Food Traditions on the Islands of Brač and Hvar

The Mediterranean dietary model forms the basis of the entire culinary system of the islands of Brač and Hvar. The interrelationship between natural resources and human needs and, consequently, human skills, is reflected in the diet of the inhabitants of these islands.

Despite some slight variations, there are two distinct diets typical of both islands – the fisherman’s diet and the peasant’s diet. The combination of the two diets is common on the island of Hvar, where there is a stronger communication between coastal and inland villages than on the island of Brač. The basis of yearly and daily dietary rhythms follows an almost identical pattern on both islands. There are, however, variations in the recipes for certain dishes from one village to another and from one social class to another.

Olives and vines have been grown on both islands for centuries and have been much and diversely used in food preparation. Both crops remain important today since, their production and sales of produce, such as oil and wine, form the basis of the islands’ economies.

As on all islands, fish and seafood are dietary staples, but meat is eaten as well, most typically in the hinterland. This is especially true of the island of Brač. As the people of Brač and Hvar themselves say of their diet and the diet of their forefathers, its basis comes down to vines, olives, goats and sardines and to various vegetables, legumes, cereals and a wide use of olive oil, for both medicinal purposes and as food.

According to the people of Brač and Hvar, sardine is one of few types of fish that can be prepared in numerous ways: it can be grilled, marinated, and even spit roasted. Besides sardines, other fish was prepared too, as well as snails and meat – mostly kid and mutton, somewhat less often poultry and pork, and very rarely beef.

On the island of Hvar, goats, poultry and beef cattle were bred more frequently, and on the island on Brač sheep were bred in addition goats; both mutton and lamb were highly esteemed by the islanders. While mutton is nowadays a part of most restaurant menus, in the past it used to be prepared to celebrate important events in the life cycle, such as birth, christening, marriage, and similar important family events.

A typical specialty from the island of Brač is lamb offal, which is the key ingredient of vitalac, a dish that has already been included in the national list of registered intangible cultural heritage.

On both islands dormice are hunted and prepared as food. Dormice hunting is still organized in the villages of Nerežišća and Pražnice on the island of Brač, while the people of Hvar remember this custom during the Puhijada festival that is held in the village of Dol. On both Brač and Hvar, dairy products were made mostly from goat milk. The specialty of Brač is procip – cottage cheese baked in caramelised sugar, while the people of Hvar take pride in the dish called pečica na tečicu, made from unsalted cottage cheese baked with milk and sugar. In the past, smutica or bikla, a drink made from fresh goat’s milk mixed with red wine (four parts to one) was common on both islands.

Another ‘spice’ that needs to be mentioned is varenik, a typical preservative made from grapes, or more precisely must, which is boiled before fermentation until thick. It used to be added to meat and fish stews and sweet dishes.

In the past, there was no Christmas Eve on Brač and Hvar without pašurata or pršurata (a type of deep-fried dumplings) and there was no wedding reception without cviti (flowers). Cviti are an interesting example of a wedding cookie; on Hvar, a round form of the cookie is said to be used to decorate accordions during wedding feasts, and in the wedding customs of Brač, cviti would take on the form of wishes, for example a baby or a heart.

Perhaps the best illustration of the Dalmatian cuisine, which is part of the Mediterranean cuisine, is the description given by one of our informants, Ivo Buzolić from Hvar, known as Lojko: False soup – there is no recipe for a false soup, it is a phenomenon of the Dalmatian tradition of poverty.

The notion of a false soup reflected the relationship towards aspirations, everything that was not meat since there was always a craving for meat. The soup with a capital “s” was the one that had a piece of meat in it; everything else was a false soup. All these vegetable stews, thin, from different kinds of vegetables, a false soup was made from what was available. Two leaves of cabbage, a pepper, a courgette, a tomato… you sauté a small onion until yellow, brown some flour… In wintertime, it was a hearty soup, powerful and nutritious.

A healthy diet is a simple one that is in accordance with nature. It’s not poverty cuisine, that’s how the things used to be, that was normal. As much as it was possible, the diet followed the change of seasons. To eat fresh, to eat what’s alive…

Melanija Belaj, PhD. and Marina Blagaić Bergman, PhD.