We’ve been away for a week visiting a friend in Mali Losinj, Croatia. If you’re looking for a gorgeous spot for a vacation, let me recommend the island of Losinj. It was developed as a tourist area in the late 19th century and now that Croatia once again has a market economy, it is flourishing.
The only culture shock we suffered was linguistic. What a lot of consonants! But I know what happened: all the vowels ran away and are now in Italy where they live happily (and pronounced) at the end of every word. Once we learned a couple of tricks (‘j’ is pronounced like the English ‘i’; ‘c’ with a little hat on it is pronounced ‘ch’) we were able hesitantly to begin to sound out a few words. It’s a nice language to hear spoken, full of swishy sibilants and rounded sounds.
Croatia is not yet part of the EU so we had to cross through border control, which seemed oddly quaint and old-fashioned. They use a currency called the Kuna, seven of which will buy you one euro.
The water of the Adriatic there is the clearest and cleanest we’ve ever seen. The food is good: Italian from the days when this part of Croatia was a part of Italy, with a healthy mix of northern cuisine from the days when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Slavic from eastern influences.
We stayed with one of the three best cooks I know, the Captain and the Contessa being the other two (she’s not a Real contessa but she’s a Real Cook). Our friend Adri buys her lamb by the animal from the farmer who lives in the hills behind her house, cuts the beast up and puts it in the freezer. The fish comes either from her neighbor who’s a fisherman, or from the local fish market. It is always whole and never more than 8 hours caught when she receives it. You get a much better sense of what you’re eating when you see your food whole than you do when you buy it neatly packaged in the grocery store.
The Best Thing We Ate This Week is many things: Adri’s poached nasello (hake fish), her slow-cooked lamb, her dessert made with plums the first day, apples and pears the next, the Captain’s chicken gizzard sauce. I did nothing but eat while the other two spent companionable hours in the kitchen whipping up one delicacy after another. I hope to be able to give recipes soon for some of these treats; but both cooks work without measuring, so I need to experiment before being secure enough to pass on the procedures.
On our way to Croatia we spent the night near a town called Aquileia, which is the site of extensive Roman ruins and the largest early-Christian mosaic floor in the world (3rd-4th century, 700 square meters). It was a complete surprise to us, and thrilling to see. How could we never have heard of it before? We stayed in a charming Agriturismo which I cheerfully recommend to you called Villa Asiola. Parts of it date from the 11th century. And they serve ham and cheese with breakfast!
There’s a photo album over on the right under Photographs, Aquileia and Croatia, if you’d like to see some pictures of our trip (including some very photogenic cats). As usual, I recommend a slide show.