A trip to Croatia
Croatia is seemingly one of the most popular holiday destinations around at the moment. It’s rise over the last few years has been led by Dubrovnik as a must-visit for a spectrum of ages. The appeal is broad across the wider Dalmatian coast too, stunning Adriatic beaches sit amongst arid hills and pretty Romanesque architecture.
The cuisine of the country is heavily Mediterranean in influence, the coastline rich in seafood, further inland olive trees and vineyards line the steep mountain sides. The first night in Trogir, a small historic town near Split, saw us enjoy some excellent food at Trs and one of the most memorable dishes. Scampi (large prawns depending on your terminology) Buzara is a signature dish from around these parts, the shellfish grilled or steamed and served with pasta and a little garlic butter. Steamed was recommended to retain the juices in the scampi, I sat for some time, satisfied with the process of uncovering the sweet, salty tail meat. In the same vein the main course here was supremely simple, letting the produce shine. A grilled seabass was served with Swiss chard that is a very common accompaniment to fish in Croatia. The cost of food overall was a little more than I anticipated, the level of tourism pushing up the prices in the most popular areas. The scampi set me back a hefty £20 but was worth every penny and could have been enjoyed to share or as a main course. The bass around £15. Most meals though were supported ably by local wine which was generally very reasonable at £15 a bottle, which wouldn’t get you much quality in a restaurant back home.
No culinary excitement was to be found at Krka, a national park North West of Trogir. However it would be remiss of me not to mention possibly the most memorable part of the visit to Croatia. The waterfalls here look stunning and the refreshing clear water of the natural pools is highly recommended!
The city of Split is the 2nd biggest in Croatia, though Zagreb is the biggest urban area by far. It is most famed historically for Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman ruin is now surrounded by the bustle of the modern city geared to tourism. It is well worth a visit to get lost in the narrow marble clad streets. I was a little suspicious that Diocletian’s Wine House was a tourist trap of epic proportions but my selection of local shellfish turned out to be rather good. It was a combination of mussels, clams and cockles (or local equivalents). The sauce they were cooked in was a tomato and garlic affair that was really flavoursome and had me mopping at it with the bread provided.
We then travelled South towards Dubrovnik along the picturesque route 8 where just before the Bosnian border the roadside stalls of local produce. The traders keep their watermelons at their best by piling them up and creating a water fountain that cascades down the vibrant fruit. Just after the border crossing you can visit the small towns of Ston and Mali Ston. They are separated by vast walls over 500 years old that are somewhat of an attraction but probably fly under the radar of most tourists. The Ston’s are also famous for their oysters, before my visit I had seen claims about being some of the best in the world. My experience didn’t live up to the billing though that may be down to the particular establishment where I tried them. I’ll stick to the ones you get at Michelin starred restaurants!
The start of our time in Dubrovnik was South of the city in the little seaside town of Mlini. We had done an Airbnb and asked the host to recommend somewhere for dinner. We ended between a couple of beaches eating outside looking out across the sea, couldn’t complain about the location. A starter of mussels and clams wasn’t as good as the version in Split. The main course though as something different, grilled squid. The body of it was whole and had been stuffed with something, crab meat I think. The char bought a really nice flavour and the tentacles particularly were crispy and tasty.
Our final meal was also a recommendation from a friend who had visited Croatia a few times recently and said I had to eat at Pantarul in Dubrovnik. It is a little of the beaten track, well not that near the famous walls of old town at least. It was more contemporary than anywhere else we had been and the menu was so appealing we decided to have 3 starters. Scallops wrapped in bacon were a classic done well. A monkfish carpaccio was fresh, modern and unique. Foie gras deviated from the fish theme of the holiday but it was worth doing so. The liver was excellently cooked, the rich flavours tempered by the apple and sticky honey dressing. A main course of turbot with cabbage and garlic could have graced some of the best restaurants in the UK. The delicate fish both skilfully cooked and flavour balanced with the vegetables to still make it the star. A cheese board and dessert wine was also devoured and the bill arrived to a pretty reasonable cost. My main course was about £15, you would struggle to find that dish at that cost anywhere in the UK.
So Croatia was mostly a selection of treats from the sea and whilst it hit the wallet a little harder than I expected it was mostly quality stuff. The diversity of cuisine is vast, you won’t find Chinese, Indian or wider European food for example. I don’t really mind this though as personally I like to embrace the local food as much as possible of the majority of it was great. There was also plentiful ice cream consumed, partly because it was good and partly because of the 35 degree heat. So Croatia, worth a visit..if you like fish!