Wherever you go in Croatia, you are never far from crystal blue waters, fairy tale castles and a wide choice of modern and family-style food. Depending on what you want from a holiday or trip, you can be quiet, see amazing sites or simply indulge in a gastronomic tour and vibrant night life. One of the great ways to spend your time and see as much as possible, is to cruise down the picturesque coast.
Croatia as a Holiday Destination
Croatia has become one of the top European destinations, ranking around No.5 in the ‘must go’ list – and I know why.
Many years ago (more than I care to remember), I was working in London in a top restaurant, when a new, young girl started work. She barely spoke English, was exceptionally shy and claimed to know little about food. Bearing in mind she was starting out as a ‘pot washer’, this did not really matter. However, what was to be revealed about ‘this lack of cooking knowledge’, could not have been further from the truth. Her name is Mika, and she now owns a beautiful restaurant in Hvar, Croatia. Her hidden talents lay in traditional, family recipes, that have been around for generations. You know the story, great grandmother passed it on to grandmother, to mother etc., and it is, trust me, totally delicious and simple to achieve. The only thing some dishes take is time.
Traditional Restaurant Cooking in Croatia
Traditional restaurant fare revolves around the ‘slow movement’, even though it is often coupled with beautifully grilled meats, fish and vegetables. This is typical of the Istrian region of Croatia, where food is cooked slowly until it reaches perfection – melt in the mouth meats (such as lamb, veal or chicken), perfect vegetables, and the whole dish usually served with potatoes. This dish is called ‘isbod cripnje’ (translated as ‘under the bell’) as it is cooked underneath a dome, usually terracotta, over burning embers, so you still get that ‘charcoally’ kind of taste. Perhaps because the food is a serious mouthful, and so is the name, it is also called ‘peka’, much more easily remembered.
Croatian Slow-Cooked Dishes
There are quite a lot of long and slow cooked dishes, most of which are found in the family style restaurants or tavernas, called ‘konobas’. Equally so, if you wander away from the main harbour of Hvar, or any other coastal town, you can find fishermen more than happy to share their ‘brudet or brodetto’, which is a fish stew piled with whatever has been the catch of the day. With its rich tomato base and some great bread to mop it up with, this will certainly be a food highlight of your trip. Often served as the dish of the day in beach bars and konobas. Croatian fishermen can be a little heavy-handed with the white wine that is also in the dish, and the vinegar which is used to preserve the meal for 48 hours, but it’s so yummy!
My trip would not have been complete, without catching up with my dear friend Mika. Now married with three children and still working every day in her restaurant, she had to entertain us, of course! Her restaurant, near the harbour is a mix of traditional and new, including the Croatian delight of raw seafood and delicious grilled langoustines. To top off her seafood extravaganza, she also made us ‘crni rižot’, or black risotto, with squid, cuttlefish, oodles of garlic, red wine and squid ink. My husband loved it, I found it quite intense in flavour and I was not so keen on ending up with black teeth and tongue!
I am not big on eating too much food at lunchtime, so when her children arrived for their lunch, I was a little envious, as it was my kind of style. Platters of cold meats and cheeses with a salad tossed in local olive oil. The meats were so delicious and included varieties such as leg of pork in very thin slices, which had been dried in sea salt and seasoned with rosemary, bay leaves, garlic and pepper – it was mouth-watering. The other meat was served as a carpaccio, from the Istrian long-horned oxen, but I understand this meat is also used in pasta or gnocchi dishes with a sauce or made into a soup. Watch out for ‘boskarin’ on many taverna menus.
Many Croatians take a break around 11am, as even a normal working day starts around 7am. Boskarin is popular served then, but so are pastries and sweet items.
My last culinary dish has to be sweet, doesn’t it! Do try ‘fritule’, a small doughnut style ball – alcoholic or non-alcoholic! This delicacy is popular at holiday times, but because everyone up and down the coast cannot get enough, most shops and bars will have them. There are different varieties, but I loved the one that had lemon and orange rind, and either rum or ‘rakija’, the local spirit. Exceptionally addictive, these little devils!
It has been a while since my last visit, but Mika assures me that much is still the same and with such a place steeped in history, it would be difficult to make it too modern and razzmatazz. Yes, you can eat ‘fast food style’ and disco the night away, but honestly, who would want to?
Croatia is popular with all age groups, including Millennials, but it is now most known for weddings – must get myself invited to one!