“Land Ahoy” shouts Raffles, between a volley of “Arrhhs’ and “Yo ho ho’s”. As you do when sailing in to Dubrovnik’s Old Town on a timber galleon. The tiny traveller is convinced it is a real life pirate ship and, in a strange twist, it would appear the skipper concurs – proffering my small swashbuckler a feathered pirate hat, vintage gun, fake parrot and the wheel, before promptly disappearing into the ether.
Our fellow passengers (all hundred or so of them) are blissfully unaware that they are now sailing under the captaincy of an armed and delusional pre-school pirate who can’t even see over the wheel.
Envying them their blissful ignorance, Mr Eats World and I quietly soil ourselves and wonder where the hell the erstwhile skipper has buggered off to. Edited highlights of my life start flashing before my eyes and I pray to any God who’ll listen that the absent mariner thought to set the boat on some kind of aquatic auto pilot before he vanished.
A good five minutes pass before the skipper nonchalantly returns to his post with a casual “bok” (hello). Deranged though he clearly is, we’re incredibly happy to see him and mightily relieved that somehow Raffles managed to avoid crashing into any of the sharp pointy bits of the rocky Dalmatian coastline while he was AWOL.
Kapetan Crazy once again takes command of his ship and our pulses settle to a more steady pace… only to start racing again just minutes later as we reach the fortified medieval walls of the Old Town and sail into its movie-set harbour.
As testament to his devotion to his new found career, Raffles has stowed away behind a timber staircase, announcing that he’s “a real pirate now” and intends on staying with his ship forever. You reckon, sunshine?
Forcibly removing our kicking and screaming baby buccaneer from the galleon of his dreams, we enter Dubrovnik Old Town as nature intended… that is if nature intended that we should be wrestling a recalcitrant pre-schooler and his wriggling sibling. It’s early enough in the morning that it hasn’t been overtaken by the hordes of tourists that are sure to descend at any moment. We step into The Stradun, Dubrovnik’s pedestrian main street that stretches almost 300 metres from gate to ancient gate, and are staggered by its fairy tail prettiness- only a few strolling locals, a busker and a family or two of pigeons dotting its gleaming expanse.
The limestone-paved street has been polished to a glassy sheen by years of use and is so shiny and smooth that we have to stop ourselves flinging of our shoes and sock-sliding past the spectacular Renaissance confection that is the Sponza Palace, the uniform rows of pretty green window shutters, fountains, statues, Baroque churches and bell towers all the way to a Franciscan Monastery and Pile Gate, the city’s main entrance, at the other end.
Off the main promenade we weave our way through a maze of narrow cobble-stone lane-ways that cut through the old town, the occasional scar of shrapnel damage the only reminder still visible from the conflicts of the early 90’s which saw the city under months of violent siege.
We stumble upon Gundulićeva Poljana, a pretty baroque square overlooked by an enormous statue of a 17th century poet of the same name, though better known as Ivan to his mates.
It is market day and the square is a heaving mass of red and white umbrellas sheltering table after table of brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables, local cheese, olives, honey and spices.
A legion of local cats encircle the market waiting for the exact right moment to pounce on the gluttonous goodies.
While the kitties seem more interested in procuring produce of the pesce variety we can’t resist the crimson temptation of a bucket of fat and fabulous raspberries.
Raffles and I feast on our luscious load as we wander around town, the juice staining Raffles chin as he greedily gobbles his share… and most of mine.
But the raspberries are just an appetizer and lunch is beckoning.
Dubrovnik is a city of seafood which suits us (and the local felines) just fine. Dining is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine, as evidenced by the proliferation of pasta, pizza and risotto crowding every menu. Tuna, shellfish, calamari, squid and octopus are staples and popular local dish crni rižot (cuttlefish risotto) is not only one of the more obvious nods that Dubrovnik makes to Venice but one of its tastiest.
The dish, dyed an inky black by breaking cuttlefish ink sacs onto the rice at the end of the cooking process, initially horrifies Raffles but any fear of its startling appearance is soon belted away by its flavour packed punch.
In fact, as we await for Raffles ‘pirate ship’ to fetch us for the return voyage we agree we’ve all been pretty knocked out by the beautiful seaside town.
Back in Sydney, we’re revisiting our day in Dubrovnik and, as I’m a bit short on pirate ships, it looks like it will have to be via a steaming bowl of crni rižot. It’s relatively simple, especially with the assistance of my little sous chef who does all the stirring while I focus on the cutting and measuring. Raffles also gets a fascinating bonus lesson in cuttlefish biology as we skin and prep the slippery little suckers and remove their inky sacs.
Lunch is served. And no, there is no reason why it can’t be eaten while you wear an eye-patch. But I do have to draw the line at the kids using a cutlass as cutlery.
Dobar Tek! (happy eating)
- 5 medium cuttlefish or calamari
- 1 large onions, chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 4 cups fish stock (warmed)
- 1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice
- 1 tomato, peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1 cup of white wine
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Lemon slices
- Wash cuttlefish thoroughly under running water and pat dry.
- Remove the outer skin and cartilage.
- Carefully remove the ink sac and reserve for later use.
- Cut the cuttlefish into small strips, reserving tentacles.
- Heat a deep skillet with olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes.
- Add the cuttlefish, parsley (reserving little) and tomatoes and cook until soft.
- Add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Pour in wine. Once evaporated add fish stock one cupful at a time until absorbed.
- Repeat until the rice is almost tender, but firm. (If you run out of stock use warm water).
- Add the ink from the squid and stir, cooking for a few more minutes.
- In a separate pan sauté the tentacles in a little garlic and olive oil.
- Take off the heat and add butter, a sprinkle of fresh parsley and season the risotto to taste.
- Add cooked tentacles to serve.