Dalmatian Gastronomy – Food Stories

By Anita Palada, Croatian Travel Journal – https://croatiantraveljournal.com

Dalmatian cuisine! Any foodie ever been to this part of Croatia will think of black risotto; lobsters and shrimps on a buzara; grilled toothfish, gnats, and squid; grilled octopus; grouper and eel brudet; pašticada with gnocchi and roasted lamb. Rožada, rafioli, kroštula and carob cake. Homemade red wine, prosecco and brandy.

It is a whole range of Dalmatian dishes and delicacies, and when aromatic spices; laurel, rosemary and sage are added, the wealth of flavours are endless. If you’re fortunate enough to visit Split in the summertime, you can try all these delicacies, but if you want a true Dalmatian gastronomic experience, visit Split in October for the eno-gastro event Štorije o’ Spize: Food Stories.

Štorija o’ Spize tells the Story of Dalmatian food

Last October, the 1st Gastronomy Month, called Štorije o’ Spize, took place in the historic squares of Split. Food Stories came to life, culinary memories were evoked, kitchens and taverns were reminded about traditional methods, and recipes almost forgotten were glimpsed.

Locals and visitors alike enjoyed the most beautiful city on the Mediterranean. Not only in the natural benefits of the sea and the sun but also in the abundance of Dalmatian flavours and aromas transfused into fine Dalmatian dishes and rare autochthonous wines. The event was sweetened with homemade products and traditional cakes. Different liqueurs were mixed to create imaginative cocktails. Abundant food was prepared in famous restaurants. Tasting, singing, and entertaining took place in iconic Prokurative square and Peškarija market in the city.

Split chefs do not give up on tradition

The Štorija o’ Spize event gave visitors a multitude of gastronomic experiences. The chefs of about 20 restaurants in Split worked hard, carefully choosing ingredients, cooking, garnishing, and flambéing so that the guests could taste as much deliciousness as possible. The flavours were reminiscent of a long time ago, they provoked the palate, and with that the enthusiasm of the guests.

“I was lucky to watch my mother and grandmother cook. Those old tastes remained deeply imprinted in my memory. I’m trying to bring them back, especially when I prepare to cook holiday traditional dishes,” said Hrvoje Zirojević, a famous chef from Split.

Wine Stories

Štorie o’ Spize was also completed with the Štorie o’ Vina event, dedicated to telling the Dalmatian Wine Stories. At Peškarija market in Split, rare Dalmatian wines from the Kaštela, Omiš, and Vrgorac vineyards were served, and demonstrated a lot of Dalmatian spirit and excitement on the oenological area as well.

Wine producers from Kaštela were proud of their wines made from rare autochthonous varieties, kaštelanska babica and kaštelanski crljenak which carry the same genetic code as American zinfandel and Italian primitivo.

The deep, red wine of Kaštelan crljenak goes well with the kaštelanska pašticada dish, and is also the main ingredient for its good sauce. “Babica is light to medium-bodied and is enjoyed with red meat dishes,” explained Anita Kuzmanić, a faithful guardian of the centuries-old Kaštela wine tradition, during the Štorija o’ Vina event in Peškarija market.

Powerful wines from the slopes of Kozjak and Omiška mountains

In addition to the mentioned Kaštelan wines, Ivan Kovač from Kaštel Sućurac singled out his cuvee red wine, made from eight autochthonous Kaštelan varieties. “Kaštela is a wine-growing region with the most autochthonous varieties, therefore rich in wines with special aromas and flavours,” Kovač said proudly.

However, other areas on the Dalmatian coast and hinterland do not lack special varieties either. Above Omiš, on the south and north sides of Omiška mountains, vineyards are planted with autochthonous grape varieties such as okatac, ninčuša and muškat ruža omiška. It grows on the slopes that the Mimica family has been picking grapes for centuries and processing them into the finest Dalmatian wines.

“In our vineyards, the most prized wine is pribidrag; in the rest of the world known as Zinfandel. It is a wine of exceptional elegance and delicious quality, with an intense ruby red colour and a wide, complex bouquet of fruitiness with aromas of prunes and berry jam, with notes of dark chocolate, coffee and vanilla,” Petra Mimica, main oenologist in the family Mimica winery, presented the wine.

Fish caught in vineyards

At the Štorie o’ Vina event, not only the rich taste and smell of local products and rare Dalmatian wines were presented, but also those back stories that few people think about when tasting or buying. Anyone tasting wines at Peškarija market in Split, would also learn something about the localities where they were produced. This was very vividly described to visitors by Dario Gašpar, creator of an untamed, yet decent and refined wine from Vrgorac: “Our vineyards are mostly located in the field called Jezero, the most fertile part of the Vrgorac region. In winter, the vineyards are completely under water, and it is a world curiosity that boats sail on them and fishermen catch fish with nets, during that season.”

