After nearly two weeks in Croatia, I think I may have finger on what really constitutes as Croatian food. Why has this been so hard? Let me explain.
So much of the culinary delights remind me of Italy. Everywhere along the Dalmatian coast, you can find pizza, pasta, gelato and all kinds of seafood. With the
turquoise Adriatic Sea in the background, I was confused as to what country I was actually visiting. I had this notion of meats and vegetables like other Eastern European countries I had visited. I also had this vision of something unique and different – not margarita pizza or stracciatella ice cream.
How could I complain though when this food was so good? The olive oil was so smooth and the local wines surprisedly succulent. In Dubrovnik, Pizzeria Dominica and their lovely staff were a warm welcome with great pizzas and delicious local Dingac. Mea Culpa was inviting with especially good baked pizzas. And a food tour in Dubrovnik highlighted the best of local seafood including black risotto (squid ink black, very black) and octopus salad.
We took several day trips while staying in Dubrovnik including a wine tour in Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina and a tour around the coastal towns in Montenegro. In Trebinje, we experienced a few unexpected surprises: first, some amazing wine, equally as good as in Croatia. Also, our dinner at a local restaurant earned five stars. I had a pasta with chicken and mushrooms with a certain something that really hit the spot. My husband’s dish of “Cereal chicken” – chicken breaded in cereal flakes – seems so simple but was miles ahead of any “breaded” chicken we’d both ever tasted. Is Bosnia a hidden culinary gem?
As we moved from Dubrovnik to Hvar, one of the country’s 1200 islands off of the mainland, we continued our culinary delights in seafood and Italian cuisine. A few highlights were the mussels at Macondo and the truffle ravioli at Black Pepper. Both evenings were relaxing with very good atmosphere and food. And both evenings we visited the local cake shop Nonica for desert. The Hvar cake – an olive oil like doughnut cake – was my favorite.
The last day in Hvar we took a trip to see the inside of the island – the secret Hvar. Our lunch was local Croaitan peka. Finally, something unique. We were told Peka is the style of cooking “under the iron bell”. Chefs cook meat and vegetables underneath an iron lid for 2 to 4 hours in a wood burning stove. On this day we had the option of veal, lamb, octopus or chicken peka. Each were cooked with potatoes. I choose lamb and it was not a choice I regretted. Finally the tastes of the hearty meats I was anticipating. So very earthy and delicious.
After arriving in Split, our next stop, a day trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, afforded new culinary delights. The local dish, cevapi did not disappoint. The dish of grilled mince meat (lamb, sausage, etc) was accompanied by a delicious pita like bread, onions and the most amazing cheese sauce that was easy to mistake for butter. It was so good that my husband asked for a side of his own and we are excited to try and make it ourselves. This local dish was amazing and Bosnia was creating a reputation for some amazing food. Even better, this dish was only 7 Euros.
Back in Split, there were more local favorites to try. At a nearby Konoba, which means a local restaurant, I tried veal and gnocchi with a thick like gravy sauce. This was the hearty type of Eastern European dish I was expecting but on such hot days, I was beginning to see why the coastal towns like Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split faired on the lighter side for meals. Tucked on a side street inside the famed Diocletian’s Palace, Trattoria Bajamont offered amazing calamari.
The last stop of the trip was Zagreb, the capital city located far from the coast. A sampling of strukli at La Struk captured my heart. Strukli, a local dish, is the comfort food of all comfort foods. The dishes, layers of soft dough, cheeses and something sweet or salty (walnuts and honey were my something sweet) are served in hot lasagne like plates. This was one of the most unexpected favorites of the entire trip.
Zagreb also offered some of the best truffle dishes including a very large plate of truffle gnocchi for lunch one day. It couldn’t get any better than this. Too, prices were cheaper in Zagreb. This huge dish of truffle gnocchi, with shaved truffles on top, was under 10 Euros.
So what is Croatian food? I shall define it as a mix of Italian dishes, succulent seafood and hearty meats, all with soul and character.
Now, I diet.