Dalmatian coast, but Dalmatian food seems to pop up on menus everywhere in this country. Most everyone I speak with in Croatia about Dalmatian cooking loves it, regardless of their ethnic or geographical origins. Dalmatian food is primarily simple, straightforward Mediterranean homecooking, the comfort food of the Adriatic coast. As with many things, its beauty is due almost entirely to its simplicity and purity.
Bakalar is the Croatian word for cod (bacalao in Spanish), and also the name of the elegantly simple cod stew seen above. This preparation is traditionally enjoyed around Christmas time, but I didn’t know this when Josip ordered a terra cotta crock filled with enough bakalar for three hungry men. The absence of Christmas decorations, elves and wise men didn’t prevent me from proclaiming the bakalar delectable. And, besides, every day is Christmas to me.
Cod is not at all native to Mediterranean locales like the southern coast of Croatia; I’m told it was introduced there by Dalmatian sailors returning from tours of the North Atlantic. As with just about everywhere else in the world, cod’s mildness and versatility (in addition to the durability of the dried product) caused it to become immensely popular in the republic of a thousand islands.
Manifesting a crock of bakalar requires little more than rehydrating dried salt cod and stewing it with potatoes, onions, garlic, parsley and olive oil until tender and brothy. If you want the recipe, read the preceding sentence again. Lampion’s partnership of fish and potato melts in the mouth, and the moat of broth is ideal for sopping up with bread. I shouldn’t need to mention that I added about three deciliters of Dalmatian olive oil to my portion. My appreciation was best expressed by the bowl I emptied, refilled and emptied again.
We nursed what remained of the two liters of gemi┼ít (white wine and sparkling water) as we sopped up the juices from the bakalar with bread and chatted lightly. Then Josip insisted that I sample the baklava and ordered a portion for me. Lampion’s baklava was a first for me, and (obviously) so was photographing it in the softly lit dining chamber.
This was more like the Greek baklava to which I am accustomed in that it was layered and full of ground nuts, but it was DENSE (another nod to the calorie-bomb cuisine of the north). This excellent pastry almost had the eggy texture of a bread pudding, and ecstasy was mine when my espresso finally arrived to ferry it down the hatch.