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Delicious Dalmatia

18 May

George Bernard Shaw is said to have said, “Those seeking paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik.” He was definitely onto something there, but, based upon my experiences, I’d extend that statement to include the entire Dalmatian Coast, and rather than paradise, I’d call it Eden.

Not to make grand generalizations here, but… I swear, everyone has a garden. Everyone has grape vines. You don’t drink a “name” wine in Croatia, you get a 1/2 liter of the house wine and it is good. Very, very good. And it was most likely made by your host or one of his friends.

We saw markets; vegetable, fish and meat, happening almost everyday in every city. The farmers markets were amazing. Piles of vegetables, vats of homemade cheese, bottles of home distilled spirits and wine, bread, meat… Ideal makings for a picnic (or a last meal on the bus back to the airport…)

On a hike on the island of Hvar we spotted wild rosemary, sage, lavender and bay. Apiaries dot the hillside, the honey flavored by the wild herbs. Figs, oranges and lemons grow in every backyard. The figs end up as jam or as that sweet, fruity hint in homemade grappa. The citrus trees waft the sexy scent of their flowers into every street and alley, the fruit ends up in every vegetable and fish dish.

But the real jewel of the Dalmatian cuisine is the seafood. Branzinos grilled whole. Scampi stewed in white wine, garlic and fresh herbs that are so big it almost seems possible to get meat out of their claws. Fried small salty fish (their words, not mine). Fish pate. Squid stuffed with scampi risotto. And literally everywhere, delightful, absolutely addictively delicious octopus salad, dripping in raw garlic, local olive oil and lemon juice.

Croatian cuisine borrows much from the Italians but to say they are copying them is just silly. There is a real love of raw garlic, which I think would send any Italian nana into a fit. It finds its way into rižot, salads, soups and vegetable dishes. Every local olive oil I tried carried buckets of flavor and was wielded with a very free hand; for lacquering a grilled fish, poaching herb speckled potatoes or simply for dipping the outrageously delicious freshly baked bread.

The boy was especially taken by the bread. I think he could have subsisted on it for the entire trip. Well, the bread as long as it was accompanied by some goat’s milk cheese made that morning, some pršut, maybe a little pate and oh… some pepper relish perhaps? Not that he’d be crazy for trying to live on that, because, to be honest, it would be heavenly.

Apparently there’s one real “secret” to Croatian cuisine… Vegeta. It’s basically, as far as I can tell, a form of MSG, but, as you can see from this photo, it comes in many, many different forms and lots of sizes. little bit of it goes into nearly everything. I have no idea if Vegeta is what made everything taste so heavenly, but I brought some home and will be experimenting with it, so I’ll keep you all posted.

I wish there was a way I could maintain the way I ate on our trip. Bread, butter, ham and cheese for breakfast accompanied by two or three outstanding cups of coffee. A lunch of surprisingly good pizza or čevapčići, followed by at least two or three more coffees, or possible a pivo (beer) or a glass of wine. And finally, a dinner of fish, fish and more fish with a side of garden fresh vegetables swimming in olive oil and some home grown wine thinned ever so slightly with a dash of mineral water.

But, well, as much as I prefer to think I’m a dreamer, I am still at least slightly in touch with reality. Maybe, just maybe, I can pull it off on the weekends though!

By the way, over there on the right, that’s Mimi, the resident crazy puppy at the Pansion Laguna Lozna on Hvar. If you ever go to Hvar, stay there, stay there, STAY THERE! Denis and Dina, the proprietors and are just amazing. And seriously, how can you resist that mug!