Tourism is a many-headed beast these days: cycling holidays, adventure holidays, Robinson Crusoe-style holidays, and even dental treatment holidays are becoming the norm and gourmet or foodie holidays and holiday tours are increasingly popular with those visiting Croatia.
In the past I’ve been puzzled and occasionally embarrassed by the self-boasting attitude of my compatriots stating that Croatia has the best coast, the greatest food and the most beautiful women and to hell with those who say otherwise. The food in particular seemed to me too simple to qualify as great. My head was turned by exotic spices, curries and tagines and the familiar cooking of my childhood just didn’t cut it as far as I was concerned. So, when I finally came to grips with what makes food great, I had to concede that the cuisine of my home country most certainly qualifies. Put simply, if your ingredients are great, the food will be also.
Unlike some countries where the effects of globalised market took its toll, Croatia is still abundant in organically grown fruits and vegetables, outdoor reared meat and fresh fish and seafood. Although the supermarkets are changing our eating habits by stocking imported fruits and veggies, the law of the seasons is still observed by most. This means an abundance of glorious, vibrant spring greens and herbs, radishes and lettuces in March, truckfuls of sweetest locally-grown berries on every street corner come May and the seemingly unending bounty of plumpest, juiciest tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and salad greens and lettuces of all kinds throughout the summer. The autumn brings pumpkins, chestnuts and nuts of all kinds to the market stalls, along with plums, apples, pears and grapes before the winter’s citrus reign, when the markets are laden with mountains of unwaxed lemons, oranges and clementines from the fertile orchard fields of Neretva valley. Into the bargain, most markets have fresh and cured meat sections and fishmongers selling the morning’s catch, as well as an extensive milk, eggs and cheese section where all kinds of homemade cheeses can be bought and sampled.
It is true to say that Croatian markets, such as Zagreb’s Dolac or Split’s Pazar have become attractions in their own right. Infinitely photogenic, they greet tourists with their authentic charm and gents and ladies selling their home-grown wares smile bashfully at the cameras, somewhat baffled at this sudden interest in what they’ve been doing for centuries.
While many people will venture to the local market and most will buy their five-a-day there and then, it is likely that as a visitor you will eat out rather than cook, so it is worth finding out restaurants who source their ingredients at the local markets, such as Lanterna restaurant on Zagreb’s Dolac. Wherever you decide to take your custom, keep in mind what’s in season when ordering and you’ll be guaranteed that it’s Croatian grown and super tasty. Should you venture out of the cities, don’t miss visiting family-owned eco farms (Istria is the leading region in this form of hospitality), where all the produce is grown and reared at the farm before reaching your table.
And if this spread of random thoughts on Croatian foodstuff’s tickled your taste buds, keep your eyes peeled for a close up on Croatian cuisine and the best and most authentic dishes and places to enjoy them.
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