May 11, 2023 – How is the Pelješac bridge affecting lives of local inhabitants? Some benefits for the stomach.
I was one of the first people to cross the new Ston bypass, marking the completion of the Pelješac bridge and road project. It got me thinking about what the last nine months has looked like since the bridge opened.
There is still some debate around it. Some would have preferred Pelješac to remain the isolated gem it had always been, free from too much traffic and influence. However, I’d say that the majority of opinions are positive.
People also like to comment on the design of the bridge and that it has ruined a once untouched landscape. In my opinion, it is not pretty or ugly, it’s just a bridge. If I were a visitor I wouldn’t have much to say about it. It does what it is supposed to, and that of itself is a feat if you look at our history.
If you have lived in the more isolated parts of Dalmatia, you know that products and places where you can buy things are limited. If your diet is specific or you’re used to having a wider variety of options for food, it can be challenging. When you do find things sometimes the prices are astronomical.
I have seen a common thread when expats comment about food in Croatia. If they’re from North or Western Europe, the UK or the US they will praise quality, variety and freshness. But if you’re from Africa or the global South, chances are that you’re somewhat disappointed.
I don’t expect I’ll ever get the same variety of fresh produce here as in South Africa, although more items may become available. What is common produce there is exotic here. Mangos, papayas, star fruit and avocados simply don’t grow in Europe. They will likely always be imported.
I grew up in a house with a large avocado tree in the front yard. We had an overabundance of them. It was nothing to go pick a ripe avo, cut it up and smear it on your face as a face mask when you were over eating them.
I remember the first time I saw an avocado in a store here. It was some crazy price (I think 40kn a pop) but I bought it anyway. When I opened it I was crushed to find it brown and disgusting on the inside (although it wasn’t even that soft). I bought them a few times until I gave up. Now and again we do stumble on a good one when we dare to try.
The other day I saw a papaya for the first time at a Kaufland. At the beginning of the year it looked like the vegetarian produce section at Lidl had quadrupled in size. Are there suddenly more vegetarians or do we just have better connections now to get a bigger variety of products in? A friend told me she’d been a vegetarian in Italy for over a decade then upon starting to live on Pelješac and having very limited food options she reluctantly reverted back to a meat diet.
Affordable restaurants in Opuzen and Metkovic are now less than an hour’s drive away. Good food without crazy tourist prices. I’m reluctant to mention my favourite here as I’m afraid it’ll become too crowded now that the bridge has made it more accessible.
I know this goes against the grain of “eat local, you won’t be disappointed”, but at the end of the day I am an African city kid who grew up on high quality “tropical” foods. There are definitely some great local food options here. For example, Croats have perfected potatoes. It is hard to find bad local potatoes. You can eat a cooked potato with a bit of salt and it’s good. Nothing beats wild asparagus. Oregano, sage and rosemary can be foraged on a short stroll into nature in Dalmatia. You’ll find wild cherries in the spring and blackberries in bushes in the summer. But on those days that you crave a variety on a more global scale, it helps that you can now cross a bridge and after 35 minutes, there it is.
I can’t comment much on meat since I am not a meat eater. Had I been carnivorous, my view would likely be totally different.
I knew change had come at the end of last year when we could for the first time get freshly baked Danish at one of our local shops. Not just bread, burek and krafne, but Danish! I never dreamed I’d see the day.