“Pomalo” (meaning slowly, or little by little) is the word exchanged between locals as they go about their daily routines on the Croatian island of Vis. “Pomalo”, they say to each other as their paths cross on the way to the fields and vineyards. “Pomalo” when they meet in the shade of the palm trees to watch the ships in the harbour and gossip over a morning coffee. “Pomalo” as they discuss the night catch at the fishmongers, or pass on the way home from the market with fresh food for lunch swinging in plastic bags. Perhaps it’s this frequently repeated advice, as much taken as given, that is responsible for the relaxed, timeless atmosphere that dominates Vis – and that is central to its cuisine.
Never exactly a bustling tourist spot, Vis has carved out for itself a modest niche with this traditional cooking, with tiny “restaurants” – little more than a few tables set up in somebody’s house – starting to pop up. And it is precisely the island’s laid-back feel, combined with an understanding and appreciation of fresh produce and fish, that make Vis cuisine so delightful. The people of this Adriatic island are far from lazy, but they do follow their own rhythm – a lifestyle dictated by the seasons, weather, and the simple fact of being surrounded by a vast blue sea – and the food is equally straightforward and authentic.
It may sound idyllic, but distance and isolation bring their own difficulties: for centuries, hunger, poverty and unemployment have driven migrations of islanders from Vis. It is central to many songs about Vis: the longing to leave and the nostalgia for return. The island’s geographical position has also made it a popular strategic military point: the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, English, French and Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs have all been and gone and left their mark. After the second world war, the Yugoslav army turned Vis into a base and forbade access to foreigners until Yugoslavia started crumbling in 1989. While the rest of the Dalmatian coast and surrounding islands developed as tourist destinations, on Vis, the army was digging tunnels and preparing shelters against nuclear disasters. The islanders, unfazed as usual, continued doing what they do best: fishing and making wine.
As a result of their forced seclusion, people’s lives here remain relatively uncoloured by the demands of tourism. The industry is slow except in summer, and even then consists mostly of boats crowding the island’s two main ports, Vis and Komiza; there are only a handful of hotels on the entire island. Komiza is a picturesque village famed for its fishing heritage; the town of Vis is traditionally focused more on agriculture and the production of high-quality wines, praised in texts that date as far back as the time of Christ.
The fishing factories have all closed now, and the weathered faces of old fishermen stare out to sea as they sit on the benches along the pier and move with the shade. Wine-making has also declined, as political changes demand a readjustment in the business mentality of the islanders. Tourism has become the island’s only real industry – yet it still has such a small effect on the economy that the islanders often pay no attention to foreigners. Their mindset, as ever, remains one of self-sufficiency, growing just enough for private needs. Travelling through the island’s interior, you will see a number of small vegetable patches, orchards, olive groves and vineyards that keep the islanders busy planting, harvesting, processing and preserving crops all year round – and that fuel the island’s small eateries and taverns. Serving traditional food, these are often simply additions to existing homes, with only a handful of tables. It’s all done by pre-arrangement, and the principle is simple: dishes that islanders eat themselves.
So what are these typical dishes? Nothing fancy. Just simple, good food that has its roots in the cuisine of poverty. Blue fish and garden vegetables are often the main ingredients. Salted sardines, marinated fish, stews, freshly grilled sardines on a spit. Often, it is less the ingredients than the methodology that gives Vis cuisine its unique spirit and flavour. Many of the dishes are based on the preservation and conservation of food originating in a time before refrigeration. Cooks here also typically think in terms of maximising the use of the ingredients, so that nothing goes to waste: uneaten vegetables will be cooked and bottled for winter; fruit becomes jam or is dried and spiced to keep longer; the broth from the stewed fish goes into the bean stew.
It may not sound very exciting or complex, but it’s the simplicity and the quality of the raw materials that makes these dishes so delicious. And it’s also the time, effort and pride of the islanders that goes into the tending of the crops and the preparation of the food that makes it so special. As they say in these parts, “Pomalo”.
source: The Guagdian0