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Croatian Cuisine


Prior to departing for Croatia, the only bit of insight I had on Croatian Cuisine was rave reviews for an Istrian restaurant called Albona in San Francisco. Istria, a peninsula in the Northern Adriatic shared by Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia, is renowned for its ecclectic cuisine. It is a mélange of influences from all the nations that have conquered the land over the centuries, and is an ultimate destination for gourmands, olive lovers and oenophiles. Southern Dalmatia, although not as famous, is still a foodie’s heaven. Croatia boasts of its novel concept of slow food, the “new” phenomenon of eating local, seasonal ingredients and enjoying the process of eating, instead of eating for the sake of fueling up on calories. Plus, slow food includes local wine pairings, so it’s a win/win. Jen and I were determined to degust slow food, seafood, or anything else Croatia had to offer. And degust we did. 


SPLIT

After wandering the labyrinthine alleys of Diocletian’s Palace, our group stopped at Gradska Havana (Town Tavern), which was the first restaurant we found with a decent menu and had enough space to seat all 10 of us. After the perfunctory round of Karlovačko, Jen and I ordered the cold appetizer plate and the seafood platter to share. The cold appetizer plate consisted of Dalmatian Pršut (a double-smoked ham similar to Italian prosciutto), fish pâté wrapped in anchovies, grilled octopus, cheese, and was garnished with cherry tomatoes and olives. The fish pâté was refreshingly light and citrus-y; a pleasant surprise to us gluttons who are used to gobs of pâté smothered in oil. The salty, smoky pršut was well complemented by the smoother-tasting cheese. The seafood platter included freshly grilled fish, mussels, and scampi which were all cooked to perfection. I typically scoff at food that requires work (deboning fish, shelling mussels and scampi), but this was well worth the effort!


HVAR

We once again stopped in the middle of the town square in search for dinner. All of the restaurants lining the plaza seemed similar, but the one we choose stood out because it had a display of seafood at the entrance. That made it more legit. Jen had a linguine pasta with shrimp and truffles (a Northern Dalmatian delicacy) and I had shrimp in Buzara sauce, which is basically a tomato and garlic-based sauce. The pasta went down swimmingly after our hike up to the fort, and even more smoothly when we added a bottle of house white to the mix.  For dessert,  the owners treated us to a shot of grappa gratis, which admittedly was not as smooth as the rest of the dinner, but how could we refuse such hospitality?

KORCULA

In Korcula, we headed to a pizzeria for a group dinner. The 29 of us took up the entirety of Cazenezzo’s outdoor patio, so we could be as rowdy as we wanted. We started with a bottle of chilled Plavac Blato wine from a local winery. It was refreshing, but it was odd to imbibe a chilled red. We all concurred that it would have tasted a lot better with a bit of fruit and soda water, i.e. as sangria. Jen had a calzone pizza with cheese, tomato, mushrooms, and olives. I had a pršut pizza with ham (obviously), cheese, and garlic cloves (heaven!). Several guys ordered a pizza with ham, pickles, and a fried egg on top which seemed like an awkward combination, but definitely worked.


BUDVA

En route to Montenegro, our bus passed a bay with hundreds of oyster beds. In our half-awake daze, Jen and I stuck to that image and were determined to find oysters in the resort town of Budva, where we stopped for lunch. To our utter disappointment, we failed, but did still manage to find great seafood.

We found an open-air restaurant called O Sole Mio with a decent menu variety and shared a seafood salad with mussels, shrimp, octopus, and crab legs. This was the first salad I’ve had where the seafood outweighed the greens and vegetables; it was very fresh and seemed very healthy as the only dressing was lemon juice. We also ordered grilled scampi stuffed in squid, which came with a side of potatoes and cabbage. I had never had stuffed squid nor do I really want to imagine whose job it is to do the stuffing, but the combination, thrown on the grill, was amazing. The scampi retained its juiciness in the squid cocoon, and the squid was nice and golden brown from the grill.

TRSTENIK

Grgich

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich left his native Croatia in 1958 to escape communism and settled in the heart of Napa Valley. He cemented his status as legendary winemaker when his creation, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, beat its French counterparts in the infamous Judgement of Paris in 1976. His next challenge was tackling cabernet sauvignon production in his winery in Rutherford, California, which he dominated as well. After the Balkan War, Grgich moved back to Croatia and started Grgić Vina in Trstenik in 1996. He grows Pošip (white) and Plavac Mali (red, reminiscent of Zinfandel) grapes on the hills surrounding the picturesque village.

The 10-minute walk to the Grgich winery was grueling under the scorching sun, especially given the fact that two other tasting rooms were arm’s length from the harbour. But we were enticed by the critics’ accolades and the Napa Valley connection. The winery is an unassuming building, and the tasting room gives off a sterile vibe. The counter is a bit small, and there are hardly any decorations (save for the newspaper clippings depicting the story of Grgich’s rise). But we were there for the wine, not the aesthetics, so we moved on. We got to taste both white and red at the winery for the nominal cost of 20kn (waived if you buy a bottle). Although not my favorite wines, both were tasty. The white was refreshing, and the red too pruney for our taste, reminded me of šljìvovica.

Matko Živkušić

Upon returning from Grgich, we hit a goldmine at the Živkušić tasting room. There was a barrel with a “Vino” sign and an arrow pointing to the winery. We did not need further encouragement. The Živkušić tasting room was charming, pleasantly decorated with the owners’ artwork, and had a panoramic aerial photo on which the owner pointed out grape groves and olive orchards that the family owns.

