Glorious Food?

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.

This daughter survived!
This daughter survived!

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.





Out of Obscurity

One of the things about living in the UK is that its relatively easy to map out what Winston Churchill described as A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, the Celts who populated these islands were joined by the cosmopolitan militia and auxiliaries of the Roman Empire, who were in turn pushed aside by migrating Angles and Saxons, interfered with by pillaging Vikings, and then subjugated by the French when Harold Godwinson saw off the Norwegian threat but not the Norman.

And that’s pretty much it until we began empire-building and found that people from our colonies arrived here to join our population, but throughout our racial intermingling one thing remained constant; Britain.  Being an island race our borders have remained largely unchanged other than when the Republic of Ireland achieved independence.  Yes the kingdoms that made up Britain have pulsated as battles were fought over demarcation lines between England and Scotland or Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex and the other Anglo-Saxon lands, but the inhabitants are nevertheless seen as British.

_PW_4653-EditContrast this with Croatia.  Their declaration of independence from Yugoslavia was a bloody one, but why were they so adamant that they were different?  Yugoslavia was a 20th Century construct, but one that the Croatians originally signed up to.  Why do they see themselves as different to the Serbs?  Or Bosnians?  My first introduction to the tribal nature of the region was Alistair MacLean’s Force 10 from Navarone; a fun read for a teenage boy but I doubt it can be considered reliable source material!

_PW_6509The divisions go back a long way.  Those who settled in this area in the period following the end of Roman influence had a choice of influences between Rome to the West and Byzantium to the East.  The Croats chose Rome and Catholicism, the Serbs chose the Orthodox Christian tradition.  Bosnia went its own way and chose an independent Bosnian church.  Religious divisions are nothing new.

_PW_6228Like the inhabitants of the UK, the Croats may well have their roots elsewhere, with some theories pointing to Iran, whilst historical records suggest a group of “Red Croats” living in Dalmatia (the Adriatic Coastline of what was Yugoslavia) with “White Croats” migrating in from lands further north between Czechia and Poland.  The red and white chequerboard on their coat of arms is coincidental in this respect, though a fitting symbol if the nations is built from the merging of these two groups.

Add in the impact of rule from the Venetian Republic, Austria-Hungary, Communists and Fascists and you can see why the politics of this beautiful coastal region has been so confused over the years._PW_5363

This then will be my first posting based on my experiences of a brief visit to the country and there’ll probably be about a dozen so I’ll put them up monthly.  They’ll be full of my usual ignorance, curiosity and prejudice and hopefully a decent picture or two.  They’ll also be coloured no doubt by centuries of changing identity.

Lopud, Elaphiti Islands, Croatia