Biograd centre - Photo: Alexander Stemp

Splendid Croatian cuisine awaits in Biograd

Biograd na Moru is a delightful Mediterranean seaside town in Croatia whose name is often shortened informally to Biograd, and which Hungarians know as Tengerfehérvár. Both versions roughly translate as “White City Castle by the Sea”, and while Biograd has a similar sound to Beograd, which to an English ear is better known as Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, the two should not be confused. Beograd translates to a far simpler “White City”.

Biograd, with its harbour and nearby islands, is in the Dalmatia region and features predominantly on the Croatian Riviera. Its history dates more than a thousand years, being first mentioned as Biogradon in a local mid-10th-century chronicle. “Biograd on the sea” is also a royal Croatian city – in 1102 the Croatian-Hungarian king Colomanus was crowned there. During that same time, Biograd was the central capital for all Croatian kings and various bishops. It is on a small peninsula between two bays, Soline to the south and Bošana to the north. The peninsula flourished with passing trade throughout the Middle Ages, and much material proof of its thriving and tumultuous past features at the central Heritage Museum.

This fishing town is administratively part of Zadar County. Its splendid coastline is within the same line of sight with the nearby Pašman Island. This distinct geographical locality at the heart of the Adriatic coastline is surrounded by national parks, rocky terrain, vineyards and abundant nature trails.

Biograd na Moru is 28 kilometers south-east of the county’s capital, Zadar. The town itself has a population of a little over 5000 people, and when the tourist season is in full flow at the height of summer this number increases dramatically to some 20,000.

I had the honour of being invited to this lovely Mediterranean locale this May for a three-day gourmet tour. This meant being wined and dined at the best restaurants and sampling the finest of home-made local dishes created by expert chefs. We tasted many very fine tailor-made regional specialties, and I particularly enjoyed Shellfish kunjka (Arca noae) dishes with Dalmatia prosciutto (a sweet dessert wine) and “Royal dishes in a royal city”, plus various others.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

The Dalmatia specialities frequently consist of fresh sea fish. There are also crab and shell fish specialities. Buzzara and Brodetto are special fish stews. The list continues with salted sardines, freshwater crab and eel, “Pag cheese”, boiled or roast lamb, and lamb tripe. Then there is “Pastiicada”, which is a larded beef in sauce and prunes, mutton, dried figs – as well as assortments of exquisite risottos, creme caramel puddings, spicy cakes, biscuits and much more.

The better-known wine varieties are Pošip, Debit / Maraština, and Hvar Bogdanuša, which are all white. Popular reds are Plavac, Postup, Ivan Dolac, and Babić.  


Kunjke – Noah’s Ark Shells

The delicacy and attraction of kunjka or Noah’s Ark shells (Arca noae), are among the main reasons why gourmets come to Biograd. They are a symbol of the Pašman Canal, having their own specific taste and high nutritional value. Kunjka are found in positions protected from the strong impact of the sea, at a depth of 1-10 meters, and are frequently attached to the gravel-shell bottom. They are harvested by hand or with a special hook called a kunjkar.

Noah’s Ark Shells with black risotto – Photo: Alexander Stemp

To separate the two halves of the shell you need to pull out the “plug” that connects them, or use a small, sharp knife. They are valuable foods full of protein, selenium, magnesium, vitamins B12 and B6, niacin and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Noah’s Ark shells in gastronomy have the status of a top delicacy whose distinct taste is like no other. In Biograd, kunjka is traditionally served as a risotto and is a speciality at many of the local restaurants.

Prošek is a dessert wine that is the pride of Dalmatia. It is an integral part of multiple local specialties and is added to many different types of sauces for sweet and salty dishes.

The lively indoor and outdoor venues brought on sumptuous seafood pates, which also  consisted of salted anchovies and marinated anchovies, smoked swordfish, smoked shrimp, tuna and cod pate. Pizzas with smoked swordfish and Biograd “smash” jam burder with onion marmalade and prosecco were also served, thus creating a distinct Mediterranean atmosphere and unique flavour.

For some additional local culture, we also visited the Biosfera Center which relates to active and sustainable tourism. For another but brief diversion from the restaurants we also visited the informative Biograd Heritage Museum, which hosted treasures from a nearby sunken ship from centuries ago. There was also a splendid gallery displaying scenic artworks by locals too.

Then immediately up a small hill is the main, central St. Anastasia church which was built in 1761. It is surrounded by pine trees and old-style residences. The steeple is the highest point of the town, able to be seen from all around – as well as heard when the bells frequently ring out, thus creating further alluring atmosphere.

Finally, it was then time to proceed to the shoreline and step on board the mini Saint Šime cruiser to circulate around the Pašmani canal and general area.

It was great to see various islands beneath a memorable sunset, then on our return the Biograd old-town harbour lit up at night. It was intreguing to really capture and get a sense of the mellow Mediterranean lifestyle with a warm climate prevailing throughout the night, which is different to my own and all comes highly reccomended.

To get to Biograd from Budapest is simple enough by car. Take the M7 and drive directly to halfway point Zagreb – passing by a free and open border. Then the other half of this journey on newly developed road, taking the E65 southwards road from the Zagreb orbital and proceeding to the follow-on and very scenic E71 highway in the direction of Zadar. When close by, drive further on from Zadar and turn off at junction 27. From there the sleepy country lanes will take you to end stop Biograd. This was a pleasant and easy-going 650-kilometer drive which took me, with a few stops, roughly 8 hours. Naturally, driving anywhere along the Adriatic coastline will take considerably longer during the height of the tourist season.

Or, perhaps simpler, (at time of writing) there are direct flights from Vienna to Zadar, then taxi to the final destination.

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