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary. The region is known for its cuisine, with specialities like smoked meat, pickled vegetables and paprika-generous dishes.

Paprika dials up the spice in this regional Slavonian stew
No self-respecting Croatian would be caught dead without an arsenal of paprika in the spice rack. This dish makes use of two – a sweet and a hot one.

Right after this chat with his boss, Ivan enrolled in English classes. Knowing he had traded as a butcher, one of his teachers mentioned that the government was looking for meat inspectors, so he applied, got the job and left the hotel. 

He worked as a meat inspector for 20 years, which allowed him to learn more about Victoria's best producers. In 1986, he opened Slavonija Deli at Preston Market in Melbourne, Victoria, with his wife Maria. 

"A lot of people think I'm from Slovenia, but I explain to them that I'm from Slavonia, a region like Gippsland, but in Croatia, with fertile lands, forests and a wonderful culture," he says.

Bosanski ćevapi sa domaći ajvar (Skinless sausages with a capsicum relish)

Made with both lamb and beef mince, these skinless sausages are perfect hot off the grill, with some capsicum relish, chopped onion and lepinja, fresh bread that toasted on the grill over the top of these cevapi.

Initially, the Milanovic duo sold mostly Croatian, German and Polish smallgoods like kransky, smoked bacon and ćevapi; however, with time, they introduced products from Hungary, Czech Republic and other countries. Today, they sell around 150 different meat products, including 12 different styles of bacon. 

Ivan and Maria, who've been married for 53 years, still work together at the deli, but it's their son Anthony who manages the business. "I started working when I was about 11. When I could see over the counter, I was old enough to serve customers," Anthony says, smiling.

Ivan and Maria still work together at the deli, but their son Anthony manages the business.

"When people are thinking about entertaining for certain nationalities, they come to us first. We're an entertainer shop, people come to us for their parties."

Anthony is a big fan of the csabai, a smoked Hungarian sausage with paprika, garlic and chilli. He likes to fry it in a pan and use the leftover oil to cook eggs for breakfast. His dad also suggests trying csabai in place of chorizo in paella.

Ivan says, "When you come to us, we give you a recipe. Anthony is the expert at teaching customers what to do with salami and bacon." 

Their ćevapi, the skinless sausages from the Balkans, are especially popular during holidays, when they sell hundreds of kilos.

They have ćevapi made with beef, typical of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a version with a mix of beef and pork, which you find in Serbia and Croatia. 

The family are picky when it comes to quality and only work with the best producers. They've even enlisted a family member who's a local butcher to make several products to the standard they require.

With Ivan and Maria now only working a couple of days a week, Anthony is there full time. He'd eventually love to offer ready-made meals, like his mum's stuffed cabbage rolls. Opening a second, larger location of Slavonija Deli, while keeping the original one at Preston market, could be on the cards one day. 

"My customers, when they don't see me, they ask [Anthony], 'Where are mum and dad?', says Ivan. "But I taught Anthony everything and he knows how to run the shop. When my customers tell me, 'Please don't close the shop', I say, 'No, this young fella will carry on as long as he wants to carry on, he has my support'.

"Our customers don't have to worry about the future of Slavonija".

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget.

Slavonija Deli
Preston Market Stall C234
The Centreway, Preston, Victoria
Wednesday-Thursday: 8am-3pm
Friday: 8am-6pm
Saturday-Sunday: 8am-3pm

13 meals that solve any leftover yoghurt dilemma
Just as the Turks, Balkans and Indians have long known, yoghurt is more than a breakfast staple. Drizzle it over Middle Eastern-style stuffed veg, serve a dollop with grilled meat, stir through cake batters, and blend it into Greek-style dips.
50 years of baklava: That’s a lot of filo pastry
"Almost every family has a baklava story and mine just happens to involve cotton sheets, a cheese grater and a Balkan mama with swift instruction."
Keen to try Macedonian food in Melbourne? Here's the place to go
After earning the approval of the Macedonian community, Lé Léé is now winning over newcomers to this Balkan cuisine.
Meet the mum-and-son duo bringing burek to the masses
The Balkan Butler is shaking up lunch breaks, one baklava muffin at a time.
Does Son of a Baker serve a vegan burek that’s better than the original?
A family recipe for Balkan bureks, stuffed pies renowned for their gossamer-thin, crisp pastry gets passed down from father to son, but does burek 2.0 beat the traditional version? You be the judge.
Serbian crepes are just one reason to try this Balkan eatery
Wood-fired breads, hearty stews and warm Slavic hospitality are a few others.