Saturday, 21 July 2007
Whilst in Croatia Cowie and I visited the local market at Labin. Perched high up above Rabac the old part of the town is home to a charming market square and a picturesque restaurant clinging to the side of the cliff overlooking the Adriatic.
After searching for ages we eventually found the market- jammed full of fresh Istrian produce. Cafes surround the market serving bracing, black espressos and a flavour of Croatian cafe culture. Young, old, rich, poor, men and women gathered together to just sit in the shade and catch up on a week's worth of gossip and banter. Cowie and I sat back and breathed it all in. Only the hellish toilets detracted from our experience.
The market itself was on the ground floor with a minstrel's gallery running around the outside which gives a great vantage point to choose your favourite stall from. It was fascinating watching 2 old women gossiping away with a vast array of multi coloured vegetables in front of them.
What struck us both was how fun the shapes and colours of the produce was. Garlic was both large and small with deep purple veins. Peppers were almost translucent green or deep scarlet with gnarled profile. And the blackberries were phenomenal. Large. Deep purple. Plump. Pristine. We were stunned by them and bought a punnet immediately. They were so sweet and juicy. Quite different from English hedgerow blackberries. Far less tart and gritty. Gorgeous. Reminded me of my GCSE English teacher Mrs Dixon who got us writing essays about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes attitudes towards blackberries. Very random! Here's Sylvia Plath's pretty dark poem...
"Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks ---
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.
The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal."
I'm glad to report that our blackberrying experience was less bleak - probably something to do with not getting prickled by thorns and because it was 34'c in Croatia in July and not raining in September in England!
Behind a big strong door was the fish market. Far cooler than the fruit and veg section the catch was spread out over marble tables with langoustine everywhere! In Croatia they call them Scampi which does them no credit whatsoever... there's been loads of articles in the paper recently about how we export 90% of Britsh laungoustine to the continent and only eat them ourselves in bad pubs with a breadcrumb coating and chips!
Our best meal in Croatia was at Villa Annette where Cowie had langoustine spaghetti with truffles and I had black ravioli with langoustines. Both were stunning and if you happen to be in Istria you simple have to pay them a visit.
We had an amazing culinary time in Croatia feasting on truffles, pasta, fresh fish and gorgeous zesty white wine. Risottos were stunning and pasta was perfect. Better than Italy in many ways!