When I was in high school every year there was an organized trip to Europe for anyone who could afford to go. My parents were social workers so I never made it. But I looked forward to the presentation. Afterwards I would dream of heading to Europe, meeting fascinating people, eating exotic foods – anything to get me out of Tallahassee. My freshman year Dubrovnik was one of the destinations on the trip. I fell in love with the city through a slideshow. Shortly after the presentation the conflict between the former Yugoslavian members intenstified and the US went to war in Iraq. The trip was canceled and the idea of visiting Croatia was put on the back burner.
When Chris and I were planning our honeymoon I kept hearing buzz about Croatia. The chance to finally visit Dubrovnik was in my reach. So after convincing him we were not going to be killed by a land mine, Chris gave in. After having such bad experiences in Trogir and Hvar I was a little worried Dubrovnik would let me down – it did not.
Upon arriving in Dubrovnik we settled into our apartment. Apartment Duga, is well situated, right above Banje Beach and a three-minute walk to the old city. This was by far our favorite accommodation in Croatia. It was clean, not over-priced and so close to everything. The only drawback – a crazy old man who talked to pigeons. We were able to overlook this. We spent the first day just walking around the city and taking it all in. I was still not eating, so we had an early night.
The next day we went straight to the beach. I finally got my relaxing, sunny destination portion of the honeymoon! After lounging for a couple of hours, we cleaned up and headed to lunch. It was finally time. Since I had not eaten in so long Chris let me pick. I chose Taj Mahal, a Bosnian restaurant. Bosnian food is closely related to Turkish and Greek cuisines. After eating solely carbs and broth I was craving some meat and vegetables. We started with Spinach Burek, essentially spinach in phyllo dough. It was so good. The spinach filling was slightly creamy and the phyllo was crispy in some areas and dough-y in others. For our main course we settled on the Jin Ghis Khan platter. I think at this point I was making irrational decisions. The Jin Ghis Khan is a meat extravaganza including a sampling of grilled chicken, chevapi, lamb, sausages, rumproast and pork kebabs. There were also two baked potatoes, grilled carrots and the largest grilled green beans I had ever seen. The platter was served with a basket of bread, diced raw onions, mustard and a traditional Croatian and Bosnian spread called Ajvar. I loved Ajvar, it is essentially a mixture of roasted red peppers and eggplants with olive oil and garlic. I will put a recipe at the bottom of the post. It goes without saying (but since this is a blog I kind of have to say it) we did not finish this awesomeness. We got the rest to go and put it in our fridge. We basically ate the rest for lunch over the next couple of days.
After our fantastic lunch we went back to the apartment and took our obligatory vacation nap. We got up we showered and went to grab drinks at a very cool cliff side bar called Buza. It is literally situated on the outside walls of the fortress surrounding Dubrovnik. While it’s a beautiful spot to grab a drink it is also very touristy and the drink prices show this. I would recommend going there for a drink during sunset. And then finding somewhere with more reasonable prices. After our drink we went to grab pizza at Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa is well known in the city for fixing yummy pizzas at cheap prices. We ordered a ham, mushroom and cheese pizza and added sweet peppers. The pizza was perfect. We also ordered a couple of glasses of a local wine called Mali Plavac. In Croatia it is almost impossible to find wine that is not Croatian. This wine was pretty good. For our Texas friends it tasted a lot like wines you get in the Hill Country. It had a lot of oak and went very well with the pizza.
The next day Chris and I rented a car and drove to the Peljesac Peninsula to visit their wineries. It was approximately an hour away by car. And if you are a wine lover I think this is a great day trip from Dubrovnik. On our way we stopped at a store and grabbed bread, cheese and salami as a snack for later in the afternoon.
Our first stop was Vinarija (croatian word from winery) Vukas. Here we picked up a nice red for only $10. But let me paint a picture for you describing the tasting experience: me, Chris, a woman who spoke no English staring at us and her granddaughter pulling at her leg. Oh, and we were in her living room. It was a pretty high-pressure sale. It was also indicative of the rest of the wineries we visited. There were a few that were a little more structured, such as Matusko and Dingac. At the rest of the wineries we went to we were the only people there and we had to try and find people to do tastings. This was even the case at Grgic. Which, if you are a wine connoisseur you have most likely heard of him. Miljenko Grgic is one of the most respected winemakers in the world. In 1977 he opened his Grgic winery in California. And in 1996 after the conflict in the region was over he fulfilled a personal dream and opened a winery in his native land. So I was kind of expecting a lot. The wine was perfectly fine, but there was no ambiance in the tasting room. It also felt we had disturbed the lady by asking her to do a tasting. That being said it was still interesting to see a burgeoning wine region before it becomes filled with tourist and over-priced wines. We never paid for a tasting and the most expensive wine we bought was $22.
After doing a few tasting we stopped and spent a few minutes at a World War II Memorial depicting communist resistance soldiers fighting off the Nazi’s. This was a very cool monument and the setting was incredible. The peninsula is not only home to wineries it also has some of the most outstanding landscapes we saw in the country. Lots of fjord-like inlets as well as low-lying beaches with crystal clear water.
