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!


7 Responses to “Delicious Dalmatia”

  1. Sher May 18, 2006 at 4:28 pm #

    Oh my goodness!!! I’m blown away. You really communicated to us what your trip was like. And now I wanna gooooooooo! It must feel strange to be back after that little bit of paradise.

  2. linda May 20, 2006 at 2:19 pm #

    Your pictures and story make me wanna go now instead of in 2-1/2 weeks!

  3. Julie May 23, 2006 at 10:24 pm #

    The Croatian Tourist Bureau should be employing you. This description makes me want to visit Croatia RIGHT NOW! It really does sound like some sort of paradise.

  4. alan January 25, 2007 at 7:07 am #

    If you come to Dalmatia again, contact us to give you a private tour of some great places north of Split. We run an agency that specializes in culinary tours in Dalmatia

  5. kristoforina October 16, 2007 at 6:07 am #

    Indeed a superb overview!
    For those interested perfaps to try something while still back home, here few interestinig recepies:
    dobar tek!

  6. wildschwein April 8, 2008 at 4:05 am #

    Wow. I never thought Croatia would be such a wonderful place. I thought it was bleak and cold? So mistaken!! I’m really intrigued now.

    Vegeta is available over here in Australia – I’m pretty sure you can get it in general supermarkets as well as the smaller continental ones. It’s a pretty well-known product here. Strange it’s so big over in Croatia!! Though my ‘boy’ just told me that they use similar things to Vegeta all through Europe to flavour their foods?

    We use something similar to Vegeta to add a hint of something extra to our food, I must admit. Powdered Chicken Stock by the brand Masel – which tastes like chicken but is in fact not made of chicken. It’s 100% vegetable based, gluten free, lactose free, and says it has ‘no added enhancers’ which I guess means no MSG? We add a touch of it to most sauces and dishes; it kind of just acts like a flavoured salt.

    I love the pics of the gardens and crystal ocean; and the jars and tins of preserves and pastes. Yum! Thanks for sharing!! :D

  7. ann April 10, 2008 at 6:26 am #

    Wildschwein — Croatia is Eden. It’s perfection. Or at least it was when we were there! That’s funny about Vegeta. It’s actually made by a Croatian company, Podravka. Their website is really neat.

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