Or No, This Isn’t a Local Dance; It’s a Way of Life
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 (7:00am) and begins to prepare the foods that offer real comfort to old time Croatians. Here 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 friend 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 them 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 its 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. In Scotland 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. 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 dish served with pork which is tradition. My dish was made special for me since I do not 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 began many years ago in Croatia when the farmers, who work long hours in the fields in Croatia (in every country – thank you farmers!) needed something substantial too eat while working in the fields. Marenda is 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 simple but well. We have lost sight of what food was and is for when we think of this food as simple and poor man’s food.
The restaurant is open from 8:00am to around 4:00 or 5:00pm during the winter months and open until midnight during the summer. It has been open 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. And 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 days work to buy take away containers filled with home cooking instead of going out for a fast food burger. I applaud them for their choice.
We love simple. When we travel we don’t look for fast food places to eat at. We understand why tourists eat at them but that isn’t for us and we don’t patronize them in foreign countries. Those places do not represent how these countries were founded or what their people 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.