Well, our baby boomer friends The Six Monthers, Florence and Mike Lince, are wrapping up their stay in Croatia and, by the time you read this, will be settling into Spain. But they’ve given us one last look at the lives they’re leaving behind … a mouth-watering look.
Tucked away on a side street in Sibenik, away from the maddening crowds, sits the little restaurant of Marenda. Inside this quiet local restaurant there are places for perhaps 20 people to sit. Many come here on a warm summer day or evening to sit along the outdoor sidewalk and enjoy the old traditions of Croatia.
Owner Veselka Hazalin gets to her kitchen early (7:00 a.m.) and begins to prepare the foods that offer real comfort to old-time Croatians. She makes prsut,corned beef brisket, sir, pancetta, and more. They serve wine right from the barrel and people from around Sibenik come here to drink and talk and share memories of their lives. The owners, as so many people do here in Croatia, make their own olive oil and I can attest to how wonderful it was.
On the day we visited, and with our friends and guides Nina Belamaric and Olivera Slavica leading the way, we were served a dish made from barley and beans with fresh olive oil; brisket, olives, onion, and crusty bread.
What surprised our guides and our hostess was when I told them that I had grown up eating the barley dish. Every December 13th (St. Lucy’s Feast Day, or “Eating St. Lucy’s Wheat”), my grandmother and mother would make this dish and it’s always been one of my favorites, even down to serving it warm with the olive oil. I eat barley as a hot cooked cereal as often as possible when I can find it. Back in Scotland last year I found bags of it because people make whiskey from it. In Panama I found the barley, but people thought of it as poor man’s food. That’s okay; I’ll take poor man’s food over today’s fast food anytime.
Anyway the dish was wonderful and yes, this would be considered a vegan/vegetarian meal. Mike and the ladies had their dishes served with pork, which istradition. My dish was made special for me since I don’t eat meat. However, the restaurant offers one new and different vegetable dish every day in the summer season, so you can realistically eat here every day and never eat the same meal twice.
Accompanying the meal was a platter of cut corned beef. Again, to their surprise, we knew what this meat was and we explained how we cooked corned beef: in a stew format with potatoes, cabbage ,and carrots (for St. Patty’s Day for all our Irish friends).
Marenda opened many years ago when the Croation farmers, who work long hours in the fields (as in every country -– thank you farmers!) needed something substantial to eat. There’s a wide assortment of foods, from cooked beef and ribs to barley stews and cheeses and prosciuttos and olives. Sadly, people everywhere consider this to be simple and poor man’s food. I consider it food for the ages and of kings. One can eat incredibly simply but well. We have lost sight of what food was and is for, when we think of this as simple and poor man’s food.
The restaurant has been in this location over 40 years. This is a place that tourists would never frequent unless they have a local to tell them about it. The menu may be simple but the food is first rate. Isn’t that the hallmark of a good restaurant?
The lesson here is that food prepared the old fashioned way is more memorable and longer-lasting than fast food made for the masses. Many locals come here after a hard day’s work to take away containers filled with home cooking. I applaud them for their choice.
We love simple. We understand why tourists eat fast food in foreign lands butthat isn’t for us. It doesn’t represent how these countries were founded or what their people really eat.
I don’t know about you but I always look for small local restaurants to eat at because the old saying really does apply here: the best surprises really do come in small packages.