Dugo se gismo vidjeli! Long time no see! This weekend finds us in Croatia–and in Buffalo, New York. While we’re just globetrotting to Croatia for the weekend, Derek and I will be living in Buffalo for the next two years, as Derek has a teaching appointment at a local university. Our knowledge of Buffalo is still pretty limited, but globetrotting can definitely motivate us to explore the area.
We’ve already globetrotted to one of Croatia’s neighbors, Bosnia, while we were still living in Boston, so we were interested to see what Buffalo could offer us for another Balkan/southern European nation.
One thing that sets Croatia apart is that Croats are credited with the invention of the necktie–the word “cravat” is very similar to the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati. When Croatian mercenaries teamed up with the French during the Thirty Years’ War back in the 1600s, the French took notice of the neckerchiefs the mercenaries were wearing, and a trend was born. The Croats even celebrate International Necktie Day on October 18.
We started prep for this globetrot a little earlier than usual. Since we decided we wanted to have homemade bread for Saturday’s breakfast, I made the dough for the pogacha (a white bread eaten in many Balkan countries, including Croatia) on Friday. I’m always wary about working with yeast (since the water needs to be just right to activate the yeast), but the end result looked promising.
On Saturday morning, Derek sliced into the loaf, and we had the pogacha with cheese and tomato and mugs of tea. Croatians often enjoy cured meats with their bread and cheese, but Derek decided he didn’t want any, so we just skipped it. Croats have a cheese called Pag cheese. We weren’t able to find it for this breakfast, so we substituted Gouda, and some fresh farmer’s cheese. As for the pogacha, I was a little disappointed. Since I had put in sour cream, butter and a beaten egg, I expected something quite rich and moist, but our loaf was rather dry and dense. Maybe I added too much flour when I kneaded the dough by hand, or baked the loaf too long. But topped with slices of tomato and cheese, it was a pretty decent breakfast.
As we do during many globetrots, we turned to our old friend, Geography Now!, to give us an overview of this weekend’s country:
We watched another video about an American’s trip to Croatia, to visit family, and got to see some of the country’s beautiful landscapes and delicious-looking food. Then, to get our own taste of Balkan food, we took a bus up to North Buffalo to eat at Balkan Dining, which is run by a Bosnian family.
Derek ordered the cevapi (cevapcici in Croatian), a sausage made from ground beef, served on bread. I ordered the vegetable moussaka, which was layers of sliced eggplant, zucchini, and potato, with melted cheese and a cream sauce. The servings, as you can see from the following photo, are quite generous:
While Derek was unable to finish his cevapi, I finished my moussaka and was in the mood for something sweet. Since lunch is traditionally the biggest meal in Croatia, I felt encouraged to take a look at the restaurant’s homemade desserts, which were prominently on display in a glass case. After our waitress kindly explained what each of the items were, I decided to go with a slice of one of their chocolate cakes, with raspberry filling.
There is a Croatian social club in Buffalo, but it only seems to be open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Since Derek and I aren’t night owls or big drinkers, we were happy with our daytime Balkan adventures. (But if you’re curious about the club, Forgotten Buffalo has some information here.) I got to walk off some of the cake on the different route we took home.
Back at our apartment, we watched a documentary about one of Croatia’s national parks, Plitvice, which is known for its 16 interconnected lakes and for being a haven for many animals, including wolves, boars, brown bears, river otters, voles, owls and lynx.
For dinner, Derek prepared soparnik, a savory pie filled with greens (typically chard, but we used kale because it looked better at the store, and because one of the recipes we referred to also used kale). For some protein, I made a vegan version of grab, a Croatian bean stew. One benefit to our new kitchen is that it’s big enough for two of us to be working on dishes at the same time, unlike the narrow kitchen with very limited counter space in our old Cambridge studio–which is definitely helpful when we’re trying to share cooking duties while globetrotting!
After dinner, we watched the film Night Boats, a Croatian film about a man and woman, Jacob and Helena, who meet at a retirement home and decide to run away together. The film starts off as quite charming, but then reminds us that life doesn’t get simpler as you get older. Here’s a trailer with English subtitles:
On Sunday morning we breakfasted on more cheese, bread and tomato. Later on in the morning, we listened to Croatian folk music as I started preparing vegetarian posna sarma, rice-filled cabbage rolls. I’ve made pretty good stuffed cabbage in the past, but found this attempt rather trying–not because of the recipe, but because separating the cabbage leaves proved more difficult than I remember. It’s too bad cabbage rolls haven’t become more mainstream; someone could figure out how to market already separated cabbage leaves, ready for you to fill and roll (like how pretty much everyone who makes lasagna uses pre-made dried lasagna sheets). Derek stepped in to help when I was getting exasperated, making the tomato sauce that went over the cabbage, and putting the baking dishes into the oven.
I wouldn’t say that all the effort was well worth it, but the posna sarma was a decent lunch. Cabbage haters probably want to steer clear, though, as this dish contains cabbage in two forms: the cabbage that’s wrapped around the rice filling, and sauerkraut, which is used to line the pan before adding the cabbage rolls.
We watched two travel videos in the afternoon. One was by television personality Rick Steves, in which he takes viewers on a tour of various parts of Croatia, including Dubrovnik, a southern tourist hotspot, up the Dalmatian Coast, Plitvice Lakes (which we also saw the day before), the country’s capital, Zagreb, and Rovinj, a northern coastal city. The second was a more matter-of-fact video from the travel website Wolters World, listing the 5 things visitors will hate, and 5 things they will love about visiting Croatia. Croatia is a very tourist-friendly country, so the things people will “hate” about it don’t seem so bad.
To conclude our Croatian weekend, we had more soparnik and grah for dinner. I do feel a little bad for not doing more to capture more of Croatia’s coastal identity in our dishes this weekend, but not enough to break my ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, and Derek seemed content not eating two people’s worth of seafood this weekend. While we may not have been entirely authentic in our food choices this weekend, we certainly ate well!
So, Buffalo, after our first globetrot here, I’d like to say hvala ti–thank you!