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Croatia Is My New Love – A Day Of Cooking With Secret Dalmatia

by Meg · 28 comments

Croatian Tugarke cherries

Croatia is quickly becoming my favorite country on our RTW trip.   I am a woman of simple needs and this tiny country in Eastern Europe has all the goods to keep me happy:

  • It is stunningly beautiful
  • It has been warm and sunny 90% of our time here
  • All of the major cities and towns are right on the coastline – which means EPIC beach days
  • You money goes very far here, as everything is much cheaper than Western European countries

And, most importantly…

  • The food is AMAZING!

If you don’t believe me, just check out Anthony Bourdain’s April 23rd No Reservations episode on Croatia.  My favorite line of the episode was when Bourdain declared “If you haven’t been to Croatia you’re a f*ing idiot.”  Aggressive, but he is pretty spot on.

I am obsessed with this show and love all of the episodes… but this one might have been my favorite.  It’s a bold statement but you might understand a little better if you came to Croatia to see it with your own eyes.

And when you do decide to visit Croatia, I highly recommend you dig a little deeper into the Croatian culture and heritage with the tourism company Secret Dalmatia.

Alan Mandic, the founder of Secret Dalmatia, is passionate about his home country and takes pride in preserving the traditions and history of Croatia.  His goal for Secret Dalmatia is to share this passion and knowledge uniquely with his clients.

As such, Secret Dalmatia offers signature group tours as well as customized tours that uniquely focus on the art of traveling as a local behind closed door sights. What is special about Secret Dalmatia is that they utilize and leverage their network of friends and family when creating original travel experiences in Croatia.

The result? The feeling of home and love.

Alan invited me and Tony to experience one of Secret Dalmatia’s custom experiences – a magnificent cooking class in the attractive port town of Trogir to learn more about the culinary traditions of the land.  As part of this cooking class, we got a full blown hands-on experience right at the chef’s own home.

The fun and lovable chef, Tatjana, is a Croatia native that spends her time doing what she loves: Cooking and sharing her knowledge with others through her local, multi-day cooking classes.

Tatjana also spent much of her life living in Australia… So she obviously has an awesome accent. But what we loved most was that she welcomed us into her home with open arms and made us feel like part of the family.

Tatjana’s philosophy on food is also one that I cherish and believe in whole-heartedly.

She believes that when food is made with love, it shows in the final product.

And boy did she prove this statement correct!

During our afternoon with Tatjana, she took us to her local farmers market, where we bought many of our ingredients for the day (including freshly caught fish).

She taught us how to make homemade bread of  nuts, sweet potato, and sage.  Bread is her claim to fame in her family, and after it came out of the oven, I could see why!

To accompany the fresh out-of-the-oven bread, we made a garlicky fava bean pâté to spread on the warm bread with goat cheese and prosciutto.

But what made this dish really come together was the Croatian herb mix we whipped up for the sandwich: Crushed fennel seed, sea salt, sage, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, lemon zest, and rosemary.

WOW was this good.  It was so obsessed with this mix that Tatjana graciously made a batch for Tony and I to take home with us.

I loved this sandwich so much that I felt compelled to write an entirely separate article on it.

As stuffed as I was after downing the sandwich (along with several additional slices of bread), the meal was just getting started.

After our sandwich “appetizer”, we enjoyed a light and zesty fish tartar on crostini bread.

What I loved about this dish was making it completely from scratch: From buying the fish at market, to scaling and cleaning the fish (one of Tony’s new skills), to marinating the fish…. And finally, to EATING the fish!

Okay, now I was starting to get REALLY full!

Luckily, Tatjana had us work off some of the sandwich and tartar by teaching us how to make homemade fettuccine-style pasta, which would be a wonderful side dish to our main course of the day:  Pašticada.

Traditionally, a dish to be served during special occasions (such as Tony and I invading Croatia!) and holidays, Pašticada is beef tenderloin stuffed with prosciutto and slow cooked in a vegetable vinegar broth with figs…

Salty. Sweet. Tender.


I made embarrassing moaning noises the entire time I ate this dish.  The sauce was exceptional on the meat and melted into the pasta perfectly.

If I lived in Croatia, I would make excuses to cook this “special occasion” dish all the time…

First day of summer? “Let’s have Pašticada.”

Tony takes out the garbage? “Let’s have Pašticada.”

You get the point.

With such a rich and heavy-in-my-belly meal, Tatjana knew that the perfect ending to the feast would be a light, pallet-cleansing dessert of sweet Tugarke cherries (indigenous to Croatia), sage brandy, and candied sugar & cinnamon almonds.

The candied almonds were quite possibly the easiest dessert to ever make and having them hot out of the pan was a life changing, earth shattering experience!

Tatjana’s cooking class helped me understand why Anthony Bourdain is so hung up on the wonderful country of Croatia, it’s people, and it’s cuisine. What we experienced was an extraordinary day living like the locals, eating like the locals, and interacting with the locals.

This is something that we would have been hard pressed to find without Secret Dalmatia showing us the way!

LandingStanding is focused on sharing our adventures as a couple on the road, but also on providing you with helpful advice so that you can hopefully join us. We partnered with Secret Dalmatia as we love food and view cooking classes as one of the best activities you can do to learn about the culinary culture of a country. In return for a sponsored class, Secret Dalmatia asked us to write an unbiased review of our experience. As always, all opinions are our own and we would tell you if we hated it. But we didn’t. It rocked.

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Barb May 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Superb article, fabulous photos, and I’m drooling over your food and the amazing experience(s) you are having in Croatia. I plan to share your links with more friends who are avid travelers. Thank you for sharing information on your travels.

