I have just returned from Korčula, Croatia for what has turned out to be our best family holiday. That combination of familiarity, independence and relaxation meant this was our best experience yet of our favourite beach-side spot. The boys were old enough this time to swim by themselves and explore the rocks and we even managed an island-hopping boat tour kindly arranged by my dad. The food was, as ever, amazing. Loads of grilled meat and our favourite little ćevapčićis appearing at most meal times. We celebrated dad’s birthday with lobster buzara and AT’s birthday with another visit to the farm. We tried more cakes from the bakery in Blato and I came to finally understand the appeal of kiki riki chips, which are peanut-flavoured corn puffs (very popular in Europe).
The most memorable foodie experience of the entire trip though, was our island lunch with Captain Tomislav. Setting off at 7.30am we drove to a little dock in Grscica and hopped onto a little boat; which was a little too ‘little’ for my liking. But we are a family of adventurers so we all piled in. After some coffee and biscuits, we stopped about half way at a place where you swim through a hidden channel (in photo below) in a rocky island and end up at a miniature pebble beach inside a cave where a tree grows across the opening. Legend has it that a sea creature of some sort (probably a sea lion) kept destroying the local fisherman’s nets and it was in this little alcove that this creature was discovered and hastily taken out of action.
We then took a scenic route along the coast of Korcula, past Karbuni and over to the island of Pržnjak where Captain Tomislav nabbed the best spot on the island for our lazy lunch. It began with a couple of platters of proscuito ham and cheese and home-grown and pickled capers, tomato and pepper all tossed in olive oil and vinegar. This was served up with home-made pogača which is most easily described as fried bread. This was breakfast. We sat under the shade of a few trees and enjoyed our snack before setting off to explore the rocky shoreline and swim. I asked dad if he could find some urchins for us to try, so knife in hand he dove around the shore and collected a handful of urchins, the sweet and delicate flavour and fine texture. It reminded me very much of caviar. If you could eat the very sea itself, this is what it would taste like.
After lolling about in the half-shade we waited in anticipation for the feast that Captain Tomislav was cooking on board. After a few trips back and forth, a large pot balancing precariously on the bow of the bobbing boat, the captain bought forth a seafood feast. I could call it fish stew but it doesn’t really sound as wonderful as this dish looks and tastes. Dad said it’s called popara, which is different and much lighter than the popular Croatian dish called brodet. It’s made with basic ingredients but perhaps the home-grown flavours and freshly caught rock cod, crab and prawns meant that it took on such extraordinary deliciousness. Sweet and subtle seafood flavours mingled with the delicate soup of white wine, tomatoes, onion, garlic and celery; an unforgetable experience.
As the wind picked up and our lunch went down, we found a shady spot to read and rest. My dad told me how his grandmother used to make little beds for him out of dried pine needles, like the ones that were strewn across the rocks, to sleep on while she worked on the farm. We waited for a lull in the typical afternoon wind to set off for home. With our feet dangling in the water off the back of the boat and one more round of herb-infused rakija that the captain insisted was traditional, I marvelled at the vivid colours of the coast. The stark grey rocky islands sandwiched between the deep blue of the Adriatic and the light but saturated blue and cloudless sky. These islands and lands are the stuff of legend, with a rugged beauty that for me beats anything that humans have made. The Dalmatian coast is home to over a thousand islands, and who knows how many secret places and rocky crevices that conjure up thoughts of heros, beasts and marauders, fishermen and mermaids. I swam through a treacherous rocky channel to see one of these secrets, and I look forward to seeing many more, but maybe next time the boat will be a little bigger.