Thursday, May 18, 2006

from Dubrovnik: about food, but not really

1. breakfast

At times I get immensely jealous of countries that have both the salty seas and the sunny spring skies. To do food well, they need only not ruin that which the season and the sea readily provide.

Dubrovnik does food well. It does not choke meats and fish with starch and cream in the central European way. It looks at a product and says – hey, it’s fine the way it is. Let’s just cut it up and put it on a plate. Like this:

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…along with a good cup of coffee and some bready stuff, served early in the morning, on a sunny patio. Can’t go wrong.

2. lunch

I have a very complicated relationship to lunch. Back home I ignore it. Here, I am seduced by it.

It’s 1 in the afternoon. We have been walking the back alleys of this town.

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The sun is warm, the air is still. It’s everybody’s lunch break. And so you sit down.
You are served this, with a glass of house white.

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grilled veggies, octopus

The waitress hovers, fusses.
I like Americans, she tells you. Most of the time. But just now I had one take out his calculator and go over my sums. As if I can’t count! The other week, I was asked if I knew what a p.c. was. No, I count on my fingers and I come to work on horseback! Americans think we are so primitive.

Oh, that Eastern European complex. And that burning (not always untrue) image of the condescending American. They are a bad fit.
But I like your language. I studied it here, in Dubrovnik. I am an engineer in fact.
Underemployment, the problem of a country with a fledging economy

It’s 2:30, you move on to a cafĂ© for a cappuccino and then an ice cream shop for a scoop of fruits of the forest ice cream. By now it’s nearing 5. One brisk walk out of the city, along the shore…

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…and it’s time to think about the aperitif.

3. dinner

A new place opened up a year ago on one of the side squares of Dubrovnik. The tables are roomy, comfortably spread out over much of the square. To the side, at a jazz club, a combo plays an odd assortment of music. A boy runs past, kicking a “football.” From a doorway, you hear the sound of soccer on the screen, with occasional shouts of joy as one goal follows another. The stars are out.

The waiter brings a bottle of Croatian white, a bottle of mineral water, plates with fish pate, crusty bread.

We order. Time to try some Dalmatian favorites: risotto blackened with squid ink with chunks of seafood, a sea bass pan fried in olive oil, flavored with lemon and Dalmatian spices. A crepe with ice cream for dessert. Four people means two bottles of wine. The total tab comes to 560 Kn., which is about $100. The food at this place is so outstanding that it could survive the competition in the big capitals of the world.

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I’m a failure in finding effective words of praise. They all sound so… standard. This is great. You are great. Wonderful, really wonderful. We are so glad we found you. We’ll have to return.

Maybe we will, maybe we wont. Who knows how the week will unfold. But there is always Ocean, the conveyor of important information. When next you are in Dubrovnik, eat there, at the Konoba Mediterano. And pat the guy on the back for his efforts. Or kiss him. Or leave him a big tip. Or write an effusive post.

(Being a tourist can be emotionally draining. So often you worry that you’re not doing a good job of it.)