Nordic Fish, Dalmatian Christmas Treat

Nordic Fish, Dalmatian Christmas Treat

Croatia is proud on its cuisine. Dalmatia is especially proud for being a part of Mediterranean gastronomy. After all, Croatia is one of countries which are part of Mediterranean diet, listed as UNESCO protected intangible world heritage.

And yet, pretty much whole Mediterranean, including Dalmatia, including Split shares only one flavour during Christmas festivities. It's a codfish.

Just pass through any Dalmatian town or village in these days, and take a deep breath. From every home or restaurant you will feel cooked codfish. And it's only one dilemma - whether to cook it "in white", or as a brodetto. Of course, some restaurants will offer you that specialty in other varieties, but basics are usually the same.

However, there is another riddle about codfish and Dalmatia (and the rest of the Mediterranean): a part of the world so known for its fishing traditions embraced fish caught thousands of kilometers away up north. To make mystery even stronger, it replaced some local versions of stockfish, like dried octopus or hake. Not to mention that any freshly caught fish looks way more attractive that dried cod, which can be compared only to a wooden board.

The answer on this can be found way back, it's a sort of a proof that globalization is not modern days' invention.

Old chronicles report that codfish was brought to Mediterranean by Venetian nobleman and merchant Pietro Querini in the first half of 15th century. Aparently, Querini set sail in early summer 1431 set from Cretan Iraklion to Bruges, in Flanders. His fleet consisted of three ships, loaded with wine casks and spices, but all three sank after being caught by storm. Of 68 men many drowned or died of starvation and fatigue while lifeboats drifted across the North Sea. Journals of the time say that in January 1432 survivors stranded on an island near Røst, in Lofoten. They were found by local fishermen, after nearly a month, and eventually spent more than three months with the Røst inhabitants. Italian sailors learned from their hosts how to eat stockfish - cutting it in small pieces and fry it on butter. The return trip to Italy began in mid-May 1432 by small cargo boats, loaded with stockfish, and Querini became the first importer of Nordic codfish dried on sun and wind to southern Europe. By the end of 1400s, trade was already well developed - cod and fur were coming from the north, and beer, wine, clothes and jewelry from the south.

Connection between cod and Christmas was established in 1561, when The Council of Trent sharply condemned greed, vanity, blasphemy and any kind of body pleasures. Especially fasting was reevaluated as a mean to achieve purity, and show loyalty and gratitude to God. However, rich Europeans didn't want to get rid of their already well developed culinary habits. That's why top 16th century chefs got a new assignment: how to cook by strict religious norms, and still enjoy good food. They re-discovered dried codfish as one of those dishes, and it spreaded around Europe in no time. And it lasted till our days.

Codfish wasn't introduced to Dalmatia until 1800s, probably via Italy, and in the meantime having cod for Christmas became a real cult in coastal parts of Croatia.

If you missed it till today, now is the time to try it. Stop anywhere and taste it.

Merry Christmas!