I arrived in Dubrovnik during a storm in June 2016. Almost a year ago! The bus from the airport deposited Nick and I near the old town gates and it looked like the entire city had been washed clean overnight. The sun was out and all of the surfaces were soaking wet. I was tired (oh SO tired!), having flown in from Nanjing via Frankfurt and Zagreb. I missed China something awful and I was so overwhelmed at being back in Europe that I literally could not string together a complete sentence, which Nick found endlessly amusing. I couldn’t decide whether I was rapt to be back in Europe (where the air was crisp and clean, the streets still smelled like fresh rain and even the Croatian accent felt familiar despite the fact that I had never been to Croatia before!) or whether I was still overcome with sadness at leaving behind China with it’s buzzing crowds, slippery subway stations, weird smells and wonderful people who stared at me a lot! So I really wasn’t much use. Nick deposited my large pack at my feet as I stood in the square called Brsalje and went in search of somewhere for us to get breakfast. It was still early, about 8am I think or maybe earlier, and we could see the various restaurants around us beginning to open up and set up their tables and chairs outside. The wait staff at a restaurant called Dubravka 1836 agreed to let us sit down out on the terrace while they finished setting up for breakfast. We didn’t mind waiting. From our table, I could see the wall to the old town. It was so… Impressive. I couldn’t do much more than stare at it, taking in all the details of the old stones it was made up of, of the moss growing in some of the cracks and the birds flitting up and down and round and round. I was overwhelmed! Even when one of the staff came over asking what we wanted, I just looked at Nick vacantly. Whatever he ordered for me, when it came out, I was VERY happy. The first thing to come out was the coffee. Oh the coffee… Even a year later, I can still feel how wonderful it was as I sipped on this piping hot molten GOLD. As much as I love Nanjing, good coffee is very hard to find. And the way Croatians like their coffee is very much how I like mine. Thick. Dark. Bitter. Sweet. And hot. No milk to taint it. Just pure, unadulterated caffeine heaven! Next the orange juice came out. Freshly squeezed, BRIGHT orange and chocka block with pulp. Then the waiter brought out the food. I think I smelled it before I saw it. Fresh croissant, Dalmatian pršut, some kind of hard cheese and bread. Simple. And effective! I dug in with my fingers and still, no words would come.
That first breakfast in Dubrovnik was my first taste of pršut. Of course I have had cured ham before. Prosciutto, various kinds of salamis, cured ham from back home… And I love the hardiness of pršut. It feels just that little bit thicker than prosciutto. More robust in flavour and not so delicate. It’s the kind of cured ham that you eat with your fingers, slice by slice! Or is that just me?! During our time in Croatia, pršut was a staple in my boat galley pantry. When I couldn’t get anything else, I learned which super market brands were the best, and when I was lucky enough to be able to buy it, I liked to treat the guests on the boat to locally bought pršut from a lovely vendor and his father who sold their cured meats and cheeses on the boulevard in Vis town.
Now many will tell me that pršut and prosciutto are pretty much the same thing. And yes, I know that they are definitely derived from similar traditions that brought us the wonderful Italian version of finely sliced cured ham. But just like prosciutto can vary depending on what region in Italy it comes from or which family recipe it is made with, the pršut that is made on the eastern side of the Adriatic has it’s own individual characteristics originating from variations in things like the wood that is used to smoke the ham, the salt that is used prior to washing the ham and even the air that the ham is hung in. All of these regional differences produce subtle flavour profiles that set pršut apart from being a mere copy of prosciutto.
Pršut can be used anywhere you would normally use prosciutto. It is great as a side to fresh vegetarian dishes like a warm vegetable frittata, laid out in a salad with salty capers, creamy cottage cheese and tomatoes or even as a breakfast food served along with cheeses, fruits, jams and croissants. At almost every restaurant in Dalmatia, you will find it on the menu as a very simple dish served with cheese and bread. I particularly love tearing up pieces of pršut to serve on a cheeseboard with local hard cheeses, fresh summer figs, bright red currants and some fresh crusty bread. The rich saltiness contrasts nicely against the sourness of the currants, the sharpness of the local hard cheeses and smooth sweetness of the figs. Can you tell that I love contrasts?! Almost as much as I love pršut!