In Croatia, it’s common to see clotheslines hanging between the streets and much to the confusion of the locals, there’s nothing tourists love more than photographing their laundry. The ancient walls and ruins along the Dalmatian coast tell the story of the past, but the clotheslines tell the story of the city’s living inhabitants.
When I got to the small seaside city of Trogir, a clothesline with seven aprons and twenty kitchen towels told me that I had arrived. I had come to the home of Tatjana Ciciliani, a renowned Croatian chef and my group’s host for the night, whose cooking—which has been featured in Saveur Magazine and on an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern—is considered symbolic of Croatian cuisine. Tonight, our small Secret Dalmatia tour group would be spending the evening at her home, enjoying our very own one-table restaurant experience.
Tatjana and her husband Caja met us at the door and welcomed us into a small courtyard filled with plants, pottery, and glassware. Scattered about the courtyard like decorative trinkets were jars brewing various marinades and liquors. Caja explained that the home had been in his family for the past two hundred years, but they had only recently transformed the downstairs area into its current part-kitchen, part-dining room set up. Tatjana posed playfully in front of the doorway as we photographed her in her kitchen, forgetting momentarily that we were not just in some rustically-designed restaurant, but in a living home.
Dinner in Croatia: The Taste of Inspiration
We followed her into the dining area, where she had set the table with a basket of pomegranates as the centerpiece. From the walls hung an artful assortment of black-and-white photographs, paintings, and old iron tools. Tatjana slipped behind a counter decorated with a colorful string of paper fans, where she continued to cook and carry on conversation.
“I never know what I’m going to make until that morning when I go to the market, look around, and see what’s good … and then I decide,” she told us while arranging glistening tomato slices onto slices of bread for bruschetta. “And since I never write any of my recipes down, each night is different.”
What makes every meal in Tatjana’s home so exciting is the knowledge the food is subject to her every whim, changing form constantly before arriving on a plate in front of you.
We settled down at the table and Caja poured the wine and entertained us with stories of how the he and Tatjana met. From the bruschetta appetizer to a zucchini pasta tossed with morsels of shrimp, everything Tatjana cooked for us was fresh, expertly-made, and somehow, despite the group’s shared inexperience with traditional Croatian cuisine, made us all feel at home.
As Caja served us fish that had been caught earlier that day, Tatjana squeezed behind our chairs to trim pieces from a plant in the corner. When I asked if it was for us, she chuckled and told me she had just thought to add it. Moments later, a dish of baked polenta appeared decorated with small sprigs from the freshly plucked fennel.
Tatjana’s meals end with dessert and a glass of homemade cherry brandy, but the night ends with a short walk around Trogir guided by Tatjana herself. “I’m not an official guide,” she warned us, “but I think because I don’t charge extra, it’s okay.”
As we followed our host through the narrow alleyways and courtyards of her home town, waving along to her neighbors as they greeted us, Tatjana regaled to us the history of Trogir, a city built by Romans, ruled by Venetians, and now one that finally belonged to the Croatians, who continue to cook and live by the sea, hanging their laundry in the streets to dry.
Dinner with Tatjana can only be booked through Secret Dalamatia. Serving only one group per night, it is best to make your reservation with at least 48 hours notice. The cost of dinner is $120 per person, but she also offers private cooking classes for $150 per person. To book this experience contact email@example.com.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Authentic Cultural Food Experiences
- Here’s What Chefs Really Think About Your Instagram Food Habit
- Tiny European Countries That Pack a Lot of Culture
Jamie Ditaranto enjoyed this special dinner in Croatia courtesy of Secret Dalmatia. For more information on how to book a personalized experience in Croatia contact firstname.lastname@example.org.