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Saturday, 19 July 2014


Eating across Croatia feels like eating in at least 3 different countries. The culinary influences range from Austrian and Hungarian to Turkish and Middle Eastern with a spattering of Italian inspired Mediterranean cooking and a smidge of complete originality. Starting in Zagreb, the city truly exhibited international flavours from around the world; my first dish was a splendid Schnitzel after all. Most popular was Italian cooking; with the love of risotto and gnocchi especially in most restaurants. Gnocchi here was fried with leeks and doused in cream or mixed with squid ink to make the silky 'black gnocchi' served with salmon sauce, sampled in the Croatian footballer's owned 'Boban' restaurant. Cevapi is the national dish, a Balkan, eastern European slash Turkish kebab style dish. Described to us by our hostel receptionist as 'meat fingers', the minced lamb sausages were served with onion salad and the popular ajvar salsa and had a very bold, meaty flavour. Moving down the coast we entered Split, which had a number of cute and authentic bistros. At Villa Spiza, we sat on crowded bar stools and watched as our chefs hastily cooked fresh prawn and courgette pasta for hungry locals. Here I tried pale green stuffed peppers with a rich tomato sauce washed down with a glass of local red wine. The food was unpretentious and welcoming; with fresh calamari and octopus salad were also popular choices on the chalkboard menu. Heading to Hvar, seafood became more pertinent on the menu's. 

Dalmatian lobster was served in every way possible at a hefty price to yacht-hopping partygoers; think served alongside a saffron sauce, cooked up in a salad or with a goats cheese gratin. We sat outdoors in a local restaurant, slightly tipsy from strong frozen cocktails at Hula Hula. I had tuna with a pea pesto and a gorgeous potato salad, my flatmate gorged on what she described as 'buttery', 'garlicky' sea bass and our Australian traveller tucked into freshly fried squid. This was all followed by a shot of free grappa! Croatia's Adriatic coastline is well known for it's rocky shores and stunning beaches but the quality of seafood should also shine; mussels and shrimp were on almost every menu, usually served in a simple garlic butter sauce or 'Dalmatian' style. Our last stop was Kings Landing aka Dubrovnik, here the city's dish was the 'black risotto' or the cuttlefish risotto mixed in ink, herbs and white wine. Nearer the Bosnian border, Turkish food became more influential with syrupy servings of Baklava and thick Turkish coffee.  At Dubravka, overlooking the Red Keep...I mean the fortress, we enjoyed more sweet Croatian wine with sea trout and almonds. 360 is the most prestigious restaurant in Dubrovnik with stunning views of the harbour. I was dying to go and sample the famed 'The Garden' dish; a curious mix of raw Adriatic langoustines, Istrian truffles, lemongrass biscuit and Szechuan button flowers aka the 'electric flower'. However, I ran out of cash and instead had an Italian feast at Wanda, run by a friendly local who treated me to free prosecco and complained about Angela Merkel stopping his Istrian cheese from getting into the city.

FUN FACT: Pag cheese recently won an award at the 'world cheese awards'. Pag is an island (one of thousands in Croatia y'know) off the coast. The cheese is made from the sheep who nibble at the sea salt-encrusted herbs and flowers on the island. Apparently this provides a very aromatic flavour according to Igor our Plitvice Lakes tour guide. The cheese is then wrapped in oil and left to age. Very popular this Pag cheese is.

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