Contributed by Amit Uppal
Warmly nestled between Slovenia and Hungary to the North, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Serbia and Montenegro to the east; and the awesome Adriatic Sea to the southwest; Croatia is a country of over 1,100 islands and reefs, most of them uninhabited. It has a rich heritage and history that dates back to the early seventh century. Shaped like a horseshoe or a crescent, Croatia identifies itself with the slogan- ‘The Mediterranean As It Once Was’, making it one of the most preferred tourist destinations. It is a land of national parks and caves, and has the distinction of being internationally recognised thrice for the cleanest Mediterranean waters.[singlepic id=650 w=320 h=240 float=left]Croatia has a great assortment of landscapes, cultures, cuisines and a delightfully agreeable climate. The countryside is full of destinations, from adventure travel to leisure. With easy accessibility, relative affordability, stunning beaches & islands and wonderfully preserved cities, Croatia certainly appeals to travellers from all over the world. The country has eight national parks and seven world heritage sites too.
The Croatian football team is one of the world’s most coveted, having won a bronze medal in the 1998 FIFA world cup. The team is currently ranked 9th in the FIFA world rankings. Also, Croatia has given the world gifted sportsmen like Goran Ivaniševi? (Tennis), Iva Majoli (Tennis), Janica Kosteli? (Ski Racing), Blanka Vlaši? (Track & Field), to name a few.
The Croatians are also staunch nationalists and are immensely proud of their rich heritage and culture. They call their country “Lijepa naša domovino”, meaning “Our Beautiful Homeland”, This is also their national anthem. The capital city is Zagreb, the scientific, economic, cultural and government centre of Croatia, and a global city.
Croatia has a wide and varied culture, owing to its history which is more than fourteen centuries old. It has a legacy of foreign invasions which largely explains the diversity in its culture. The population is predominantly Roman Catholic. The people are warm and friendly, and firmly believe in preserving their relationships. Extended families are a norm, and all relatives remain tightly bound together. Life’s experiences are translated into song, verse, fairy tale, music, dance, costume and jewellery. Believe it or not, it was in Croatia that the necktie and fountain pen were first conceived![singlepic id=649 w=320 h=240 float=right]The richness and variety of Croatian culture is prominently reflected in their cuisine, which is referred to as ‘the cuisine of the region’. This is so because each region has its own culinary tradition and practice. Some of the cooking traditions, specific to one region, may not be found in another. However, most dishes may be found all over the country. The selection of ingredients and cooking methods are quite distinguishable on the mainland and the coast. The cuisine of the mainland is mostly characterized by Hungarian, Turkish and Vietnamese orders, whereas the coastal areas promote a predominantly Greek, Roman, French and Italian cuisine.
Seafood is an indispensable element of Croatian cuisine. Because of the large number of islands, the population mainly consists of fishermen. Lamb, pork, veal, chicken and beef also form an integral part of the cuisine with olive oil being the medium used for most cooking. In Croatian homes, the culinary lists consist of what is called ‘peasant food’, meaning traditional home-cooked food. Fuži (twisted pasta) is a staple along the Adriatic coastal region. Another commonly eaten dish is šurlice (pasta made from flour and egg dough). These are usually eaten with lamb or beef stew. Other staples include maneštra (a thick vegetable broth) and bobi?i (bean stew with sweet corn). One of the most common utensils used to cook food is the Peka (A bell-shaped oven with a lid), which is placed on a wood fire, and covered with embers, ensuring a slow and long bake.[singlepic id=651 w=320 h=240 float=left]Dining happens to be the national sport in Croatia, to the extent that all national holidays have a specific dish associated with the day. On pilgrimages and fairs, the Croats like to eat Potato and Pork Stew; Cod is prepared on Good Friday and Christmas Eve; Pork is eaten on New Year’s Day. During carnivals, doughnuts are a favourite; on Easter, expect to dine on Ham and Boiled Eggs with Green Vegetables. Goose is cooked on St Martin’s Day and on Christmas day, Turkey and Sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat) form the main course. During the harvest season, Kulen (hot-pepper flavoured sausage) is prepared. Weddings witness a whole array of cakes and biscuits being served, which include breskvice (sugar coated cookie sandwiches with fruit or jam fillngs), shortbread bear paws, ginger biscuits, and fritule (plain fritters) among others.
However, there are certain common dishes which are served on almost all occasions. These include spit-roasted lamb and suckling pig; calamari (Squid) cooked in a variety of ways; grilled fish; barbecued meats and vegetables- Raznjici (Marinated pork and veal or lamb, grilled on a slow fire), Cevapcici (Sausages made of pork, beef, lamb, onions and garlic, either grilled or pan fried) and mixed grill – a variety of cheese, or smoked ham and cottage cheese, served with sour cream.
Croatian cuisine boasts a long list of desserts. It includes Orahnja?a (Sweet bread with walnuts); Pala?inke (crêpes) with sweet fillings; Baklava (a rich pastry, served with whipped cream and pistachios); Uštipci (a soft croissant-like dessert); Strudel (layered pastry with apple or curd cheese fillings); Zagorski štrukli (a sweet pastry from northern Croatia); Krafne (a type of Doughnut) and Šnenokli (egg whites in vanilla cream).
Croatia produces a wide assortment of high quality wines – as many as 700 of them. Croatian wines have been known all over the world for their taste, color and warmth. The country also produces various types of fruit juice, coffee, brandy, beer and mineral water. In the north-western regions, people like to drink gemišt; while in the south, bevanda is the most preferred drink (Dry, flavoured wines mixed with still or sparkling water).
The Croats are an easygoing race, which is evident from their relaxed dining etiquette. There are no specific rules for dining, and the people like to have long conversations at the dining table Of course, the basic rule – ‘when in doubt, do what the others are doing’ applies here as well.
- You have to wait till the host shows you to your seat.
- Manners for use of utensils and other general aspects of dining follow Western norms.
- It is improper to start eating before the host signals the guests to do so.
- It is considered polite to refuse a second helping, but if the host insists, you may have another helping.
- A small amount of food left in your plate indicates you have finished eating.
- Croats graciously accept gifts, so one might show ones appreciation by carrying along a gift when invited to a meal.
Croatia is a land of myriad seasons and flavours, with a vast variety in everything. The warmth and generosity of the people make it a memorable experience and a joy to be in this beautiful country.
Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia