Let me just say I was not being a tenant, I was being a neighbour. I had made ratatouille (mitigating my normal level of spices our of respect for my landlords tastebuds) and brought down a quart for them. I was invited for lunch an hour later.
Lunch in Dalmatia is a vastly different thing than it is in, say, New York City. First everyone enjoys the same leisurely pace as “the 1%” but the cost for an extraordinary meal with good wine and great conversation is different, it is democratic in its accessibility. No matter how fresh what is on your plate in Manhattan might be the lettuces weren’t picked an hour before a simple dressing of vinegar and the sublime extra virgin olive oil is applied, and it would be safe bet that it wasn’t swimming in the clear aquamarine waters of the Adriatic literally less than two hours previous.
And contrary to the Dalmatian concept of pòmalo, at Ivanka’s table lunch is served when she says it is going to be. Let’s talk about the fish. Slightly larger than a rainbow trout but based upon the taste I would say sea bass. Cleaned and gutted, drenched in a lemon juice and Extra Virgin Olive (EVO) oil and then grilled, whole, outside over olive wood cuttings. I took an extra measure of a 1/2 of a lemon to drizzle over my fish (each of us with one gorgeous specimen on our plate). Then like a child I was patiently guided on how to use my fingers to remove the dorsal fin and bones, to suck gently on the head to remove the yumminess (I drew the line at eating the eyeballs staring back at me). The last time I ate with my fingers with such dedicated passion was over a plate of beef Awaze Tibs in 1999 in a ground level Ethiopian restaurant in a section of Boston’s Massachusetts Avenue that fell, like so much, to gentrification. Bit by delicious bit I left the cleanest plate I have ever left for any meal, ANYWHERE. I paced myself because each mouthful was heaven. I was thoroughly committed to making it like Tantric sex, only eating. The crispy skin, the oil and lemon infused deep within the moist flesh of the grilled fish itself. In New York this would have had a $60 tab plus taxes and tip. Here the fish was 8 kuna per kilo (yes, $1.30). While I have always been a ‘foodie’ you will want to cry (I did mist up) over the absolute perfection of it should be so lucky to have someone prepare such for you. Anthony Bourdain missed something amazing on his trip to Croatia because (having watched the episode twice) I KNOW that this particular bounty did not pass his lips. Truly Dalmatian cuisine is, as you will hopefully hear in watching this episode, a “triumph of simplicity”.
Marko’s family, like so many Dalmatians, have been here since before the Ottoman Turks occupied in 1540. His legacy, the connection to the land, also includes skills at wine making that would be enviable (and medal winning) at wine competitions. I must also offer than given the addition of sulfates to most commercial red wines (offered in the United States) I can no longer drink them because I will wake in the middle of the night with painful leg cramps – Marko’s wine poses no such issue and is astonishing in its body and on the palette.
We don’t share language per se. Some German, some English and on my part some Croatian and yummy noises. In the two weeks I have been here there is usually someone who speaks English to help convey my thoughts and emotions – we went without that benefit over this meal. And what happened was magical. BECAUSE WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER. Because we are trying to discuss food, and life, and wine and what is authentic. Because over a shared meal, regardless of where we are from we are all the same.
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