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Archive for the ‘Cultural Tidbits’ Category

Mystery Fruit

I saw these little guys in the market one day, and after asking if I could try one, I decided to buy a plate full for 10kn (about $2). Rachel and I munched on them for a few days while trying to figure out exactly what they were. The lady who sold them to me said they were called maginje, but as that wasn’t an entry in my dictionary, I was still in the dark as to what they were. None of the Croatians I asked had heard of the word, or had ever seen the fruit. Finally, I searched online and found out that they are called Strawberry Tree fruit. They have a fun texture, and a mild, sweet taste, kind of like a berry mixed with a plum. Yummy!

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Fig Love

Fresh olive oil. Lusciously ripe Adriatic figs. Juicy Italian plums. Mouth-watering prsut (prosciutto).

These are just a few of the ingredients that are part of the cuisine here in Split, Croatia – a beautiful city along the Dalmatian/Adriatic Coast. The flavors that permeate the fare enjoyed here are influenced by our Mediterranean and European neighbors – eye-catching blood oranges from Sicily, garlic and olive oil on just about everything, golden-crusted bread bought daily from the local corner bakery. This is a land of simple, yet elegant flavors, hours spent sipping a tiny espresso while chatting with one’s neighbors, and the morning bustle of buying and selling at the farmer’s market.

Growing up in the land of supermarkets, fast food, and multiculturalism, I learned that one only needed to go grocery shopping once a week and that giant refrigerators and freezers can hold a preservative-laden stockpile of foods for weeks at a time. That there is always another option besides actually cooking food from scratch. That tortillas, naan bread, and stir-fry ingredients can be bought at any grocery store. That one can get any fruit or vegetable fresh, albeit often imported, at any time of year, regardless of where in the world it’s in season.

However, a new chapter in my life has begun.

This new adventure started with figs. I had never enjoyed a fig, besides those in the fillings of fig newtons, in my life. Indeed, the first time I even saw a fig was a few weeks before departing for Croatia. I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw some in a package, and thought, “Hmm…I’ve seen figs in gourmet recipes, but didn’t know they looked like that. I’ll have to try one sometime.” End of thought.

A few weeks later I was moving into my apartment in Split. I knew that I needed to get out to the market to pick up fruits and veg, and for some reason, I knew that I wanted figs. I knew that they sold dried figs all year long in the markets, and that there were fig trees everywhere in Split, but the actual fruit had evaded my notice in the past. So during my first trip to the market, I looked for fresh figs, and lo and behold, found some fresh figs! These were not the familiar dark brownish-purple figs that you may have seen in pictures or in the stores in the States, but rather the Adriatic variety. Light green and round. And delicious. I split one apart and nibbled away at the sweet, seedy flesh. Then I realized that the skin was soft – very soft. Hmm. So I bit into the flesh. Not just delicious – the whole fig was scrumptious.

What other culinary delights awaited me at the market, in cookbooks, at tiny restaurants tucked into hundred-year-old buildings in my neighborhood? I wondered. So began my culinary adventure. The challenge: to discover new ingredients, recipes, and techniques for cooking, ranging from the everyday to the exotic. To expand my cooking repertoire and my list of favorite foods. To cook interesting, nutritious foods from scratch. All on a missionary budget. Join me in my adventure!

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