Many people doing research on internet travel forums before they visit Dubrovnik ask where they can eat to experience authentic Dalmatian style dishes and also where they can eat where the locals eat, expecting that, rightly so, to be a sign of good food.
Croatia food is not really distinctive. It is Mediterranean, much like French, Italian or Spanish and the menu is seasonal. Our seafood is very fresh, usually caught that morning. Chefs tend to use onions, garlic, and lots of parsley, basil and rosemary. There is a strong Italian influence here; we do love our pasta zuta which is just a basic fresh tomato sauce with herbs and spices. Most of the fish is grilled and topped with fresh parsley and finely chopped garlic and a sprinkling of olive oil.
(Ah yes, speaking of olive oil, it’s important for me to share that I don’t buy mine from the grocery store. I get my oil from our friend, Pero, who owns a small farm down in Mali Ston where he has the best homemade olive oil around. The cost is only 70 kuna per liter, which is about $12. Pero also farms oysters and delivers them directly to me the same day he harvests them. As you can imagine, they are heavenly.)
Having lived here, I can tell you that if you only have time for one meal you should go to Nava. Owned by two women, Nana and Nada, this small restaurant is just off the Stradun, across from the bell tower of the Franciscan monastery. Since Dubrovnik has a long maritime history, the restaurant is named after the old wooden sailing ships of many years ago. Nava is a family run place, with the chef’s daughter Katija and the owner’s son Ivan providing the table service.
Nada is a marvelous cook and although their menu is much the same as many other restaurants in town, she always surprises me with something special which may not appear on their written menu. It’s always a smart move to check with the waiter to see if a cook has some hidden treasure in the kitchen. Served with their homemade wine, enjoyment of their fresh fish, oysters, and cevapcici makes the meal complete!
During the season I am usually the first to arrive, before the doors are unlocked and I enjoy helping them set up the tables for the afternoon lunch trade. Soon afterwards, four local gentlemen sit down for lunch and spend 3 to 4 hours enjoying their meal and playing cards, some type of mysterious game I’ve not seen ever. It’s played with special Italian cards, with only some type of photos on the face – no numbers. It’s a fairly boisterous game, lots of gestures and loud voices claiming defeat and wins. Perhaps one day I will learn the intricacies of this game, as it appears to be great fun.
Since Nava is mostly an outdoor venue, it is only open during the season which begins right after Easter. It closes on 31 October for winter hibernation and a well deserved rest from many months of nonstop cooking local Dalmatian style food, some of the best in town. Come enjoy!