This is the fifth time in six years that we’ve been to Croatia for the summer holidays. But before you decide that I’m unimaginative, you have to realise that it’s not just a random beach on some random island that draws our family back year after year. As a child, my dad used to go swimming at the same beach where we now swim. He would jump off the highest point on the pier, even once riding his bicycle into the ocean. This year seemed to cement our sense of belonging in the sea-side village; we’ve witnessed local kids turn into teenagers, enjoyed the novelty of the new cafe that opened up along the beachside and I finally got to see inside the little room where my great grandmother used to cook (called a komin).
My kids even featured in the local annual Prigradica Night, doing some magic tricks after a puppet show performed for and by the local children. We’re even getting better at staying up late to enjoy the local festivities which usually start around 10pm – with the exception of a very early morning when we got up at 6am to see the men of the Blato Kompanjia (a traditional battle folk dance) in full kit, board the ferry to Split. They were then going to walk 85km to the town of Knin to take part in a special parade commemorating the day Croatia achieved independence – 20 years ago.
This year we kept a fairly low profile – no mad-cap trips to Sarajevo for cevapi this year – as we only had nine precious nights to let the mystical terrain of the Dalmatian coast work its magic. There was a lot of sun-baking, eating, drinking, sleeping and reading. The highlight was another sea voyage with Captain Tomislav, and this time the boat was bigger and we ventured further to the island of Lastovo and the tiny island of Saplun. Jumping off the boat into the deep and sparkling, aquamarine water of the Adriatic will probably go down as one of my finest memories to date.
The food? I tried wild mussels for the first time in my life at a restaurant called Cerin in the village of Prizba. I also ate way too many salted fish (‘slani’) that Captain Tomislav served up with home-pickled capers, onions, olive oil and vinegar. The cevapi as ever was amazing, the pork and meat products were also impossibly tasty. In counterpoint to our meat-overload, we ordered a dish called raštan, listed on the menu at our local cafe as ‘Dalmatian cabbage’ or kupus. It’s basically like the Croatian equivalent of collard greens and it’s served mashed up with potato that’s been boiled into oblivion and I’m sure there’s garlic somewhere in there too. It’s incredible.
The culinary highlight was by far, getting to eat freshly-fried pršurate at the Prigradica Night festivities. We almost didn’t venture out into the balmy night, well past our bedtime to check out the village’s annual summer event. In amongst the hustle and bustle I saw a thickening of people, denser than the rest of the festive crowd. Behind the foodie mosh-pit I discovered a stall where two ladies were making hundreds of the little fried and sugared balls. Watching their experienced hands work the dough was a rare delight and I tucked into a serve of my favourite Croatian sweets with relish. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.