FISH AND FISH SPECIALITIES OF DALMATIA

Author: Boris Marelic, a fishing enthusiast and the owner of Korcula Villa Sole and House Pomenic Apartments on the Island of Korcula.

Croatia354Dalmatia with its large islands of Brac, Hvar and Mljet and hundreds of smaller islands is a unique area for a variety of fishes, fishing and maritime culinary culture.

A famous Croatian Renaissance poet Petar Hektorovi? has written in a typical renaissance manner “Fishing and Fishermen’s Conversations“, one of the most original and realistic works of the sixteenth-century Croatian literature. It is an account of a three-day fishing trip with detailed descriptions of fisherman’s tools, what they have eaten and how they prepared the fish.

His love for fishes extends to his fortified country house in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, where he has built a large fish pond. This is now a wonderful small museum quite unique in the Mediterranean.

There is a long culinary tradition of preparing fish and seafood in Dalmatia. From the Antiquity in the times of Greek and Roman inhabitants, it has continued through the Byzantine reign and the arrival of Croatians in the seventh century, particularly in towns of Dubrovnik , Korcula, Split , Hvar, Trogir and Šibenik. The famous oysters from Mali Ston that we can enjoy today, have a long tradition. They have been a delicacy on the tables of many feasts throughout the Roman Empire. Romans started farming oysters in Mali Ston after the conquest of Illyrian tribes under Emperor Augustus.

Croatia243Fish dishes have a significant place in the Dalmatian cuisine also owing to the rich and varied Mediterranean, Spanish and Italian influences. We can even find dishes with some Turkish flavour because part of the Dalmatian hinterland was nearly four hundred years under Turkish rule. After the occupation of Dalmatia by Marshall Marmont and Austria in 1815, throughout the nineteenth century, there was a significant input from a French and Austrian cuisine.

Croatia254IgliceAdriatic can boast more than four hundred different species of fish, but with a limited quantity of each kind. There is a difference from the situation in the North Sea where there is an abundance of the same species, but also we can not find where the “King of the Adriatic”, a very fine fish “zubatac”- dentex. On the other hand, a very popular Dalmatian dish “bakalar” is prepared with cod, which can not be found in the Adriatic. Merchants from Trieste and Venice started importing Bakalar (dry cod) to Dalmatia in the 18 century and it remained in use until today in a very typical Dalmatian dishes.

Tourism in Dalmatia developed more than a century ago and mass tourism in the last forty years, and with it, a traditional fish dishes were included in hotel and restaurant menus. Quality fish is quite expensive because it is rather rare.

One of the most popular ways of preparing fish is on the grill and in restaurants, the expression “on the grill” has been adopted from the English language.

It is a general rule that the best and most authentic, traditional meals are found in small fishing villages. But there are also a number of varied and exclusive fish restaurants in all towns.

Croatia213In the last ten years, there have been special fish farming of sea bass, orada and tuna developed in Ston and on the island of Brac near Split. It is always good to check and ask the waiter if the fish on offer was frozen, from the farming or fresh from an open sea. The most common seafood dishes on offer in restaurants are: mixed grill fish, grilled: mackerels, gray mullet, orada, sea bass, or calamari; stuffed squids, black risotto, brodetto, scampi on the grill or “on buzara”, mussels in white wine with garlic, octopus salad and lobster salad.

On the more sophisticated menu, you can find poached skate wings, marinated fish, mackerels in capers and wine sauce, Scorpena Scofa brodetto, grilled red mullet, pan-fried John Dory filets. Also delicious are staffed sardines, monkfish brodetto, and conger eel brodetto and limpet risotto.

Extra Dalmatian specialities are sea urchins, fresh oyster with lemon or grilled oysters. Sea dates in white wine and breadcrumbs is a delicacy of curious little shellfish shaped like a date, which is found in deep sea hidden in stones. Because they are protected species in Croatia it is illegal to fish them, but specialist restaurants import them from the neighbouring tiny part of the coast of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Author: Boris Marelic, a fishing enthusiast and the owner of Korcula Villa Sole and House Pomenic Apartments on the Island of Korcula.

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