first encounters with croatia – exploring split

we started our recent holiday with a week in croatia – a few days in split, croatia’s second city, a port town and a very beautiful and ancient one at that. we then spent some time on hvar, an island an hour away from split via catamaran.

this was our first visit to croatia and to be honest i hadn’t really thought about the food and drink that we might encounter, having mostly heard tales of a beautiful country with wonderful beaches, which was all we really wanted – a week of peaceful seaside time. however, we very quickly found that the food and wine in croatia easily matches the loveliness of the country.

in split we stayed in a wonderful place – divota apartment hotel – where the very welcoming staff provided us with a range of local restaurant recommendations. one of these was for a place very close by, just behind the croatian national theatre - paradox is a wine bar that has an extensive range of local wine from small producers, available by the glass and bottle, which they serve with local cheeses and a few cured meats, most of which were also sourced from local artisans. cheese and wine – what a heavenly way to start our trip!

the staff were fluent in english (as we found everywhere we went) and provided us with a lot of detailed information and advice about the wines we tried which made it much easier to be adventurous in other places throughout the holiday. i’m not sure how many glasses we had but my receipt includes reference to debit (a dalmatian white made by bibich) posip (another locally grown white which was a favourite and we drank it in quite a few places), plavac mali (a local red, another favourite and again, something we often had), babic zuki (a wonderful red), grabovac’s chardonnay sur lie (a prize-winning full-bodied white) and a sweet plavac. not bad, eh?

the cured meats ranged from spicy cured sausages to tender slices of ham called pršut similar to serrano/parma ham. the cheeses were also very varied – goat, cow and sheep milk plus a range of maturities. there were a few other dishes on the menu, of which we tried a very wonderful lightly cured brancina (seabass) and smokvenjak, a type of fig “salami” (no meat involved, just fruit, honey and spices) which reminded me of panpepato and was a lovely accompaniment to the desert wines we tried.

we had a similar and similarly good casual meal at zinfandel, another nearby restaurant which uses multi-tiered cake stands to serve its range of meat, cheese and salad. again has a good range of local wine by the glass – we added malvazija to our list of local wines. here you can also get larger more complex dishes.

another lovely meal was a couple of excellent pizzas courtesy of galija, a pizzeria with a wood fired oven. i particularly loved mine which i had with spicy salami and whole green pickled chilli peppers! lots of chilli peppers! thankfully they weren’t too spicy - it wasn’t quite what i was expecting but it was delicious. however, the cheesecake which david ordered to follow was truly dreadful.

our final meal in split was lunch on the run at kavana central, a canopied restaurant overlooking one of the squares – we shared an enormous octopus salad (a regional speciality i’d read) which david followed with pasta in a creamy sauce with pršut and truffle (i was surprised by how often truffle featured in dishes!) and i had a mixed plate of grilled fish and seafood. the food here was nice enough but not particularly exciting.

all the meals we had were washed down with an abundance of local wine (and sometimes beer) and yet were still very affordable, ranging from 50-70 euros for the two of us.

but if you find yourself in split, there is one final place i recommend you visit – nadalina, a local chocolate shop where i bought various bars flavoured with local favourites - lavender and almonds, figs and prosek (a local sweet wine)  plus honey. however they’re also known for making chocolate records which can, apparently, be played and will produce a tune as you can see here!