Croatian Chef from Orahovica Opens Croatian Restaurant in Taiwan

Lauren Simmonds

Croatian chef Saša Medved, 42, from Orahovica, never dreamed that he would even end up in the Far East when he left Croatia, let alone create the business story of his life there.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Goran Jungvirth writes on the 15th of November, 2019, Medved told Poslovni Dnevnik how he came up with the idea to open a restaurant which served Croatian cuisine in a country where people barely know a thing about Croatia, but that it was precisely because of this that Croatia can now be experienced in Taiwan, thanks to the launch of its business idea.

When and why did you move to Taiwan?

I never thought about leaving Croatia. But at the urging of a friend, back in 2013, with a loan of 850 euros, I went to Ireland. After just five days I got my first job, but at first it wasn’t easy. After the first job, I got a second, a third… Basically, I was collecting work experience in Ireland and getting better jobs. I spent almost 7 months in a hostel and made some good, honest friends there, and eventually I met my wife, a native of Taiwan.

How did you come up with the idea of ​​a Croatian restaurant with Croatian cuisine?

I went to Taiwan on holiday, and after two or three days I was craving ”normal” food… anything but rice and noodles. I visited European restaurant after European restaurant and came to the conclusion that absolutely none of them had any real, authentic food. Everything is Taiwanese. The bread is sweet (if they have any on offer, that is), the dishes are completely unseasoned, etc., I could write a novel about it. I couldn’t believe how most restaurants work here, how they convince the Taiwanese that their dishes are authentically European, Indian, American, Italian… and they all have a similar, impersonal taste. That’s where I came up with the idea that I could open a 100% authentic Croatian/Slavonian restaurant here. I weighed up the pros and cons of the idea for a year and eventually got it off the ground, I got all of my savings together and went to Taiwan in January 2016.

How did you get started?

When I came to Taiwan, honestly, I didn’t know where to start. Everything is different, a completely different world, at some moments completely “illogical” for us “from the west”. We decided to start first with a small booth in Qishan, where my wife has a house. The offer was very modest. We used to make burgers, kabobs, meatballs, and sometimes sarma and lemonade.

Were there any initial business difficulties?

There were days when we sold absolutely nothing, moments when we thought about leaving everything and going back to Ireland because our main idea was authenticity and strictly adhere to it. After a while, people became interested in our food and we became popular. After 6 months, we started thinking about a small restaurant, no luxury… a couple of tables, closed doors and air conditioning. Believe me, it is not at all comfortable to be on the street all day in the heat and impossible humidity, so the climate was a huge motivation for me.

As we were looking for a suitable space, an opportunity to rent an old house in the city (Kaohsiung) came up. The lower floor of the house was remodelled to a place with much desired air conditioning, and we lived upstairs. The construction style is completely different here, everything goes up in height, so let’s say the living room is on one floor, the bedroom on the other, the kitchen, the toilet, etc on a third, which to me personally is very impractical.

Still, it got started. What was the turning point?

The space was really modest, 6 tables in a semi-dark room, a small cabinet like a counter and that’s it. We literally had one light bulb in the middle of the bar. No matter how modest, it was ours and it was moving forward steadily.

Within a few months, we stood out as something different from the others and people began to take an interest and come in increasing numbers. In the next 6 months, we completely renovated the lower floor and made a decent place out of it. From the installation of electricity to the carpentry, I’ve been forced to learn and do it myself because the cost to foreigners, especially in the restaurant business, is incredibly high. The amount of work in the restaurant was constantly increasing and we decided to hire one person, then two, three, four… Everything was finally going as we’d imagined, so we started thinking about a slightly bigger and better place. After 2 years we moved to the centre of the city.

Who are your main guests… Taiwanese or foreigners?

For the most part, our guests are Taiwanese, I’d say 95 percent, which is our goal. Constant advertising through all available media is targeted at the locals, with foreigners mostly coming upon the recommendation of the hotels where they’re staying.

I see that you offer kabobs, sarma, kremšnite, what foods are do the Taiwanese like best?

The menu is very most because we do only those things that can be done 100% the same as in Croatia and so only one person prepares all of those meals, myself. Slavonian čobanac, Slavonian sausages, paprikaš, ražnjići, ćevapi, mixed meat, sarma, stuffed peppers, knedle with plums, vegetable soup and mushroom soup, kremšnite, pancakes and ice cream.

What would you highlight as your best specialty?

Slavonian čobanac, sarma and Slavonian sausages are the most accepted and praised dishes.

Reading the reviews, I’ve seen that you also create a good impression of the Croatian atmosphere. How do you achieve this?

We have come to be known as the most authentic European restaurant in town, which we’re incredibly proud of! Kaohsiung is a huge city with three million inhabitants. There are thousands of restaurants and still a mass of people who have never heard of us. But maybe not for long, because you can hear a good voice from far away.

What are your future business plans?

We’re probably opening another restaurant in the next year.

How is your life here?

Everything here seems pretty upside down, most of all the lifestyle. For example, most Taiwanese people hang out only on social networks and at lunches or dinners that are agreed months in advance. There’s no way you’re going to call someone and say, “let’s have a coffee and a chat.” But chatting on Facebook or any other social network is constant. There’s time for that. To me personally, it all comes down to work and thinking about work 24/7.

Do you miss Croatia, do you come here for holidays and do you ever think of coming back?

I have absolutely everything here that I wouldn’t even dare to wish for in Croatia. And on the other hand, I’m satisfied, I’m still not thinking about returning, and when I say return, I mean to Ireland! Never say never, but returning to Croatia doesn’t seem attractive to me, at least for now.

All those stories about where people were in 1991, Ustashas, ​​Chetniks, Partisans and many other things… I don’t miss that at all. It’s unfortunate that even now, after 7 years since I left, every year I meet the same people sitting in the same places and talking about the same problems and nobody does absolutely anything. General lethargy! In Croatia, it seems that time has stopped. So much so that Taiwan is at least 20 years ahead, and not to mention Ireland and the rest of Europe.

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