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Feature: Spotlight on Croatia - the new culinary destination?

15 November 2011 15:21

By Lucy McNabb

Myself and the team at aspireholidays.co.uk want to let you in on a little secret: Croatia is a gourmet paradise for fans of food and wine.

At the recent Condé Nast Luxury Travel Fair, we met Ingrid Dragicevic and Silvija Santini Orsag - two food-loving Croatians who manage travel company Croatia and More. Ingrid declared, ‘Croatians, we love to eat. Wherever we go, it’s always something very important. And I think that Croatia is one of the best gastro destinations in Europe that you can get now.’

A bold statement. One that we felt we should investigate further. And what did we find? They were right!

We want you to imagine fish so fresh that it still tastes of the ocean, lightly salted and drizzled with homemade olive oil. Delicately flavoured Istrian truffles. Tenderly cooked meat. Melt-in-your-mouth cheeses. All accompanied by excellent wine, naturally. Croatia’s food won’t bore you after a few days. Along with great regional variety, you’ll experience Italian, Austrian and Hungarian influences.

So settle back. We’re about to take you on a culinary tour of the horse-shoe shaped nation. We’ll squeeze in a few must-see sites. Occasionally we’ll draw from Ingrid and Silvija’s insider wisdom (trust us; these ladies know their cuisine.) No time to stop at bars, but given a whopping 53 Croatian wines won a Decanter award last year, we recommend sampling at least one glass of the local wine with every dinner.

Ready? Let’s go.

Dubrovnik
George Bernard Shaw said: “Those who seek paradise on earth must come to Dubrovnik.” We’re pretty sure he meant ‘food paradise’. After touring the picturesque old town and the striking city walls, you could indulge in a three course dinner on the terrace at Kazbek. Spend the day on Banje beach and show off your tan at the famous eatery Nautika (make sure you check out the unmissable view.) Wander through the old harbour and snack on pizza at nearby Poklisar. Alternatively, stroll up and down the Stradun and discover Proto. We will say that the fish markets are compulsory – enjoy lunching where the seafood is fresher than fresh. Just make sure you leave some room for dinner because you’ll want to eat at one of the most ‘in’ restaurants in the city - Gil’s - offering delectable cuisine fusing Italian, French and Croatian cooking. We can smell the beef ravioli from here.

Split
Watched over by the grey mountains and hugged by turquoise water, the Dalmatian capital of Split is Croatia’s second largest city. A bustling place full of good eats that we heartily recommend you explore. If you can tear yourself away from the dramatic coastal scenery or the Roman ruins, eat in a traditional Croatian Konoba (a small inn). Head off the beaten path and explore the backstreets where dozens of tiny café’s offer perfectly presented cakes and other goodies. Sit in the Pjaca and people-watch before trying to get a table at the perpetually packed Konobo Varos. Tour St. Dominus cathedral and 15th century Papalic Palace, then sample stewed meats alongside local fishermen at Buffet Fife. Finally, if fresh seafood is your idea of a good meal, you can’t go wrong with Nostromo, slap-bang next to the fish markets. Make time for the Mestrovic Gallery and the archaeological museum. That is, if you haven’t already lapsed into a food coma...


Zagreb
The Croatian capital, located in the north, is where you’ll encounter Zagorje cuisine – hearty and delicious peasant fare. Visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral then sample button-popping Savijaca sa sampinjonima (good luck ordering that!), a sort of strudel that substitutes bacon and mushrooms instead of fruit. Snack at Dolac market, where if you’re lucky you’ll taste struckli - a baked cheese pastry that can be salty or sweet. It is absolutely compulsory (says Silvija) to eat in Prasac, acknowledged as one of Croatia’s best. The name ‘Prasac’ means ‘piglet’ and it’s truly possible to make a pig of yourself when confronted with star-chef Dino Galvagano’s dazzling menu that constantly changes to use the best seasonal ingredients at hand. If you manage to find Prasac (it’s tricky) you’ll enjoy a candle-lit meal of traditional, simple and fresh Croatian ingredients with a modern edge. The good news is Zagreb is best seen by foot, so climb the cobblestones of Tkalciceva Ulica and burn off any gourmet excesses. A few words of advice- pack some comfortable shoes!


Vis
A former military base for the Yugoslavian army, Vis has only been open to the public for 10 years. Now, Croatians and tourists alike take pleasure in the winding roads, charming architecture and of course, the food. Vis is the favourite spot of our Croatian expert Ingrid, who enthuses, ‘Gastronomy is extraordinary there. You have ten perfect restaurants there – you don’t know in which to go.’ Swim at the many beautiful beaches, lunch on lobster at Jastozera and return to the shade to nap. One afternoon, discover the many beautiful churches and monasteries, then relax that evening at Pojoda, where we’ve heard you should try the Pojorski bronzinic – a lentil and squid stew. Wander around Komiza, the main fishing village, until you’re hungry for salted fish and homemade wine at Konoba Roki’s. You can’t leave without visiting the olive groves, excellent vineyards and local winemakers. Spring or autumn are the ideal times to pay Vis a visit.


Hvar
The beautiful island of Hvar, part of Croatian Dalmatia, will seduce you with its olive trees, wafting lavender and incredible olive oil. Fairytale like Hvar town is one of the oldest cities on Croatia’s coastline. Visit the fortica (fortress) above the town, see the Franciscan monastery, and spend the early evening drinking delicious Plavac Mali wine overlooking the piazza. Make your way to Hanibal - a favourite since the late 1990’s and somewhere you’ll have to fight for a table. You’ll know it’s worth it after tasting the stuffed squid and scampi risotto. Just off St. Stephen’s square you can stumble into Macondo and sample their delicious gregada, a kind of seafood stew with a generous serving of garlic. If you’re at all intrigued by the slow-food movement, visit Palaca Paladini to taste their seafood and intriguing vegetable concoctions. Frolick around Hvar’s bays first, so you’ll be suitably relaxed for the tranquil garden setting.

Zadar
You may lose track of time weaving through Roman town Zadar’s crumbling walls, ancient gates and stunning churches, but don’t forget to eat. For a taste of history alongside delicious food, why not visit Konoba Skoblar – the oldest Konoba in the city. Reward yourself for seeing all of the National Museum by heading to Tamaris (if you have a weakness for lamb, you have to taste how they cook it in Tamaris.) For a romantic itinerary, we suggest touring the unusual architecture of the church of St. Donat before ambling towards stylish Fosa for, yet again, mouth-watering seafood . Try the traditional Dalmatian food on offer at the oh-so-chic Kornat. No idea what traditional Dalmatian food is? Expect plenty of fresh fish cooked in pure ingredients (olive oil, garlic, lemon) perhaps served with rizot (risotto), manestra (a tasty thick soup of meat and vegetables), tender lamb and let’s not forget desserts – comforting concoctions usually featuring honey, figs, raisins and almonds. Mmmm.

 

And that concludes our tour, ladies and gentlemen.
Whether you stay a weekend, a week or a month, in Croatia you can eat your way along the glorious towns, lakes, glittering coastlines and majestic mountains. Squeeze in the historical sites in between meals. After all, you’ll need time to digest between courses, particularly if you eat strukli (and you should. You really should.)

We have two things left to say: make sure to pack clothes with stretchy waistbands, and then of course, bon appetite! (Or, as they say in Croatia, Dobar tek!)


 

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