Again for 20kn we tasted a white and a red wine. But the best part was the olive oil. We stood over the bowl like vultures over a carcass and feasted on oil-drowned crackers. The oil was fantastic — freshly infused with herbs (tarragon, lemon leaf, orange leaf, bay leaf, rosemary, basil, garlic, pepper) grown in the family garden.

We bought our own bottle to take home (as well as a bottle of red plavic mali) and got to watch The Infuser perform his magic as he sorted out the herbs bottle by bottle. After the degustation, we decided to sit on the porch under the shade of the grape vines weaving throw the metal awning and enjoyed a few more glasses of wine until it was time for dinner.

MAKARSKA

As we were nearing the end of our trip, Jen and I felt like we hadn’t had enough seafood so we were on a mission to find a great seafood platter and devour it in Makarska. Susvid, highlighted in most tour books, is located in the main town square and is infamous for its seafood platter. We did try to stray away from the centre and find another more local option, but none of the menus were appealing.

Jen, Kris and I ordered a seafood platter to share along with an appetizer of grilled veggies with grilled goat cheese. The two grilled fish, although high maintenance because of the bones, were flawlessly flaky and juicy. The crispy skin was the icing on the cake, so to speak. We also devoured the calamari and scampi — all were delicious and we did not mind getting a bit messy. The grilled vegetables were a bit too oily and the cheese was rubbery in texture (we expected something soft like halloumi). We paired the dinner with a bottle of Zlatna Vrbnicka wine (white), which incidentally I also later had at the Spalatum at Le Meridien, Split.

SPLIT

Apetit
Our last group dinner was at Apetit, a charming 2 story Italian restaurant within Diocletian’s Palace in Split. It was spacious enough to fit both Contiki boats and a handful of other patrons.  The prix fixe dinner deal was great — 180kn for appetizers, entrée, dessert, and 1 drink. The appetizers were the best part of the meal — a selection of bruschetta, shrimp pâté, and pršut with olives. None of them disappointed. The entrées were a selection of pasta, chicken, or rump steak, and were nothing to write home about. Overall, the ambiance was nice, but the service pace was lethargic at best and restaurant had no ventilation; we sat there for 2 hours waiting for our food and bathing in our sweat.

Spalatum, Le Meridien Lav
For our Last Supper in Croatia, Jen and I headed to the Spalatum restaurant at Le Meridien in Split. Our accommodations were free, so we justified that as an excuse to splurge on food.

Our amuse-bouche was tuna pâté. By then we had fallen in love with seafood pâtés and devoured it immediately. I started with a grilled octopus salad on a bed of pita, goat cheese and arugula. Grilled octopus might now be in my top 5 favorite appetizers. When prepared skillfully, it is soft, flavorful and not at all chewy. Jen was a bit under the weather so she started with a white tomato essence soup with truffle foam. It was light, yet rich and savory.

As an entrée, I ordered a duet of grilled sea bass and royal dorade with braised brussel sprouts, bell pepper and thyme roasted potato. The bass and dorade satisfied my undying craving for fresh, delicious fish. And the glass of Zlatna Vrbnicka I had (same as the wine at Susvid, Makarska) complemented all the seafood dishes.

Jen ordered the pepper crusted monkfish medallions with shitake mushrooms and ginger emulsion (getting in touch with her Asian side). The monkfish was not as flaky or soft as my duet of fillets, but still delicious and the mushroom/vegetable garnish added flavor to the dish.

The service, as expected, was impeccable and the setting was absolutely spectacular — sunset over the Adriatic Sea with the city of Split in the distance. We even caught a bit of the fireworks show again.

Miscellaneous

Sandwiches in Dubrovnik and Trstenik
When we came back from kayaking the walls of Dubrovnik, we were ravenous but did not have time to have a full sit-down dinner before meeting up with the rest of the group at Galerie bar. So Jen and I searched the nearby streets and found a cafe that had  pršut, cheese and tomato sandwiches. They were freshly made, delicious and set us back a whopping 22kn. We enjoyed them with our pails of Galerie special concoction.

Trstenik, the remote village where we were lucky enough to dock and wine taste, was home to 1 cafe/bar that served amazing late night pršut and cheese toasties (paninis of sorts). After our pirate party, we all indulged to the point that they ran out of ingredients.

Beer
Karlovaċka Pivovara was established in 1854 and is the manufacturer of Karlovacko beer (Karlovačko pivo). Although our mugs may not say it, we had plenty of Karlovacko, a light lager with a bitter finish reminiscent of Czech Pilsners. It’s a bit watery, but definitely did the trick of quenching our thirst throughout our travels.

Rakija
Rakija, produced by distilling fermented fruit, is a popular drink in the Balkans. It is typically 40% alcohol, but home-made versions tend to be stiffer. We had the honor to taste such Croatian moonshine on board courtesy of Bambino, our intrepid lunch and dinner server. Our stomachs were a bit too delicate for this creation, yet he gulped his shot down as if it were water.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Croatian Cuisine”
  1. Leoma says:

    What’s up friends, how is the whole thing, and what you would like to say on the topic of this paragraph, in my view its truly amazing for me.

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  1. […] **Special Post: Croatian Cuisine From my food blog, check out the local cuisine and seafood specialties we tasted during our trip! […]



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