Saturday, May 3, 2014

Love, Croatian cuisine's secret ingredient.

Recently, I was on a bus to Opatija. We stopped at a cafe and I tried to get the barista to make me a produženu kavu even more “produžie” by asking her to add some more hot water. This concoction in other parts of the world is known as… an Americano! Fitting, huh. 

First, she looked at me with utter confusion, like you want me to add what to what? Then when I tried it explain in greater detail (this means I used my hands more) her confusion faded, clarity dawned and then horror. Now it was like: YOU WANT TO DO WHAT TO WHAT! I eventually got her to try it, and she put the minimal amount of hot water into the drink, but during the whole exchange I could sense her reluctance to ruin perfectly good coffee.

This is not the first time this has happened. I’ve tried this all over Zagreb and I’ve usually met with the same results. I’ve learned that it’s not that people don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s that they don’t understand why the crap I’m saying it. I feel like I’m asking them to murder somebody. I just can’t get it across that Yes, I actually want my coffee watered down. I mean hell, how else can I make it last for 2 hours? I’m an American after all.   

Croatia is a land of foodies. People here have a great pride in their cuisine. And they should, the food is great. The quality is generally much better than the plastic GMO food I buy at my neighborhood Walmart in Oklahoma. The diet is largely mediterranean, which is all the rage right now in the US. An expensive, special diet for HollyWood movie stars is just what Croatians call eating. In Croatia, food is as much an expression of culture and identity as language and uh… klapa are. As a result, it’s hard to “have it your way” when it comes to gastronomy.

It’s the same in the home. Preferences are ignored by the chef (usually punica). You cannot have x without y (even though you literally can, you figuratively can’t). I recently learned that I have an intolerance to olive oil. Now, you can imagine the complications this presents for a splitksi zet. In Dalmatia, people even put olive oil on their olive oil. Now, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s octopus by not having them put olive oil on it. But, you can see the dilemma here.Which is worse, octopus without olive oil, or a hungry son-in-law? Both are mortal sins.

And it’s not just around our dinner table. A friend told me she is always sneaking things into her father and daughter’s food, even though she knows both do not like these clandestine ingredients. Her justification: when you make x, it has to have y. 

This is just one more consequence that comes with the heavy hand of hospitality. Just like you can never leave the good time (see Party Breaking), you are never allowed to “ruin” your own meal. In the US, I would think that someone who doesn’t honor my humble request is actually showing me some strong personal indifference or disrespect. Here, it’s actually the exact opposite. Love and respect, these are the main ingredients in Croatian stubbornness. 

"I come with olive oil!"


  1. hahhah this is so funny. thx for making my sunday morning. :)
    I've already heard for "americano coffee" and that's so true... if I would be your waiter, I don't know if I would have gut to add more water into the cup. I mean...eww, that's so... I don't know... disgusting? :))

    btw, in some US tv-shows I've learned there is something called "intolerance to dairy products" (cheese, milk...), but I've never heard for intolerance to olive oil. Here in Dalmatia, olive is literally a sacred tree and olive oil is god's gift (wine also). It's the well of health. :O

    "Which is worse, octopus without olive oil, or a hungry son-in-law? Both are mortal sins." - hahhaha this is so true... you're making your punica's head explode. :))

    1. Hi DG. Thanks for posting a few weeks ago that you didn't want Zablogreb to turn into just a copy of my other blog. That there was some inspiring words. This post is dedicated to you.

    2. Wow, thx, Cody. I feel so honored.
      When I think about it, it would be real pity not to show your writing skills, your great sense of humor and your positivity to the world...
      And in this blog you can probably do it on a less formally way than within VoC... if you know what I mean. ;)

      I would like to thank you for putting a smile on my face every time you write a post. That is so precious in this world.
      Keep going and "Just do it!". :))
      You're da man! \o/

      LOL You gotta like those American commercial quotes. :)

  2. You can't add more water to your coffee! :O Only more coffee can go into your coffee! :D That's the rule xD

  3. Americano is considered a blasphemy by most Croats. U can have your coffee, we will keep our own. Send us cheesecake, local Dinner burgers, BBQ sauce and RoastBeef, we'll have that thank u ;)

  4. " I just can’t get it across that Yes, I actually want my coffee watered down. I mean hell, how else can I make it last for 2 hours? I’m an American after all." - you need to learn to enjoy the slow coffee-drinking tradition in Croatia. First of all, take smaller sips, it's not water. Second of all, have an engaging conversation so you almost forget you're drinking coffee at all. Almost being a key word here. Since you're having a cup of coffee, after all.

    "In Dalmatia, people even put olive oil on their olive oil." - this is so true. Being a dalmatinski zet, I should know, after all. They have a simple rule: A fish has to swim three times: In the sea (while it's alive), in olive oil (when it's being prepared), and in wine (when you're eating it). And even if you don't have a preference to olive oil, they absolutely must drown your plate in it. I've learned to appreciate that afterwards, but the first time, I was stunned at the amount of olive oil used that day. Because, as you may well imagine, here in Osijek, we don't use olive oil as much.

  5. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Here's what I do, and it works 96% of the time (use this exactly, don't let anyone change it):
    Molim vas, jedan kratki espresso u velikoj salici, i kipuce voda sa strane (please, a small espresso in a big cup and separately some hot boiling water on the side)
    This way you can add your own amount of water (they usually bring the hot water in a creamer...if it is too small, just hold it up and ask for one more). If they are not sure what size cup to bring, just tell them to bring a cup for cappuccino. And be sure to leave an extra couple kuna for their trouble.

    If they try to offer you an Americano, be sure to shake your head, say no no no, and just repeat the above sentence slowly and carefully.

    Try it and let me know if it works.

    Good luck!

    1. Great idea. I'll let you know.

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  7. Actually, you're not the only one with the produžena kava problem. It's very common in easter part of the country, especially in Osijek, but asking for "long" coffee in other parts of Croatia, I often get that strange look too. The solution is to ask for a large makijato. Adding extra milk seems to be acceptable all over the country :)