In the last year I’ve delivered a lot of training on the subject of the forces that drive change and how organisations respond to those forces. One of the examples that seemed to emerge regularly from those discussions was the way in which the UK has become more of a “foodie” nation. We talked about what might have influenced that (TV chefs, foreign travel, availability of ingredients, immigration) and the way in which some businesses have thrived or changed as a result (Waitrose, Marks & Spencer).
Much of that has been as a result of Italian influence; the writing of Anna Del Conte, restaurateurs like Carluccio, Contaldo and Locatelli, and the passion for Italian food shown by TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. So might the Dalmation coast of Croatia, as a former territory of the Venetians, have a great food culture?
There are enough influences to suggest that there might be. Apart from the Italians, Turks and Hungarians have occupied these shores, though of course that doesn’t guarantee culinary success; our own Norman invasion and decades of links to Northern France didn’t seem to inspire a great tradition in England!
At this point I should caveat what is to follow; I’m in no position to genuinely critique the regional gastronomy. I spent only 10 days in the area (and yes I know it only took me half that time to be certain of the quality found in Bologna), and aside from a couple of ventures into Dubrovnik was confined to the island of Lopud where I stayed in a large and modern hotel complex, eating both there and in some of the small restaurants around the bay.
The hotel pizzeria was reliable and with a large group of us that included teenagers that was no bad thing, but it’s hardly revelatory. The other food in the hotel was often disappointingly adequate, with one exception. That served at the wedding banquet was tasty and showed some signs of an attempt at presentation, but it didn’t generate enough enthusiasm to rate a recommendation.
In Dubrovnik there are plenty of choices that aspire to style and flair, though I only ate at one, where I had a delicious lunch incorporating something akin to a tuna burger. As did one of my two daughters. We were both ill later, though to be fair that could be coincidence.
We also experienced some horrible pasta and salads back on Lopud. I’d read that the island was once predominantly used for herding sheep yet there were no delicious lamb dishes here because they’ve all gone. Why?
I suspect the answer to all of this disappointment goes back to the nation’s history of communist rule and war. The former would have discouraged the development of quality food, the latter would have rendered it financially difficult. I’ve experienced something similar before.
Fear not though. Dalmatia has a secret weapon. All that coastline guarantees one thing; the freshness of the fish and when simply grilled and served with local vegetables it can be truly delicious and generous in its servings. There’s something to be said for sticking to the knitting.
There’s another thing to be said for a place serving fresh fish. They often have a great sea view.