When it comes to choosing travel destinations for the year ahead, I’m at a loss. I want to go everywhere. Where to begin? How to decide? Should I pick a paper at random, throw darts on a world map? Invited recently to an “Enjoy a taste of Croatia” dinner, I found out “Love at first bite” is the best way to do it. Nothing tells you more about a culture than its cuisine… There is no need for words. Nor elegance or Michelin star, really. It’s all in the smile, the generosity, the creativity. It has to come from the heart. And it did.
Chef Adam Rawson (remember him? Named Chef of the year at the YBF 2015? Was the head chef at Pachamama?), having travelled the country from Istria to Dalmatia, took up the challenge and designed an 8 course culinary journey, paired with local wines. And oh, my, did he wow us all…
How to even explain Croatian cuisine? Let’s say it’s a wonderful mix of influences… Hungarian, Turkish (and therefore lard, paprika, garlic) but also Mediterranean – Greek and Italian (pasta, risotto, fragrant herbs). No wonder: Dalmatia remained under the control of the Republic of Venice for 400 years. Then there’s the coast – famous for its seafood and olive oil (10% of the world’s best olive oil comes from there, I’m told). And truffle. Wonderful white truffle.
So the evening started, enchanted by a sparkling Kabola wine. Followed canapés: thick, moist toasted bread topped with salted cod/lettuce/celery for one, lardo/garlic/parsnip and grated truffle for the other. We sat down – a feast was coming. Long grains of black rice, seabass cevice, puffed rice mixed with lavender, nasturtium leaves… Simple but perfect scrambled eggs with chives, sliced asparagus to add a little crunch and as much grated truffle as you could dream… Fuzi (a bow shaped kind of pasta served with a slow-cooked, wonderfully rich egg yolk, a silky porcini sauce and crowned with Motovun truffle shavings… A black risotto (think squid ink) topped with cress and parsley oil – the green contrasting beautifully with the dark… a hearty pasticada (a melt in the mouth beef stew) with njoki (a Croatian take on gnocchi), a hint of rosemary oil… I sincerely cannot tell you which was my favourite. Each new association of flavours seemed to erase the last and the truffle, well the truffle make is effortless magical.
Dessert was quite a treat too: a dark chocolate and olive cake, sprayed with edible gold, decorated with nasturtiums – pure decadence… But there was more – fritule or fried dough balls, very doughnut like with goats curd and caramel sauce. The way the three textures interact… Unforgettable.
There should have been a jet waiting outside, ready to take us to Croatia. We would all have signed up for it. It left us wanting to wander from cafés to restaurants, little restaurants on the coast to bigger cities, exploring markets on a sunny morning… They succeeded, in a couple of hours and only 8 dishes to get us hooked on Croatia. Without us having been there.
And this, my friends, is a new adventure I can’t wait to go on.