Saturday, 1 September 2012

A taste of Croatian waters

My husband had disappeared from our village apartment. He’d only gone to check the washing. Minutes turned into hours and I went in search of him.
I peeped into the courtyard out the back. The square was empty in the fierce afternoon heat. The tiny pekara, the bakery was deserted too, as was the café next to it. I wandered downstairs to the basement corridor where the washing machine was. Not there either. I descended the last steps to the seafront. In front of me, the Mali Ston Bay stretched out to the Pelješac Peninsula, where grey-green olive trees and pines covered the hillside. I scanned the seafront promenade and the shore: He was nowhere to be seen.
Back inside, I returned to the washing machine. Iva the landlord’s daughter appeared.
“Looking for your husband? He is here.”
I frowned, puzzled. The corridor was empty.
She pushed back a door I hadn’t noticed before. “Come in, come in,” a voice sang out from behind the door. It was Mile, our landlord.
I peered through the gloom and there was Tom in the corner of a storeroom grinning sheepishly, a glass of rakija in his hand.
I took in the arched brick wall lined with dusty bottles and a long bench covered in food amongst an array of strange, unidentifiable Croatian objects.
 “Welcome to my place,” Mile said. “My wife, she own the kitchen. Here … all this belong to me. We men must have our place.”
I laughed. “In Britain, men have their garden sheds to escape to.”
“And here,” Mile said, “we men have our basement.”
“Come, come, have a glass of rakija.” He poured a generous glass of his homemade spirit from a large demijohn.
“You must eat some Pršut.” Only then did I notice the pork leg, trotter protruding in the air, jammed in a polished, wooden drying rack.
“I prepare this two years,” Mile told me.
Pršut, (jambon to the Spanish) is cured with Adriatic saltwater; then squeezed on a rack until all the brine is removed. The ham is smoked and left outside to dry in the fierce Bora winds over winter. It is then hung up in dark attics, outbuildings or basements all over Dalmatia to mature.
I took a bite and tasted the winds and seas of the Adriatic Sea, the fustiness of the basement, and the years of loving attention.  Mile handed me some crusty bread and cut a slice of cheese.
Paski Sir, the best cheese in the world,” he said. “It is from the island of Pag. Eat some.”
The Pag Bora wind dries the millions of tiny seawater droplets that blow in off the sea and scatters the salt dust across the sage-covered island; a flavoursome diet for the island sheep.
 I tasted the salty aromatic sheep’s cheese and knocked back another slug of belly-burning Rakiya. British men could keep their garden sheds, I wanted a Croatian basement.

Delighted to have won the Just Back Telegraph competition with this piece.
Komarna is a small modern village, mainly catering for the tourist industry. It is a good centre for visiting some of Croatia's beautiful islands: Hvar, Mljet, and Korcula, for example, and the Peljesac Peninsula. Dubrovnik can also be visited on a day trip, as can Mostar in Bosnia. The apartment we stayed in was right by the sea. It was wonderful to sit on the balcany and watch the world go by - or watch the sun set. Check it out here:
The Brljevic family, who own the apartment where we were staying, were incredibly hospitable. Apart from the wonderful basement experience, Jasminka made me a delicious orange and nut cake for my birthday (and gave me a box of chocolate). On arrival the fridge was filled with food: milk, beer, orange juice, rolls and a platter of food (cured ham and cheese) as well as fruit.
This is a family who love good food. Vera, their daughter, and partner Frank live in Istria and write a great blog about Istria and food. The blog includes mouth-watering recipes. Check it out here:

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