Welcome to Croatia, the heart of the Mediterranean
There are many ways to begin the story of food in Croatia, and they multiply with each region you decide to visit or talk about. This is the story from our great friend, food lover Maja Mackovic, woman chef at Golden Shell Slow food restaurant in Hvar.
I was born and raised on the island of Hvar, blissfully unaware and unburdened with it’s worldwide reputation and significance. I spent my childhood running around dad’s kitchen, and I can’t count all those moments when I stood patiently, with my elbows leaned on the counter, observing and mimicking his moves. Whether he ran the knife down a tuna’s spine, or made vegetable chunks dance around in his hands – it all looked so enchanting and godlike. It was then that the love of cooking was imprinted deep inside my very core.
A couple of decades later, I not only still have the opportunity to watch my dad in awe, I now run his kitchen and often catch reciprocal glimpses of his awe towards my moves with the knives and ingredients. After years of traveling, participating in culinary competitions as a competitor, mentor and culinary judge, tasting and learning about foreign cuisines, studying nutritionism in parallel, I’ve learned that what I have at home is the richest and most healthy cuisine on the planet – the essence of the Mediterranean. Fish, seafood, light meats, fresh veggies and what my dad calls „the holy trinity“: olive oil, sea salt and aromatic herbs: this is the base of Dalmatian, Mediterranean cuisine with which you can create all kinds of spectacularly tasteful dishes and snacks.
Moving up the map, a bit further into the mainland, most of the Mediterranean base remains, it only gets enriched with more „village goodies“ such as smoked ham, various sausages and slightly heavier meals with thicker sauces (to get you through a day of hard work in the field).
Croatia is special in many ways due to its climate and geografical position. Throughout history, we have often been „enslaved“ by various countries (Venice, Turkey, Hungary, Austria). While at the time this probably wasn’t pleasant, it ultimately resulted in a combination of cuisines that nowadays will blow your mind. All those cuisines intertwined with the Croatian, anchored deep within the core of the Mediterranean, have resulted in the enchanting and spectacular pallete of flavors you can taste today.
Back in 2013., the cuisines of Hvar and Brac were recognized as part of UNESCO‘s intangible heritage Mediterranean diet, along with 6 other countries, placing Croatia high on the list of significant and healthy gastronomic destinations.
„The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity.“
Whether you’re just passing through Croatia, visiting for a couple of days, or choose it as your full vacation destination, I urge you to treat yourself to the experience of traditional cuisine and our charming hospitality. In every corner of this country, you can find people who have dedicated their life to preserving traditional heritage; by growing plants and gathering goods, by manipulating and transforming goods into healthy meals, and by maintaining social connection through sharing a meal – even with a perfect stranger.
At the end of this encounter, you will go back home not only richer in experience, but will also take along some home made products, full of healthy flavours and rich with history. And if lucky, you’ll get your host to pass on some local, traditional recipes.