Croatian Food and Wine: It’s Time to Tell the Story

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Croatia has an incredible Food and Wine story which most people know very little about, the Split B2B has started the conversation and now it is time to show the world that Croatia can stand confidently on the Gastronomical World Stage.

On Friday 20th October 2017, I was honoured to be involved in the Split B2B conference, an international conference and workshop on special interest tourism. This was a first of its kind and had a specific focus on “Food and Wine” – gastro-tourism. There were 50 different boutique businesses represented with more than 120 participants, local and international, from Europe, UK, US, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia.

I was asked to speak by the lovely Robyn Vulinovich-Sisaric from My Hidden Croatia, who, unfortunately lost her voice the night before. Thankfully, Robyn and I share a love of Croatia and a mutual passion for gastronomy. My Hidden Croatia, is a boutique travel agency which specialises in creating unique personalised tours by land or sea (or both); through Robyn’s experience with international and mostly Australian guests, she understands just how important food and wine is to her clients.


Myself and Robyn with Neno and Dragan Kostadinovic from Taste Dalmatia

I discovered the same thing working on luxury yachts sailing Croatia for the last three years with my husband. Our guests came from all corners of the globe: Australia, New Zealand, UK, US, South America, Spain, Italy, South Africa… and, the one thing they all had in common was a love of food and wine. Though, most came with zero expectations about the gastronomy scene in Croatia as this is not a story that has been told (up until now).

However, Robyn and myself come from restaurant backgrounds – Robyn was a restaurateur in Sydney, Australia for many years before moving to Croatia permanently in 2011 and I have managed and worked in restaurants for the better part of a decade in New Zealand, Australia and London, managing for Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurant ‘Maze’ being the pinnacle of my career. What we both learned in this industry was that food and wine is more than a meal, it is an experience; anyone can cook at home but we dine out for an experience, to be part of an atmosphere, to be made to feel special, to bond… and when we are travelling ‘food’ can be one of the greatest ways to understand a new culture. If I think of my fondest travel memories, they are always interwoven with food and wine, among friends (old and new alike).

In Australia, I worked with an amazing chef by the name of Ashley Davis, an Australian guy who had previously lived and worked in London as head chef of the 2-Michelin-starred ‘Helene Darroze at the Connaught.’ The restaurant we worked in together was called Pure South and the whole concept was that all of the food and produce was from Tasmania; we had our own fisherman and worked with small farmers and suppliers. Now, Ashley was an incredible and acclaimed chef, those ‘in the know’ were coming to sample his cuisine, those not ‘in the know’ would have a brilliant meal regardless. It would have been easy for the wait-staff to simply place the meal in front of the guests and walk away as the dishes almost spoke for themselves. However, this would be a disservice because part of the ‘story’ of the plate was explaining the owners’ passion for working with Tasmanian produce, the history of ‘Pure South’, Ashley’s background and passion for working with organic and local suppliers, the fact that we knew our fisherman by name… All of this, is what truly creates an experience AND, keeps people coming back.


Credit: Good Good, Ashley Davis holding a ‘just caught, King Island lobster and sharing the Tasmanian food story

Now, let’s transport ourselves back to Croatia; when I first arrived five years ago, I knew very little about the country and even less about the food and wine but it didn’t take me long to discover that Croatia is a gastronomer’s dream. The produce here is incredible, from the olive oil and cheeses, fresh seafood, excellent beef, even the tomatoes and cucumber are bursting with flavour – I don’t think I have ever truly tasted a tomato before Croatia! And the wine? I am still very much an amateur in regards to my local wine knowledge, it is one of those catch 22 situations – the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know! With 130 local grape varieties and countless awards, there is much to discover and Croatian wines can and are standing on the world stage.

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Credit, Tash Pericic; From the sea to the table; fresh grilled seafood we bought from the fish market and cooked for our guests.

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Sailing up and down the coast I became familiar with the restaurants, from fine dining at the likes of Pellegrini in Sibenik and 360 in Dubrovnik, hidden gems like Lucullus and Giaxa on Hvar, to family-run konobas. Then, there are wine tastings at gorgeous wineries like Korta Katarina on the Peljesac Peninsula, Bire on island Korcula – which grows ‘Grk’ a grape that only grows in the small town of Lumbarda or upper-market venues like Zinfandel in Split which boasts an impressive Croatian wine list.


Credit: Bire winery, Korcula

I was forever learning and on the hunt for unique and authentic experiences to share with my guests. Week after week, our clients were blown out of the water (excuse the pun) by the quality of food and wine available in Croatia. They all came to Croatia excited about the sun and sea (which has been marketed more than enough) but they left with a glow in their cheeks and a new appreciation of what Croatia has to offer. So far, I have only spoken about Central Dalmatia as this is what I sailed but every region offers its own cuisine, history and tradition.

With such a rich and diverse offering, why do international guests have zero expectations about the gastronomy scene in Croatia? Simple, the story is not being told. If you think about France, Italy or Spain, many images come to mind and I guarantee that at least half of those are related to food and wine. With the climate, nature, history, tradition, cuisine and wine, Croatia can more than stand confidently side-by-side with these gastronomical destinations.

However, it is not just about the large-scale, National level marketing; when I said I travelled up and down the coast learning about the story behind food and wine, for the most part, I was unearthing it myself. The majority of restaurants and suppliers, while delivering excellent cuisine and wine, still aren’t telling the story person-to-person. Having lived here for three years now, learning some of the language and understanding the Croatian mentality, I quickly discovered that if I want to learn more than what the menu says, I need to ask the right questions. As with the story I shared above about Pure South, we were telling the complete story about the plate, creating a unique and memorable experience which is why guests kept coming back; it is THIS that many people are still missing here, the crazy thing is, they don’t even need to try, the story is already here, it just needs to be told!


As Zeljko Trezner from Aspira said, “sometimes being a local means that we have ‘local blindness’ and it can lead us to take these things for granted.” Which is exactly what is happening, the country has been busy marketing the sun and sea and on the smaller scale, the majority are missing a chance to share their story.

Some of my favourite experiences in Croatia have been getting my ‘hands dirty’ at local fishermen’s nights with a plate full of sardines and large glass of domestic wine or sitting by a fire, passing around the bukara (a large wooden mug that you fill with red wine) while waiting for the peka to cook or learning to make Soparnik with my family … These are moments so natural to Croatians that many don’t realise just how special they are. When I told Croatians that I had organised a tour group to go up the Cetina River and learn how to make Soparnik with an elderly couple, they couldn’t believe anyone would want to do that, let alone pay for it; yet, to these international guests it was one of their highlights.

These are authentic experiences, this is what is unique to Croatia and the world should know about it. Bravo to the organisers and all involved in the Split B2B for starting this conversation; it was a pleasure to be in a room filled with like-minded people and an honour to share my passion for Croatian gastronomy.

So, “Dear Croatia, the stage is set, it’s time to share your Food and Wine story.”


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