Another resource the peninsula has in abundance is shellfish. The villages of Ston and Mali Ston at the base of the peninsula have some great restaurants. The most renowned is Kapetanova Kuca. Chris and I stopped by on our way back from the winery trip. We started off with a nice light wine wine, I believe it was a Posip. They brought out a complimentary appetizer of fish pate, we then split a half dozen oysters. For our main course we split a mixed shellfish grill with a Buzzara sauce. Buzzara is a yummy white wine, garlic and parsley sauce that is used in Dalmatian cuisine. It was a delightful, light meal.
The next day we hit the beach again for a few hours. Then we cleaned up and walked the city walls. If you go to Dubrovnik this is something you have to do. It’s only about $9 and it allows you to walk the entire fortress walls around the old city. It is so fascinating to see this special city from above. You can witness everything from the war damaged walls and the sea of terra cotta roof tops to brightly-colored laundry blowing in the breeze. It’s about an hour and a half of walking. So just keep this in mind.
For dinner I was craving vegetables. Unfortunately, Europeans tend to not eat vegetables very often, at least in the Dalmatian region of Croatia. Most of the area restaurants focus solely on seafood and meat dishes. I was a little tired of this so we decided to splurge and go to Proto. We both loved this meal. I am going to state upfront this was the most expensive place we ate on our trip. But we both agreed later it was worth it. I started off with a very light, yet tasty cream of zucchini soup flavored with dill. Chris got a fisherman’s soup that was tomato based and brimming with scallops, chunks of fish, mussels and shrimp. While our soups were wonderful it was really our entrees that blew us away. I ordered a lamb shank Osso Bucco served with a side of polenta dumplings and baked, sweetened apples. It was perfectly cooked with the lamb simply falling off the bone. Once again it was Chris that ordered the best. His main course was turkey stuffed with golden raisins topped with a prosecco wine sauce. It was so tender and full of flavor. A perfect meal! Since it was so expensive at Proto we did not order dessert there. We just walked to a small cafe and ordered a couple of cakes and digestifs and then headed home.
On our last day in Dubrovnik we ate our breakfast at the apartment, went to an Internet Cafe in order to catch up with some emails and then visited the beach. Since it was our last time at Banje we stayed for a bit longer than usual, swimming in the cold, salty Adriatic waters. Then we packed up and decided to hit the town a little early since it was our last night.
When we got to the town square we were rewarded for our early outing by viewing a brass band concert. We sat at a cafe and watched as a variety of brass bands played and exited the stage. After a bit we decided to try and find another bar we had seen while walking the city walls. We found it after a bit of work but it ended up being a lot like Buza. So we had our one drink and headed to dinner.
This is where it got interesting. I wanted to try some real Dalmatian food so we decided to try a restaurant not in the guidebooks called Ragusa 2. This was a big mistake. My husband is one of the most unfailingly polite people I have ever met, he hates to make a scene or do anything like that. But his entree was so obviously rotten he refused to eat it. At the advice of our waiter he ordered the special sea food platter including squid, a whole fish, shrimp, mussels and more. When he unpeeled the shrimp it crumbled into pieces and stunk like nothing I have ever smelled before. My entree was a spaghetti bolognese that tasted like Chef Boyardee. We simply asked for our check and left.
After this Chris really needed some comfort food. And to Chris comfort food usually means Italian and more specifically lasagne. So we went to a highly recommended Italian restaurant called Toni’s. It was a perfect antidote to Ragusa 2. Chris ordered a lasagne bolognese and I ordered the veggie lasagne. They were both fantastic.
After dinner we walked around and enjoyed the full harvest moon that was out. It was our last night and we were sad to go.
The next day we started our long trek home with a very cool stop over in London. This was Chris’s first time. So we did a lot in the 20 hours we were there. We dropped off our bags and started walking. We saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and a huge protest. It was so exciting. As we were walking we stopped into different pubs. And we noticed a disturbing trend, – three of the five pubs we stopped in had the same menu and same taps. So we are guessing that there is one owner. What I love the most about pubs is going in and seeing the different types of beer and twists on the same classic English dishes (yes, there is some good English food. Just not a lot). While it was a bit disheartening it did not stop us from hopping in and grabbing a drink.
For dinner I was craving Indian food. Our hotel recommended a place around the corner called Paradise. We were not disappointed. I LOVE Indian food and this was great stuff. We ordered a whole mess of stuff and just started eating. We feasted on naan stuffed with veggies and a garlic naan, I ordered lamb pasanda (lamb cooked in yogurt and spices), Chris ordered chicken dansak (a Parsi dish cooked with spices and lentils) and we had a side of curried vegetables. We were both in heaven and it was also a very well-priced meal.
After dinner we visited one more pub. But we were both exhausted and needed to rest up for the long flight home the next day. While we were both sad the trip was over, we were both ready to get home and sleep in our own beds, see our puppy Olive as well as our friends.
Below is a recipe for the very yummy Ajvar sauce used as a spread in classic Croatian and Bosnian cuisine.
- 2 large eggplants, about 3 pounds
- 6 large red bell peppers
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley (optional)
- Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place washed eggplants and peppers on a baking sheet with a lip to catch any juices, and roast until their skins blister and turn black, about 30 minutes.
- Place roasted vegetables in a heatproof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let them steam for 10 minutes.
- Peel off and discard blackened skins, stems and seeds. In a large bowl, mash or chop vegetables, depending on how smooth or chunky you like your ajvar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add garlic and lemon juice, and drizzle in oil, stirring constantly.
- Transfer to a glass dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley for garnish, if desired. Store covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.