I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to America’s deluge of food choices until we arrived in Split, Croatia. In Brooklyn, my corner bodega helped me concoct Korean, Mexican, and Japanese-inspired meals.
Our six weeks living and working in Split has almost exclusively involved eating Croatian food. We shop at the greenmarket, the butcher, the baker, and a small grocery store for the rest. Everything is local. Nearly everything is Balkan. And this makes sense. American cuisine is a glorious hodgepodge of cultures and ethnicities. Croatian cuisine is gloriously Croatian.
Neither is better than the other. I miss walking into my grocery store and picking between salsa flavors, stir fry sauces, varieties of coffee. I love diving deeply into Dalmatian cuisine (the seafood and Italian-inspired food along the Croatian coast) and Balkan cuisine (the multi-cultural food of Southeast Europe).
Our six weeks are wrapping up in Croatia. I’m becoming increasingly (pre-emptively?) nostalgic about the Balkan recipes, tastes and memories I’ve pocketed. Some favorites are below. I’m excited to pull from those recipes, tastes, memories in my own American kitchen.
My first seafood risotto at Bokeria Wine Bar, made with smoked cheese and squid. Bokeria was my first introduction to Dalmatian food, which alludes to the cuisine from the Croatian coast. It’s Italian-inspired and packed with fresh seafood from the Adriatic Sea and, well, what more is there to say?
Editor’s note: I should clarify. The risotto was Joe’s but I ate most of it.
Joe’s note: Yes, “most.” We switched plates two bites in.
Trying Bosnian food at Taj Mahal in Dubrovnik, which we promptly recreated at home. Croatian neighbor Bosnia is all about its grilled meats and vegetables. We ravaged a grilled rump steak rolled around eggplant, peppers, and sheep’s milk feta cheese. I tried — and failed — to successfully drink Turkish coffee. I Googled ‘Balkan recipes’ the entire four-hour bus ride home to Split.
The first time we truly, successfully, lounged over a meal the Croatian way. We’d just attended a football game (Split’s team lost). We spent the next four hours in a nearby pizzeria sipping a beer and sharing a simple pizza topped with Dalmatian prosciutto.
Remaining totally overwhelmed by Split’s fish market. The daily market is the source of seafood for the entire city’s restaurants, stores, and residents. It’s overflowing with whole fish and ‘shells,’ as the Croatians call them. I love the chaos and seeing the freshness of the city’s seafood was eye opening. I never did muster the courage to buy a nameless whole fish to take home for cleaning and deboning. A jar of local sardines packed in Croatian oil, I could handle.
I love that I’ll forever carry my small knowledge of Balkan and Dalmatian foods with me. I now refuse to live life without ajvar, a roasted eggplant and red pepper sauce, and will have to rely on this Serious Eats recipe to keep it in my kitchen. I’ll miss Bosnian kaymak — it’s like cream cheese and feta eloped. I will dutifully add baking soda to my breakfast sausage.
I love thinking: Building up my own hodgepodge American kitchen, influenced by all the places we ‘lived’ for a month. I’m already eyeing Bologna’s lasagna and ragu. Rome’s cacio e pepe. Paris’… everything.