I went to Dubrovnik in early August, peak tourist season. On the last day of our visit, our taxi driver told us that the city was expecting seven cruise ships that day alone. Such a huge, steady influx of tourists does not usually lend itself to unique local cuisine. I was expecting endless menus featuring pictures of the food, which, unless you are actually at a chain American diner off the Interstate, should encourage you to run in the opposite direction. My dad, however, was more optimistic, hoping that Croatia had “learned something from their Italian neighbours.” There are indeed a lot of pizza joints dotted in and amongst the medieval alleys in Dubrovnik’s city centre, but that’s about all the Italian influence I saw, which turned out to be a good thing. Though there is a time for stuffing yourself with rich meat and pasta dishes (hello Scottish winter), it is not during a breezy beach vacation. Dubrovnik allowed me to sample a wide variety of freshly prepared seafood, some of which I had never heard of before. And when I was feeling like this was just too healthy, I discovered the best donut I have ever had. All this washed down with some, um, colourful Croatian wine made me a perfectly happy peak season foodie.
You can find these on the menu at any restaurant, but they are best by the harbour at the Eastern end of the city walls. They don’t feature lobster or oysters as lavish northern European ones do. Instead expect a delectable mountain of swordfish, baby octopus, langoustine, mackerel and mussels, all cooked together in garlicky olive oil. Bread comes with every meal, so don’t worry about sopping up the best part: the broth left at the bottom of the cast-iron pot.
Small Fried Fish.
This is what the dish is called on the menu at restaurants, or on the wall of a tiny fast food joint down a medieval alley off the main street. After much googling I have discovered that the real name of this fish is girice, but I’m not really interested. What I am interested in is tucking into a bucket of these tiny fish, fried without batter and served simply with lemony aioli as a street snack or with half a lemon as a dinner dish. Eat them whole and with a local beer.
This scampi comes with langoustine, not shrimp. A platter of six of these tasty critters comes with a general pool of bright, lemony tomato sauce and a finger bowl to wash your hands after you peel them (if you can resist licking your fingers clean). As always, there is fresh bread on the table to make sure you don’t miss a bite of that peak-season sauce.
Fried Mini Donuts.
Have you ever had a freshly fried donut? If not, I will buy you a ticket to Dubrovnik. They come from a stand on the street, where a disgruntled teenager uses a machine imported from Minneapolis to make you a batch of twelve miniature donuts. Watching the machine measure out the donuts, smelling them as they rise and turn golden in the bubbling oil and drooling as the first dusting of cinnamon hits the finished product all contribute to the experience of the street snack. Imagine biting into a lightly sweetened cloud, except deep-fried.
Or beer, if you prefer it, but Croatia is very proud of its wine. I am no oenophile, but I do know that there’s not much point in paying extra for a bottle from across the Adriatic when you can enjoy a decent pitcher or three of Croatian wine for the same price. Some were good, some were definitely not, and one or two were surprisingly tasty. Then again, eating in Dubrovnik is not necessarily about the highest quality drink or the meticulously presented plate. It is a delicious, unfussy cuisine that somehow illuminates your surroundings: rocky beaches, sapphire-blue skies and dusty medieval architecture.