You have probably heard that Croatians like food a lot. We think about food all the time- from the moment we open our eyes up till that last snack before bed. What is for lunch tomorrow? I should go to the butcher before the weekend. Do I have enough potatoes in the pantry? And what about Sunday?! We will get to the meaning of Sunday, just keep reading...
We are raised in a way where lunch is the most important part of the day. We try to sit together as a family as often as possible. But since we all have jobs and hobbies and daily errands- this mostly happens on the weekends.
Thanks to unspoiled nature and favorable climate, Dalmatia has its own specific cuisine. Abounding with fresh fish from our crystal-clear Adriatic Sea, with meat from local farms (beef, veal, chicken, pork, rabbit...), organic fruit and vegetables, herbs, homemade olive oil and wine... Every meal is specially prepared to the tiniest detail. We feel so lucky to be living right here, where the ingredients are like a gift from our mother nature.
Even if you have had a chance to visit and eat in our beautiful country, I believe you still don't have a clue what having an everyday meal looks like in our homes. For example, my father is the head of the house. Being the oldest child, while growing up his most important daily chore was helping his Mum in the kitchen (lucky us!). He had three younger siblings, so he was kind of a parent to them, making sure they had lunch while their parents were working. Since then, his life has been all about food. He is still the one making sure the fridge is not empty. From simple sandwiches and eggs to the more complicated pašticada, sauces, etc. no one can come even close to him... We gave up trying a long time ago.
Already while eating lunch, his worries are what's for dinner, and why didn't we have that second helping of his best soup ever. Did we really like it? Why is there so much food left on the table? At this point he usually gets slightly offended, even though he always cooks for at least double the number of people eating (just as every respectable Croatian housewife)...
Following is a list of our typical dalmatian meals in a weekly meal schedule (approved by my father himself).
Monday- PAŠTICADA S NJOKIMA
Pašticada with gnocchi- this meal is probably as ancient as the stone walls of our city! Every Dalmatian would tell you that his or her grandma used to make the best pašticada ever, and they would probably be right since nothing can taste better than memories. Only for this meal my mother never needed to call me to the table twice; I would gladly stop playing and run home from the yard; I would just open the door and smell the magic... Pašticada is actually a huge piece of beef, stuffed from the outside with little pieces of onion, garlic, carrots and pancetta, left overnight to soak in vinegar. It is cooked for 2-3 hours on low fire with typically Dalmatian herbs (like bay leaves), grated vegetables (like carrots) and some wine. There are also secret ingredients that I'll be able to share with you after I hear it on my grandmother's death bed. What you get in the end are tender slices of meat covered in thick and sweet dark sauce, so perfectly blending with soft and tasty homemade gnocchi that literally melt in your mouth (no, never those that you can buy in a supermarket!). You can also make pašticada with rabbit, tuna, wild boar or deer. But my grandmother always makes it with beef. And it is the best in the whole Dalmatia. Really. Mmmm yum!
Tuesday- JANJETINA S BIŽIMA
Lamb with peas- looks like stew and is usually served with tons of fresh bread (there is always a lot of sauce, and the most important rule is that nothing goes to waste). A tasty, light and healthy meal, perfectly combining fresh meat and vegetables. You first slowly cook the lamb in local wine, herbs (bay leaf, rosemary), water, tomatoes, onions... Very practical and tidy, since you need just one pot on the stove. This meal reminds us of spring time, because our great-grandparents didn't have a fridge like we do now, so they would prepare it in early spring, when the lambs are small and peas are fresh.
With this meal, you would only need to sit and enjoy. And add a glass of wine. Or two.
Wednesday - CRNI RIŽOT
Black risotto - Oh boy, are you in for a mouthful of flavor. Squid risotto is made with squids and squid ink. Olive oil is a must. And you can optionally top it off with some grated parmesan cheese. If you haven't tried this one, hurry, sit on that plane, train, bus or car, come here! Ok, it does look scary, like a black blob of something indescribable, and your teeth need quite a strong brushing afterwards, but the taste is worth all the trouble… The rice shouldn’t be overcooked, but the squid- the softer, the better! If you’d like a recipe to try it at home, Oz would be happy to help!
One more note, while on vacation you probably don't want to spend too much time cooking and doing the dishes – you can find all these meals in the local taverns and restaurants. And if you are back home, missing 'that time you went sailing in Croatia’ and are thinking of trying to recreate one of these recipes, feel free to contact Oz for some tips and tricks!
