Global Kitchen: Bota Šare, Mali Ston (Croatia)

The parking lot is empty – an indication in itself of the soaring temperature. I wait it out under the shadow of an old stone arch. To my right, a set of uneven stone stairs rise to meet the ancient walls, and the scorching sun. To my left is the waterfront, blue and cooler in comparison; that’s the route we choose.

The water is full of sea urchins, inky black splotches staining the water, and fishing boats, on a break from their morning run. The boat closest to me – named Bota Šare – is small and clean, its benches are wooden and gleam in the afternoon light. Two fishermen play a game of cards. The old one is stocky and bald, the younger one is lanky and dangling a cigarette between his lips. The boat doesn’t smell fishy. It’s a good sign, this.

We walk past them, hollering a greeting, and towards the restaurant a few paces away. Like the boat it owns, the restaurant is called Bota Šare.

I’ve eaten at Bota Šare before in Zagreb, but this is the original one, set up in a medieval manor on the waterfront on tiny Mali Ston. The taverna has been in the family for generations and is known for staying true to the ways of Dalmatian cuisine culture – locally sourced produce make up the menu: fresh soups, soft breads, homemade wines, delicately prepared seafood and strong, fiery rakija.

We sit outside, under an antique-type ceiling fan; it doesn’t make any noise but it doesn’t help with the heat either. We can see the water, and the fishing boats. Inside, in the cellar-manor, it’s dark and cool, and kind of kitschy, but not over done. The day’s catch sits on ice, on display. A stocked bar is all the keeps them company. The tables here are unoccupied, but perfectly prepared; maybe in bad weather these tables get full. From the kitchen, somewhere behind the heavy doors, chopping and frying sounds and the occasional clang waft out.

It’s a formality, but we flip through the menu, recognizing the house specialties: soups, oysters and other shells, grilled fish, black risotto and homemade bread. For weeks we’ve been looking forward to this meal. We order it once, twice and then for good measure a third time: a serving of Ston Oysters, with a splash of lemon and a twirl of the pepper mill.

We also add a fish carpaccio, grilled vegetables and a small serving of grilled oysters to the table, and then there’s bread, but these are all just distractions (delicious, though). The oysters are fresh, the lemon and pepper give it a fantastic punch, and we chomp them down faster than our waitress (much to her amusement) can serve.

Eventually, we call for the cheque. The empty shells are cleared away and replaced by fresh brewed coffee. As we walk away from Bota Šare, though, I can’t help but feel, maybe there was room for one more helping. Just one more.

*

An Extra Serving: If travelling with a party of vegetarians, be sure to ask your waitress if they can whip up something more substantial, in addition to the basic pasta and grilled vegetables on offer. The staff is very helpful and may even offer options.

Leftovers: As it happens, the house wine (white) can be pretty strong; don’t drink it up straight, especially if you like your wines but mix it with sparkling water and you’re good to go.

Address: The Waterfront, Mali Ston (for the sake of practicality, Mali Ston is about an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik)

Telephone: 020/754 482

Website: www.bota-sare.hr

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Away. At Home.

Two black granite-top tables are joined together for us; the tables drag their feet across the tiled floor, leaving skid marks. We help put six chairs in place. The waiter doesn’t meet our eye as he shuffles about.

He places a bowl of mango and lemon pickle along with a pair of salt and pepper shakers, their openings are clogged, the salt moves up and down but doesn’t fall out. He also brings a set of multicoloured menu cards – the tikkas and dals are bleeding neon.

We order a round of Kingfishers and two plates of masala papad.

I’m sitting with my back to the big window – where suburban traffic jams build up and melt away in a puff of exhaust fumes. Instead I look at the walls decorated with cheap plastic flowers and posters of what I’m guessing are the restaurant’s best sellers – an overweight samosa dripping with mint green chutney; dark brown kebab rolls served with thinly sliced onion rings and fresh coriander; chicken curry and naan, drizzled with butter. The room smells like fresh ground garam masala.

After he brings our first order, he opens a flip-book and waits for us to order. He doesn’t ask, suggest or advise. We order.

The tables around us are taken. I pull out conversation threads when our table slows down: the most common stories making the round are the latest film releases – Taare Zameen Par is getting a particularly good review; the recent Cricket scores,  reasons for the loss and winning strategies for the next one; and the political situation in Pakistan. Over the Bollywood soundtrack, the waiter shouts out an order to the kitchen: “Do garlic naan, ek dal tadka, ek butter chicken, panch par*.”

It’s such a familiar setting: it’s easy to forget that this is London.

* on table five

*

This is an old post from my first visit to London, tinkered and re-published.

Maintaining Stomach Karma in India

Coming from a rich culinary heritage, I’ve always believed that food is an inherent part of culture. From the sizzling woks to the flavours that burst forth with every bite, food opens doors and offers an insight to the people and history of the region. This is especially true for India, where every state has its own distinct traditions and tastes. And yet, many tourists tend to give up on this experience for the fear of an unhappy stomach; others end up on a toilet bowl. But with a little bit of luck and smarts, there are ways to keep the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ away.

You know the general rules: wash your hands regularly, drink only bottled water, stay hydrated, don’t eat cut or exposed foods, etc. Now include these to the list and prepare for an incredible gastronomic journey.

breakfast

Ease yourself into Indian cuisine

When you arrive in the country, don’t dive straight into the chicken biryani. Your digestive system may need some time and conditioning to accept a new food tradition. Start with light vegetarian meals. These tend to be easy on the stomach, and are a treat for the taste buds. Gradually move to cooked meats; meat is always thoroughly cooked in India, which makes it completely safe to consume. And last but not the least, hop on to the roller coaster that is Indian fast food

Spice Count

Not all Indian food is doused in spice. And not all Indian food is curry! There is a variety of Indian foods that are low on spice, high on taste and suitable to every palate. Try the Dosa. A type of rice crepe, it is eaten in combination with chutneys, spiced potatoes, chicken or on its own. It can make for a light breakfast or a filling meal.

Friendly Foods and Fires

A cup of yogurt goes a long way in India. It keeps the body cool and healthy, and it allows the stomach to ease into (and out of) a heavy meal. Wash your meals down with yogurt based drinks like buttermilk (known as chaas and available in plain, salted and spiced flavours) and the ever popular lassi (available in salty and sweet flavours and with fruit).

Milk is generally unpasteurized in India, so if you start your mornings with cereal and cold milk, you will need a plan B. All Indian milk based preparations, be it complicated desserts or a simple cup of tea, involve boiling of the milk, which makes the milk safe for consumption.

For that Queasy Feeling

If you begin to feel queasy and uncomfortable, and chances are that you will at one point or another, opt for natural therapies. Antibiotics sap away energy, and bring along a host of other issues. Instead take a chance on ginger. This common kitchen ingredient helps alleviate nausea, stomach disorders and motion sickness. Drink a cup of strong ginger tea or chew on a piece of fresh ginger. A banana also helps soothe the stomach and stomach ailments, while providing the body with much needed energy.

Chill Out

Don’t psyche yourself into diarrhoea. Being afraid of everything on a plate will get you nowhere, but a local pharmacy in search of anti-anxiety meds (and before you freak out, you will have to settle for the Indian variants). Be careful, but not paranoid. Stick to your limits, but don’t limit yourself. Experience everything, binge on nothing.

(cross-posted at Matador)