One of the most unique culinary traditions in Croatia is probably the tradition of eating dormice ( lat. Glis Glis). It is an ancient tradition as dormice were very popular appetizer with Roman emperors. The tradition in Europe is almost completely lost except in Slovenia and Croatia. In Croatia, dormouse (or puh in Croatian) is eaten in the Rijeka hinterland (Kastav primarily) and on islands of Brac and Hvar. Since I am always curious about traditional tastes and cuisine, I started arranging this meeting a while back. What kind of a local travel specialist am I if I don’t see or try everything? Finally, when my friends Ante of MtHvar and Jure of Me and Mrs Jones restaurant in Jelsa managed to get everything in place, the weather forecast was bad. Really bad.
Since I had another meeting on Hvar, I was not going to miss this dinner.
Instead of having this dinner in Dol – the dormice capital of Hvar Island – we had to move to another location so went to Ante’s friend’s restaurant in Zarače cove. It was cold and snow in the air. On sunny Hvar? Oh, yes…
But we first went to Svirče wine cellar to get something to drink for this special dinner. Plavac Mediterano was a good choice and, at 60 Kn per bottle, a great value.
Soon, the members of Dol’s own Tartajun – cultural association by very small group of locals that still live in Dol – arrived with a bag of defrosted dormice. The hunting season for dormice is before it goes for it’s winter rest as then it is the fattest and, connoisseurs would say, the tastiest. There are two hunting methods: traps or BB guns. Traps are far better as BB guns can hit the gallbladder and make the meat fairly bitter. The tradition of eating dormice in Dol is ancient and dates to the times when people were quite poor and had no meat to eat during winter months.
There are several methods for preparing dormice but only grilling them on hot coals is the method used on Hvar. In Kastav region and Gorski kotar, dormice is prepared in numerous ways: from soup to stew with palenta or gnocchi.
Some people also grill them but first burning their fur and without skinning them. That way dormice are fatter and of different taste but some don’t like the smell of burned fur.
We went for traditional local way.
And, being so small, they don’t require a lot of time on the grill so someone is suggesting this as a very different, traditional fast food. The slogan for their annual dormice fiesta is “Jednega puha u dvi fete kruha” or “One dormouse between two slices of bread”.
And then it was on the table.
Hardly any meat on the dormouse. Only the hind legs provide with something to actually bite with rest of the animal being a bit too bony. The fella next to me nicely devoured everything to bones but I did not really felt like it. The meat is actually quite tasty and not resembling anything I have ever had so that was interesting.
But, just to avoid being hungry after having dormice, we did have some fish and squid ready for gradele.
The real surprise was dried and salted bogue fish (bukva, bugva in Croatian)! It was not too dry so it was still good for grill and it was nothing short of superb. Also, the restaurant in Zarače uses only it’s own salt that the owner collects from the rocks near the restaurant making this a very local foodie experience.
As the heavy rain mixed with snow was falling outside the traditional delicacies and wine of Hvar kept us warm…