Thursday – ŠKAMPI NA BUZARU
Shrimp buzara <3
A bunch of fresh shrimps in a big pot cooked with white wine, parsley, garlic and herbs. You can serve it with pasta or polenta, or just eat it with homemade bread. This is a messy meal, which is an integral part of the whole experience. You eat the shrimps with your hands; I find that food is always a bit more delicious this way. First remove the shell from the tail to get to the tender shrimp meat, suck the shrimp head, and scoop up the shrimp sauce with soft bread. Then have two glasses of wine and let it soak in your stomach.
Friday – RIBA NA GRADELE
Fish barbecue - Friday is known here as a fast day with no meat, due to the Catholic religion that a lot of local families are raised in. Catholic or not, this is kind of a tradition - we try to eat fish and vegetables in the end of every working week... Usually, the head of the family (grandmother, grandfather, dad or mum) wakes up early in the morning and goes to the fish market to buy the best fish they can find. Most of the time the fish is still half alive on the market so there is no need for checking if the fish's eye is clear or not – it is still moving, so you know it is fresh. And then at the table, we have to listen to the same sentences, every Friday: “I got the best fish on the market, if I didn't wake up that early, the neighbor would
have got it, ha ha...“
The lucky ones who live by the sea, go fishing and bring the fresh fish straight home... Or they have neighbors who go fishing! So, they exchange meat or poultry for freshly caught fish.
This is another meal best eaten with hands. This way you can check out for small bones, and it takes time, but the enjoyment lasts longer... The fish usually ‘swims’ in olive oil, seasoned with just a bit of salt and pepper, and for more adventurous ones, with parsley. The typical side dish is steamed or boiled swiss chard or a potato salad (slices of cooked potato with chopped onions).
There is an old rule that you should follow- the fish should swim three times; first in the sea, then in olive oil, and finally, in wine. So, grab that glass and cheers!
Saturday – JANJETINA
Lamb on a spit! Now, this is a true masterpiece among all delicacies... We usually eat it when it's some kind of celebration (weddings, childbirth, even birthday parties, any kind of church holidays...). The lamb needs to be very young and small, not more than 10-12 kilograms. The most famous ones are from island Brač- I guess it has to do with special herbs they eat on our karst terrain, and they are also known to like licking the salty rocks (allegedly that is what makes the meat spectacularly tasty). The lamb in one piece is roasted for at least three hours, slowly rotating above the open fire. So, grab a beer and enjoy this live television! My favorite part of the lamb is the crispy, salty skin, then paprčnjak (the front legs). Now this is an individual thing, some of us prefer the ribs, or even the head. Everyone has their own favorite
part, so make sure to be good with the cook. Lamb on the spit is served with spring onion and bread. Nothing more. So, people around you will know what you ate for lunch that day. This is another meal you eat with your hands mostly, and the spring onion- just chew it like a carrot – and nobody judges you!
One fun fact: as a tradition for good luck, construction workers in Dalmatia order a lamb on a spit to celebrate the finished work on house roofs! Great job guys!
Sunday – MESO ISPOD PEKE
Meat under the bell. 3, 2, 1... And it is finally Sunday! The one day in the week where we are all together in the house. From early morning everything is being prepared for lunch, at least by the ones who like waking up early in the morning, of course. Luckily, we have a grill in our yard, and the most important item- ‘a bell’. It actually looks like a lid in the shape of a dome that covers the tray with all the ingredients. First, you have to make a big fire to get a lot of embers. You place the meat (any kind of meat, although on the islands the favorite one is octopus), potatoes and different vegetables on a tray, put it all together on the bottom of the grill, cover it with the bell and finally put all the ember on top of the bell. You need to open and check it just one or two times in two or three hours, the rest of the time you are watching the ember and drinking wine. You can also use this free time to make a proper salad. We usually eat season salads, so if it is summer time, we make tomato, peppers and cucumber salad, if it is winter time we make cabbage salad. Every season brings its own vegetables, and the best ones are always the ones from your garden. When everything is ready, you can assume how the story goes on...
All in all, this is not our usual „weekly meal schedule“, meaning we would not have all those meals in the course of one week. But if you had my father as a host for your 7-day Croatian holiday, this is what it would probably look like. However, if you went to some other regions of Croatia, you would eat quite differently. Dalmatian food is strongly influenced by Italian cooking and in its core, it is quite simple, without too many spices, additions and complications. The rule is always- fresh and domestic!
Can you tell me if you tried any meal on the list, or which one(s) you would like to try?
Yo-ho, yo-ho, until next time!