Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Things to do in October

A fall day on Sljeme

Fall is my absolutely hands-down favorite time of year in Croatia. The crisp air, the colorful leaves, the smell of chestnuts roasting on Ilica, a good warm bowl of grah . . . aah.  This could be because I’m from South Carolina where fall doesn’t really hit until sometime in November and then it’s winter (briefly), spring hits in early February and then summer arrives sometime around mid-March.
Whatever the reason October always has me wishing for a leisurely stroll through Gornji Grad, a Saturday on Sljeme or a weekend in Istria.  So here are my favorite picks for the month of October:

Anytime.  Coffee at Palinova.  Layer, bring a book, and hopefully get lucky and hear the classical piano drifting from the School of Ballet next door.
Anytime.  Drive up Sljeme for the changing-of-the-leaves and a bowl of grah.  If you’re in great shape, bike up instead.
Octbober 13 – 17.  Ambienta:  Home décor and design fans should check out the fair at Velesajam.  Lots of fun window shopping.
Octbober 15 – 17.  37th annual Lovran Marunada Chestnut Festival:   Don’t miss the chestnut cakes.
October 17 – 23.  Zagreb Film Festival.  Check out for more details on venues and tickets.
October 31st.  Halloween in the Park, Delnice.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hunting for Cheese

Cheese on a side street in Pag Town
One of the things I miss most when I'm away from Croatia is really good cheese.  If you ask locals to recommend a cheese, they will almost invariably suggest Paški sir.  Made on the island of Pag, it is the most famous Croatian cheese, made of sheep's milk rubbed with olive oil and ashes and aged from 6 to 12 months .  One local brand, Sirevi Gligora, was awarded the Superior Taste mark from the International Taste and Quality Institute in Belgium.  Sirevi Gligora has a tasting room in the factory open to tourists, but this is not my favorite way to find cheese.  I prefer stopping at roadside stands or exploring tiny "stores" in alleyways.  You'll find plenty of both on Pag.  But I have to admit that Paški sir is not my favorite cheese.

Now I am the first to admit that I am an amateur foodie and perhaps my tastes are due 1. to the fact that I have spent a really long time in Croatia and am tired of hearing about Paški sir and 2. I tend to root for underdogs.  My personal favorites?

First up is Istrian Truffle Cheese.  I should admit that I am definitely over the appeal of truffles, having spent so many weekends in Istria that I am no longer impressed by them, think they are often ill-used, and very expensive (in the sense that they're not always worth it).  However, Istrian Truffle Cheese is really a treat.  It's a semi-hard cow's milk cheese with truffles added and with some prosciutto, bread, and a glass of wine, it's really all I need for a meal.  I'd definitely suggest tasting some before buying, as I've had varying qualities and it's not a small purchase.

Roadside Cheese Stand

My very favorite cheese, škripavac, is produced in Lika, though it is also sold in the Gorski Kotar region.  This cheese is a full-fat soft cheese made from cow's milk.  It has a distinct flavor - a little bit smoky and a hint of nut flavor. It's quite salty, too, which is a quality I happen to like though I understand some people may not.  I'm not sure I know of any commercial producers of škripavac.  It is usually purchased at roadside stands or out of the trunks of cars at gas stations.

I've had the best luck at the gas station off the highway in the Gorski Kotar region.  During the tourist season you'll always find two or three vendors selling cheese and sometimes dried mushrooms from their trunk.  The best cheese I ever had was purchased there - a pity purchase of all things, because the vendor was a nice little old man standing outside his car on a damp blustery day in March.  In the end it was he who did us the favor.  Had I known how good the cheese was, I would have gotten his phone number and tracked him down again.

Though I still haven't found any cheese to rival this mystery man's, I still like this variety of cheese and find it perfect with crusty bread and fresh tomatoes.

We also purchased some cheese from roadside stands.  Any exit from the highway in Gorski Kotar or Lika should provide you with plenty of choices.  There are dozens on the way to Plitvice and you used to have a good selection in the Plitvice parking lot, though they've formalized this somewhat and the vendors who pay for the stands there are not as good as those on the roadside (at least in my opinion).  You can bargain with these roadside vendors though they won't always have samples.  If you'll be doing some serious cooking, purchasing some homegrown vegetables from them is a good idea as well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Torcida, mecca of Janjetina even if you prefer Dinamo

For a lot of my local Croatian friends, their favorite part of Moon Croatia and Slovenia (Moon Handbooks) is the piece I wrote on Janjetina (p. 191) – that’s lamb on a spit for anyone who hasn’t read it. The restaurant Torcida, in Donje Polje, made me a convert. The other week, when we were in Primosten which is nearby, I surprised my husband by suggesting we stop in for lunch.
I think after knowing me for eighteen years, he can’t quite accept the fact I actually LIKE janjetina now.

Anyway, we were grateful to Google Maps for getting us there way quicker than the roundabout route we usually take. I was worried it was closed because on all the previous occasions I’ve been there on a summer weekend, we had a bit of a time parking. But the recession has definitely hit, or else we entered some parallel universe because the restaurant was empty the first 30 minutes we were there.

The food was still wonderful in the way the best Croatian food is – simple but high-quality and well-prepared. However, there was a key piece missing – the crazy painting of the Mona Lisa smoking which I have always thought was quite apropos for a janjetina restaurant. Back home, a good Southern barbecue restaurant is nothing without a nod to our self-deprecating humor. My favorite – Country Cousins, now defunct, had a large picture of two decked-out pigs kissing.

Anyway, we were very disappointed to say the least. Tomo (my husband) mentioned it to the waiters and sweet guys they were, unpacked it from a storage closet so we could have a picture with it. So here it is, in case anyone doesn’t believe me, proof this crazy picture exists. Personally, I think Torcida should put it back or at least find something equally humorous. What about you?