Meg May 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Thanks Barb! It was such an exceptional day… We loved the cooking class with Secret Dalmatia so much that we did a private wine tasting with the company several days later – Stay tuned for another great story that Tony will be reporting on this coming week… And of course, please continue to share the LandingStanding love with your friends 😉

Cull May 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Very jealous! Keep carpe’ing the diem!!

Meg May 29, 2012 at 3:58 am

haha thanks Cullens! We wouldn’t have visited Croatia if it weren’t for your wonderful review on the country – Just think of what we could have missed out on?!?!

Bethany ~ twoOregonians May 29, 2012 at 3:04 am

You had me from the very beginning with the picture of those luscious cherries. Your day with Tatjana sounds absolutely incredible! Eating meals around the world is wonderful, but meeting the cook and learning how to actually make the dishes yourselves — that’s the best kind of souvenir. P.S. CANDIED ALMONDS.

Meg May 29, 2012 at 4:00 am

Totally agree. I never really thought to partake in cooking classes or market tours back in the states but we have become obsessed with them abroad. It is such a great way to learn a culture and it’s culinary traditions. The small group/private lessons are the way to go as well – They really allow you to interact with the chef on a personal level

Alexandra May 29, 2012 at 5:58 am

These posts of your about Croatia are really fueling the wanderlust!

Meg May 29, 2012 at 7:44 am

Thats the whole point! haha you gotta come here! :-)

Akila May 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I really wanted to take a cooking class in Croatia but all of them were in the Dalmatia region and we never made it that far south. Sad! But, I’m glad that y’all had a great time. Looks like the food was delicious. :)

Meg May 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

It was amazing… but then again, we didn’t have the truffle pizza in Dalmatia, so I think we are even! 😉

Magz May 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Too much amazingness to even respond to!! I wanted to pin every single food photo on that page… and kinda did. :)

Meg June 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

haha thanks sis!

Lana June 2, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Just started following ya’ll on Twitter and I love this post about Croatia! My hubby and I are planning a 10-day trip through Croatia in a couple weeks! I am going to check out that tour company you linked! Thanks for the great post!

Meg June 4, 2012 at 10:15 am

Thanks Lana for following! Croatia is wonderful and I hope you have a lovely time. What places are you visiting? Definitely check out doing a tour with Secret Dalatia… They make your time in the country very special.

Lana June 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

We live in Serbia, so we’re looking at driving to Krk Island and seeing a few other islands around there before heading down to Split and Hvar Island. On the way home I want to squeeze in a day to see the Plitvica Lakes. :) Thanks for your great posts! So helpful!

Meg June 7, 2012 at 9:29 am

That sounds wonderful! I haven’t been to any of those places you mentioned besides Split but we heard great things! Enjoy your travels!

Sarah {HighStyling} June 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I have loved reading your Croatia posts, specially since I was there at the same time. It was such a magical country and I cannot wait to go back! Enjoying your blog immensely!
These are my posts from my trip…
http://www.highstyling.com/2012/05/amazing-house-tour-in-croatia.html http://www.highstyling.com/2012/05/hotel-vestibul-palace.html

Meg June 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Thanks Sarah! Isn’t Croatia breathtaking? I checked out some of your Croatia articles you posted and loved them… Your pictures were stunning! I am glad to see that you enjoyed the country as much as we did. Where are you travelling to next?

Sarah {HighStyling} June 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Not sure where the road will take us next. Our trips are usually last minute. Portugal maybe. Desperately hoping to relocate to mainland Europe soon so we can hop around more like you guys!

Tanu June 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Hey Meg,
I chanced upon your article while researching cooking courses on Croatia.. So glad I stumbled upon it!
My husband and I will be in Croatia for a month. While he’ll be on an assignment, I’ll have all the time to explore and soak in the flavors of this country.. In addition, I’m like you – crazy about going new places, food, random, quirky things.. And I LOVE cooking.
I’m looking for multi-day cooking classes that are not touristy and your experience seems like one. I’d love it if you could share Tatjana’s contact details with me.. I’m looking forward to an authentic, homely experience that I can rave about too, just like you.
Hope you will help.

Tanu ( from Bangalore, India)

Meg June 15, 2012 at 8:14 am

Glad you enjoyed Tanu! Tatjana’s email is below:


I would also reach out to Secret Dalmatia, as they might be able to setup a custom cooking class tailored to your wants/needs!

Have a wonderful time in Croatia!

Tanu June 16, 2012 at 7:19 am

Whoa.. That would be awesome! Thanks a tonne Meg.. Since you’re being so generous, I’ll greedily await more from you regarding Secret Dalmatia’s revert.
I’m going to email Tatjana right away.


nedcro May 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Yep, this is how Croatia grabs you (by the b*lls).

Hi, had to respond to your excellent story !
Right you are, once you’ve tasted those Croatian delicacies, you’re lost (and found).
Reason for us, a retired Dutch couple, to now live here in stead of in Holland.
All year round that means, as every season here has it’s special flavor.
Couple of weeks ago everybody was searching for wild asparagus, now it’s snail time, and soon to follow other wild or home grown delicacies brighten our evening dinners.
With of course a good (!!!) bottle of Croatian wine.
Croatia, a tiny southern European country, but what a huge treasure it is !
You’re absolutely right you connected to Secret Dalmatia, as Alan is doing a fantastic job sharing our secrets with everybody.
Cheers from Croatia, Pim (alias Nedcro).

Meg May 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Pim – Thank you so much for the nice note. We miss Croatia so much – the wonderful people, wine, and food! I am so jealous that you get to experience fresh asparagus and snails – So delicious! You are very luck to have retired in such an amazing country. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend connecting with Alan and taking a cooking class or tour with Secret Dalatia.


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