The Vrgorac vineyards are mostly planted with local grape varieties, like plavka, trnka, medna and zlatica vrgorska.

“Red wine made from plavka is light and goes well with a wide range of dishes, best with game and bluefish. Trnak is a demanding red wine, with a powerful taste, and it goes best with game and steaks. It is completely different from other wines: full of power and savagery, yet elegant and subtle,” Gašpar presented his wines.

Dalmatian gastro delicacies

Good wine should always accompany a portion of delicious food. Dalmatinski pršut from Vrgorac is a real delicacy that was widely praised at the tasting at Peškarija market and also a sought-after delicacy for the holiday tables in Split. Pršut was accompanied with olive oil made from a 1.700-year-old olive tree from Kaštela and extra virgin oil from Marina. “We grow our olives with love. Our oil is of top quality, mild bitterness, moderate spiciness, full and very pleasant taste,” Jakša Najev enticed the audience with the smell of the original olive oil made in the Marina Agricultural Cooperative.

Whenever you come, welcome!

There was no shortage of good vibes during the Gastronomy month, and they spilled over even to the Christmas holidays. The good atmosphere, born out of love to local food and wine, was felt around the city for months. Dalmatian cuisine once again smelled and shone in its full glory. The locals evoke memories, and numerous guests enjoyed discovering the heritage of the “craziest city in the world”.

“Guests come to us because they want to get to know our culture, see how we live, and taste what we eat and drink. Given that we are a city with a rich gastronomic heritage, it is natural that we started with such a rich gastronomic event before the holidays,” Alijana Vukšić, director of the Tourist Board of the city of Split concluded.

She invited guests from all over Europe and the world to visit Split and its creative events at any time of the year to enjoy the dishes and wines of this region: “In addition to natural attractions and events, our guests can enjoy a festival of original Dalmatian dishes, traditional delicacies, and quality and rare autochthonous wines throughout the year.”

Grandma in the kitchen, grandfather in the tavern

On a personal level, my love of our local gastronomy is deeply rooted in family gatherings and traditions during holidays, like Christmas and Easter. I still remember my mother and grandmother standing at the kitchen table preparing dishes for our holiday lunch, while my grandfather takes a bottle and goes to the tavern to pour wine from a wooden barrel.

Those were the days when every Dalmatian kitchen and house exuded family warmth and the scents of Dalmatia. Especially when pašticada with gnocchi was being prepared. It was not cooked as often as other daily dishes because it required a lot of time to prepare, but during the holidays, it was an indispensable part of our family table.

The queen of Dalmatian dishes

My mother and grandmother did their best to make pašticada and gnocchi as delicious as possible. The day before, grandma marinated the meat and left it to stand in a marinade made from homemade wine and yeast. The next day, she carefully stewed the onion in a large pot and added meat, finely chopped vegetables and prunes. She used only local wine and prosecco, and flavoured it with Dalmatian spices, like laurel and rosemary.

At the other end of the large family table, my mother was kneading the dough for gnocchi. She mashed boiled potatoes, added eggs, salt, fat and flour to them. Skilfully she kneaded, making long, rolling strips. Cutting the gnocchi and rolling them one by one over the ribs ensured that they would be as juicy and tasty as possible when combined with grandma’s sauce.

A linen tablecloth was spread on the table, embroidered on the edges with my grandmother’s initials so that her family and origin would be known even in the married house. A food service made of the finest porcelain was taken out of the polished display cases, used only on special occasions.

Fragrances and warmth would flood the entire house, creating a special magic and holiday atmosphere. It wasn’t just homes that smelled, but entire streets as well. The women in the neighbourhood would compete over whose pašticada would smell better. It wasn’t for them only a dish, but also an expression of love for their families. At the same time, they were proud of the tradition they inherited from their family, firmly committed to continue to pass it on to the next generation.

And we still do.

About Anita Palada

Anita Palada is a journalist from Croatia,  specialized in travel and tourism. She writes the most about her country Croatia, especially about different picturesque places along the Adriatic coast, like Plitvice lakes. But not only from Croatia!

She also travels, explores, and talks with people worldwide to convey exciting stories about interesting destinations, heritage hotels, good restaurants, traditional food, and tasty wines, like this article about Croatian Wine. Read more on https://croatiantraveljournal.com

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