Why do you travel?
What is it about new places…different cultures…other languages…?
For me, the answers are varied. I love the thousand nooks and crannies of nature across the world. I’m grateful for the constant widening of my world view and social circle. And then there’s the food…
There’s something about exploring the food of another culture up close and personal. Something about eating fondue with local herbs in the cool air of the high Alps or throwing back beers in a lushly green Austrian beer garden or, in this case, sucking an oyster—pulled from the sea that morning—and a splash of lemon straight from the shell.
In southern Croatia, oysters are a common sight, as are tuna and squid. In the north, you’ll find earthy truffles infused into olive oil or folded seamlessly into food. Croatia’s cuisine hasn’t really made it onto most people’s culinary radars—and not every meal is a wow. But if you know where to find the best of the best, there are special gems to be found throughout this pretty Adriatic country.
My personal favourites are…
1. Dining at Bugenvila in Cavtat
Just south of more popular Dubrovnik, the tiny coastal resort town of Cavtat packs a big culinary punch. Restaurant Bugenvila sits just across the waterfront road with patio views of the deep blue Adriatic.
The patio is decorated with light-colored wooden tables, bright in the sunshine, and hanging vines and flowers overhead. The views are peaceful, the town still vibrant, but much quieter than its popular walled neighbour, but, of course, the real attraction is the menu.
Mixing classic French cooking techniques with local Croatian ingredients and twists, every course in this little seaside restaurant was a delightful surprise—both bursting with flavours familiar and not so familiar and presented beautifully on the plate.
Start with the chicken liver pate served with tangerine jelly, which is served whimsically, the pate formed into a peach-shaped ball and encircled by the orange jelly, masquerading as a piece of a fruit. Then try the Tri Tip Beef Steak, cooked a soft medium rare, served with a light, airy truffle foam and potatoes that melt in your mouth. For dessert, a variety of fresh, tart sorbets await.
2. Dubrovnik Food Tours
In the heart of well-loved Dubrovnik—led by a guide who has lived his whole life within the old city walls, experiencing the joys of seaside living and the dark, difficult sieges of war—Dubrovnik Food Tours wind their way through the ancient city to some of the best food experiences the town has to offer. The stops vary based on guest needs (with vegetarian options for vegetarian groups, for instance), but all are hand-picked by the guide.
Our stops included a non-descript eaterie serving mounds of fresh, straight-from-the-sea-to-your-plate tuna tartare, multiple glasses of local wines—tart, light reds and citrusy whites—wooden boards of tangy local cheeses and thinly sliced cured meats and a spontaneous stop in the main square for fresh oysters doused in lemon and sucked straight from their shells. The flavour wasn’t for everyone in the group, but the experience was priceless even for those who politely declined to eat oysters again.
3. Istrian truffles
In Croatia, the southern coast gets most of the tourist love. But the north is where you’ll find the truffles.
These underground mushrooms live in the roots of certain trees and are often rooted out by specially trained pigs. They’re surrounded by myth—with modern gourmets often believing they have aphrodisiacal powers and ancient people revering them for a mythical ability to heal infertility.
Whatever their powers, they are, without a doubt, delicious, with a distinctly earthy flavor that lingers on your tongue and adds something special to oils, pastas, cheeses and even cured meats.
For a true Istrian truffle experience, look for restaurants with the government-approved Tartufo Vero label, awarded to restaurants that hit the highest standards for preparation.
For truffles to take home with you, seek out truffle oil—an olive oil infused with Istrian truffles. The oil is a big hit simply with a little salt and bread for dipping, tossed with pasta and a little pepper or cheese, or—my personal favourite—as a substitute for butter on a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.
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