Sometimes you have crazy ideas like, “I’m going to try this new recipe! In Croatia! Even though I don’t own a measurement utensil or know what most things mean when I’m walking through the grocery store!” But you try it anyway. So you go to the store feeling optimistic. Bread, penne pasta, garlic, you’ve got this! But then you get to things like shallots. Nope, not going to find those at Konzum. So you substitute white onions. Basil? Heavens no! Good thing you bought a tiny little plant a month ago that’s barely surviving on your balcony! The recipe calls for 20 leaves, but you know that 6 will do just fine. Heavy cream…probably not the one that looks like whipping cream. Butter…it kind of looks familiar, although it’s not sectioned into tablespoons like you’re used to. Canned tomatoes…look for a can with the corresponding picture. Easy! Then comes chicken stock. Hmmm…Find something on the bottom of the shelf with a picture of a chicken and picture of soup! This looks promising!
You get home, unpack your loot, turn on some music, pour some wine and you’re off! Olive oil in the pan, PLUS a tablespoon of butter. This recipe must be good! Do your best estimate of a tablespoon, since it’s just a block of butter. Mince garlic and white onions (which should have been shallots). It smells delicious already! Next, pour in some vodka. Again, no measuring utensils, so just pour and count for 3 seconds. Next, open the tomatoes. Not exactly diced, more like stewed, but pour that baby in anyways because you’re too far in it to turn back! Open up what you thought was chicken stock and instead find persin-kokosja kocka…translation “parsley-hen cook.” Close enough! Let simmer. Cook penne pasta (this is the first step that is not in any way complicated.) Next, pour in a “half a cup” (or several good glugs) of what you hope is cooking cream. Drain pasta, pour in the sauce, sprinkle your 6 chopped basil leaves on top, and there you have it! Your adventurous self has just tried a brand new, pretty tasty meal!
This is what it’s like to live in Croatia. Not always easy, but almost always a good story to go with everything you try.