There is a reason that Italian cuisine is regarded as one of the best in the world. There is a reason that Croatian cuisine is not.
What Croatia lacks in the kitchen, it makes up in gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, and the chance for adventure. Our base was old town Dubrovnik, a fortified city built in the 7th century, jutting out into the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. From here we explored the rugged Dalmatian Coastal region- including a boat tour of the Elaphiti chain of islands, a journey to the island of Lopud – a natural reserve complete with an abandoned monastery and wild peacocks, and cliff jumping at one of the coolest bars in the Western Hemisphere.
That bar, Buza, perched on the outside of Dubrovnik’s stone walls, is accessed through a small opening in the wall labeled “Cold Drinks with The Most Amazing View.” Through the unassuming entrance, it’s clear the sign is true. Tables and chairs are scattered around cliff edges, where drinkers can sit back, relax, and take in the sights. Thrill-seeking guests can jump off the edges of the cliffs in the choppy waters below, and ride a wave back onto the bank.
Ok, I know.- what about the food? It’s unfair to write off Croatian cuisine. We definitely ate well. We just had a hard time coming off the Italian food high that we were wafting in for the previous week. So, what did we eat? Croatia has over 3,500 miles of coastline, so seafood is king here. Lobster, mussels, octopus, briny oysters and squid-ink risotto are found on every respectable menu throughout the region. As far as drinks are concerned, Croatians love their beer and wine. The wine varies from region to region, with the majority of it being white. I preferred the beer to the wine, my favorite being Karlovacko- a Czech style Pilsner.
My favorite meal in Croatia was on our boat tour of the Elaphiti Islands: a simple dish of grilled whole fish and cabbage salad. During the meal, the ship’s cook came out to the deck to demonstrate how to eat bone-in fish without a fork and knife. If cooked correctly, he explained, the meat peels right off the bones, from tail to head. At our table sat one couple from Edinburgh, a second from London, and above us a flock of seagulls- undoubtedly familiar with the fish scraps that would soon become available to them. The drinks with the UKers on the boat led to drinks in the old town, and to a long night of the kind of revelry that only seems to happen on vacations.
A day trip to Mostar in Bosnia brought a somber dynamic to an otherwise carefree trip. Buildings with bullet holes and bombed out ruins reminded us that the war in this region wasn’t all that long ago. Mostar’s main attraction, an Islamic-style arched bridge over the Neretva River, was the worst structural casualty of the war but has recently been rebuilt.
If the Croatian cuisine left me underwhelmed, the food in Bosnia absolutely wowed me. The food in this country starts with simple ingredients- meats, vegetables, breads- but is elevated to another level by a tasty blend of spices and styles, thanks to the complex mixture of cultures in the region. Favorite dishes in Bosnia include cevapi, a type of sandwich made of Turkish bread, onions, and grilled meats; burek, a meat or cheese-filled pastry; and pljeskavica a dish of spicy minced meat, served with cream sauce and a vegetable salad. As a former part of the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia takes coffee seriously. The social lives of Bosniaks revolve around café culture, especially for the unemployed youth of the country-which hovers at a startling 57%.
Back in Dubrovnik, our last few meals consisted of (more) fish, wine and oysters.
It is said that the Italians live to eat. While the Croatians may just be eating to live, they sure are living.
Next post, back in New York!