The drive from Vienna to Dubrovnik was extremely romantic, misty mountains with little villages nestled into crooks and valleys or lovingly laid out in the sun like colorful laundry set out to dry. We reached the coast as the sun was beginning to set, so we were bathed in peach and tangerine skies with emerald hills and islands set in the turquoise Adriatic. We got to Dubrovnik as twinklings of stardust light up the hills surrounding the bay. However, as soon as I stepped off the bus, there is a disorientation. Although a tourist town, not everybody speaks English, and Croatian doesn’t sound like anything I’ve come across. Nobody seems to take credit cards around the port and I don’t have any of the local currency. None of the ATMs want to take my cards and quite frankly, the information desk wasn’t super helpful. It is also frustrating when you need to go to the bathroom and you don’t have the local coin to get into the WC. I didn’t have a traditional host for this town (more later about this in another post). I needed a cultural crash course, stat.
What do food tours do for you that regular tours don’t? Well, for one I am talking about local Tours with actual residents committed to the success of businesses owned by local families with pedigrees and commitments to the community, not generic, fly by night, corporate tours which go to the top five internet Yelp or Trip Advisor locations. In Dubrovnik, I was introduced by the DuMotion Dubrovnik Half Marathon to Hamo Ovcina, the owner of Dubrovnik Food Tours. Hamo was born and bred in Dubrovnik. He lived through the siege, he lived through earthquakes, and the local exodus. He is one of the only 750 actual residents living within the old city walls. Local food Tours don’t just give you a quick in and out, they give you living history and experience, they give you cultural connections that go back generations, they give you an insight to the people that live and thrive in this city you are trying to get to know. They give you traditions, secret handshakes and menus, and insider Lengua Franca.
Hamo didn’t just take us around the city, he wove us intricately into some of the most intimate and outlandish cubbies and nooks and crannies. He introduced us to artisans, artists, and neighbors. Where ever we went there were handshakes and nods and winks as we were allowed down passages reserved for only those in the know (something that was confirmed the next day as I attempted to take a friend through the same passage only to be politely and firmly told no). There was an amazing feel of Scorsesee’s single shot of the best friends in Goodfellas’ coming through the service door, walking through the kitchen, greeting the service staff and maitre d’ behind the scenes before bursting into the restaurant and being shown the best table in the house – at multiple locations. Later in the week as I met new friends, I felt I was able to act as a defacto guide and Sherpa to this amazing city. Below is my Trip Advisor review. I urge you to reach out on your next vacation to a local food tour and if you visit Dubrovnik, give Hamo at Dubrovnik Food Tours a call. You will not regret it.
Dubrovnik Food Tours
I love travel and I love food. Food Tours are the perfect combination of these passions when you find the right tour. Dubrovnik Food Tours left me satiated on both counts.
We started the tour at the clock tower, a main attraction of the old town that is easy to find. Our guide Hamo, the owner of the company was on the watch for us to arrive. He made easy conversation with the guests who were waiting guiding us into introducing ourselves and sharing a little bit about ourselves. This was clearly meant to be a night on the town with new friends. After we were all gathered the fun began, with Hamo taking us on a tour of the inner wall and passing by his and his mothers house, showcasing that they are some of the 715 actual residents of what is becoming a Hollywood medieval town. Twisting passages and masked entries led us on a loop of the exterior cliffs and back to our first course in one of the exclusive hotels nestled into one of the homes previously owned my one of the ruling families of the city. The rich wood paneled bar offered us glasses of local wines paired with ample amounts of thinly sliced ham, bacon, sharp cheeses, olives and a balsamic jam that was out of this world. A small introduction by the house sommelier and then our guide launched into a small history of the grapes grown in Croatia. After eating a substantial amount of cured meats we were off and walking to some of the churches and landmark locations of the city used in the popular “Game of Thrones” series.
Next we were seated in an al fresco cafe dining on local tuna tartare and oyster so fresh, they may have just reached into the ocean before shucking them and bringing them to the table. No hot sauce or distracting accoutrements necessary – the oysters were perfect on their own. A little white wine spritzer to cleanse the palate and we’re off on another trek, this time through the front door of another restaurant, out the back door of the kitchen and into a private docking area that gave us access to a private walk on the OUTSIDE of the wall, the evening tide threatening to douse our feet as we were shown hidden entries into the city used by spies and smugglers. Heading back into the center of town, Hamo stopped to show us a favorite wine bar with a wonderful sitting room carved into the rock of the city’s cliff side.
Onto dinner with more wine, we were seated in a very small family restaurant with only 9 or 10 tiny tables and the kitchen with two chef’s handcrafting every dish not 5 feet away. We were given a menu with 10 amazing items on it and told to choose two. Cold and hot plates to choose from with beef and lamb and fish and vegetarian options, there was too much to choose from, a highlight being Black Rissotto made with cuttlefish and its ink which our host ordered as a separate bowl to share with the table to much acclaim.
To finish the night we wandered down some more alleys to 2 dessert places 1st gelato (which Croatians don’t really consider dessert, more of a palette cleanse) huge cones of fanciful flavored gelatos made on premise and then to another restaurant for almond orange cake with huge shots of the Croatian liqueur Rakia. I got the honey flavored Rakia. At the end, I was full, I was tired, and I was filled with a wealth of local knowledge. Bravo to Hamo bringing his lifetime passion for his city to us visitors. He was the consomate host, keeping food, beverages, conversation, and information flowing. He showed us where to go, what to avoid, where the freshest food were, even how to take memorable “trick” photographs like using the railings as frames for photos of important landmarks. My days in Dubrovnik were much more enjoyable after a tour with this excellent guide.