What is your biggest passion when it comes to Croatia?
Croatia Honestly Manifesto
Today everyone is going somewhere to hunt for happiness.
But to arrive at happiness you need to stand still, learn where you have come from and honour your roots.
Most of the things I do revolve around Croatian traditions. This is because I live what I teach.
I never really knew who I was as a person until I understood my roots: my ancestors and their way of life. This journey inward happened when I lived outside Croatia and when the only way to feel rooted was to know my origins.
Our feeling of wellbeing is relative to our sense of belonging.
We are happy when we belong to a culture, a tradition or a group with a shared mission. We feel inspired when we connect with our environment. Lastly, we reach our purpose when we travel to become transformed by new people and places.
Most of you know me as a cultural ambassador of all things Croatian. I write cookbooks of traditional Croatian food, I make travel videos and host the weekly Croatian Talk Show.
I do all this with three principles in mind: understand the tradition, bond with the environment, travel to be transformed.
This is my manifesto. Let me dive into the details.
1) Understand the tradition
When I was writing my Croatian Desserts cookbook, I had two conflicting emotions. Rediscovering traditional food and ancient flavours felt elating. But pinning down people for exact recipes was a nightmare.
The same was true when I tried to learn how to stretch homemade strudel dough from my grandma.
She never wrote down any of her recipes. Her instructions were something like this:
- put as much water as the flour can take
- the dough must be as soft as an earlobe
- you need to stretch so thin you can read a newspaper through the dough
This is a typical knowledge transfer that happens between older and younger generations.
It is not the ideal way to pass down traditions. Why?
Firstly, people have changed. Younger generations need to understand the why’s of traditions. And they need exact recipes which they can replicate with confidence.
Secondly, fewer people enjoy one-to-one mentoring that grandmas would give to their grandkids. We learn from the Internet and this type of learning needs to be exact.
Our traditions need scientific explanations!
On the one hand, we are super modern. But one the other, we are geeking out about ancient traditions and forgotten ways. We need to know why these approaches are wise and how they stood the test of time. We need to get scientific about our traditions so that we can fully understand and honour them.
Here are some of the aspects of the Croatian tradition that I am geeking out about:
Food that our ancestors ate. Why are ancient grains and tart fruits, for example, better for us than modern food?
Traditional cooking methods, such as slow roasting, wood fire grilling and one-pot meals.
Food foraging and food fermenting.
Making your own clothes.
Understanding and following seasonal fasting and feasting.
Celebrating the close-knit community and appreciating actions that defy being monetized.
2) Bond with the environment
Outdoor activities have become our leisure. Walking, hiking and other more extreme sports. But this is not what I have in mind here.
To bond with your environment means to live micro-locally and seasonally. To enjoy the abundance but to respect the restrictions too.
Many tourists in Croatia complain about the lack of ethnic restaurants. Or they say that ‘you can’t get a good avocado’ in our shops. I say this is a good thing.
I want people to know when each fruit or vegetable is in season. Why you should eat pickles or ferments in the winter and fresh salads in the summer.
This is not only good for our planet. It is the perfect diet that our bodies thrive on.
Here is how you can bond with your environment:
Know your local food. Know what it looks like in all stages of growth - have you ever seen green peas in bloom?
Eat seasonal food. Fresh, crunchy and cool in the summer, warm, cooked and mellow in the winter.
If avocados don’t grow where you live, don’t eat them. Embrace this restriction, it will teach you to do the same in other aspects of your life.
Meet your food producer. Cut down on the degrees of separation between you and your food.
Grow at least one part of your food, even if it’s only a pot of basil. This will teach you to care. This will show you the difference between homegrown and mass-produced. You will appreciate the difference.
Forage for wild food: berries, mushrooms, herbs. These types of food have the most vitamins and minerals.
Don’t eat meat every day. Our ancestors had meat once a week out of scarcity but this turns out to have been better for them and for the planet.
Watch me bake the traditional Croatian Easter bread with sourdough instead of yeast.
3) Travel to be transformed
In the last several decades, everything has become mass-produced, including travel.
We now have mass tourism with Croatia among the most desirable summer destinations.
Consequences for the local people and nature are dire. The small area of this country simply cannot accept so many people.
- The Adriatic sea has become one of the most polluted in Europe.
- Dubrovnik has almost no schools inside the historic centre, only tourist apartments.
- Local farming is dwindling in favour of tourism, which is dangerous long term
My idea of travel is different from tourism. I am a trained anthropologist, and we normally travel to a destination to stay for at least a year. This is how long it takes to get to know a place and its people.
But modern-day anthropologists weren’t the first who travelled to learn.
Think of all those ancient cultures who had missionaries, travelling gurus, doctors, artists. Marketplaces and courts were places where people of diverse origins met to exchange goods, skills and ideas.
In the past people travelled slower and with a different purpose.
People travelled to learn something new and to get transformed by it.
This is the way I travel in Croatia (yes, in my own country) and in the world.
I take time and travel only when I can afford a long stay.
I stay with the locals - if not in their house, then close to them so we can socialize every day.
I learn some local language. If I travel in Croatia, I learn a dialect. If I hang out with sailors, I learn their jargon. Learning a local language can mean a group talk, not always a new language.
I eat what the locals eat.
I learn how to cook several local dishes.
I attend local events and take part in seasonal customs and rituals.
Travelling is our basic human need because we are drawn to the unknown. We must meet it and understand it. It is an adventure which transforms us forever. We grow into better human beings.
Being a tourist can be but usually is not the same as travelling. It is vacationing, having a rest. You can have a rest at home. You can also travel at your own home.
Here’s a thought: how well do you know your own home place?
Here's another: why not connect to Croatia by learning to bake the traditional desserts?
CROATIAN DESSERTS COOKBOOK