The 'Days of Hvar Cuisine' gastronomic week in Belgrade brings a Mediterranean flair to the Serbian winter and reunites regular Hvar guests from Serbia with their favourite restaurants.
The relationship between the Croatian island of Hvar and the Serbian capital of Belgrade has always been strong, with Croatia's premier island one of the most popular tourist destinations for Serbian tourists during the time of former Yugoslavia.
Serbian tourism and Hvar
That relationship was interrupted by conflict in the Balkans in 1991-5, and many Serbian tourists stayed away from newly-independent Croatia in the aftermath of the war. Relations have improved considerably, and Serbian tourists are once more heading for the Dalmatian coast and the island of Hvar in ever greater numbers, attracted by the sun, beaches, pristine water and exceptional Dalmatian cuisine.
So strong were the bonds between the restauranteurs of Hvar and their Belgrade guests that a winter gastronomic festival was introduced to the Belgrade culinary calendar seven years ago, which will commence this year on January 23.
Days of Hvar cuisine in Belgrade
Known as Dani Hvarske Kuhinje (Days of Hvar Cuisine), some of Hvar's leading chefs take over the exclusive Belgrade restaurant Saran for a week and more, offering guests the full culinary experience of Hvar cuisine, wines and Dalmatian music.
The timing of the food festival suits both parties; for the Hvar restaurants, January is the quietest month on the island, and most restaurants are shut, while a week of Hvar cuisine at the height of the Belgrade winter is a reminder of warmer climes and the more pleasurable summer holidays which await on the Adriatic.
The festival was the brainchild of, and is hosted by Jurica Tomacic, of the leading Hvar waterfront restaurant, Kod Kapetana, who like many of the island's leading restaurants, has many Serbian guests.
"Now everything has already become routine, I feel like I'm in your house," Tomicic was quoted as saying during a previous Days of Hvar Cuisine festival. "We have brought everything from Hvar, from the salt to the fish and local spices, so that the taste is absolutely identical to the original Jurica restaurant."
Hvar as a gastronomic destination
The island of Hvar, named by Lonely Planet as its number 5 destination for 2012, is better known as the sunniest island in the Adriatic, and is also referred to as the new St. Tropez, with its exclusive image and celebrity draw, but there is an emerging culinary story emanating from the island, which looks set to diversify its tourism potential.
The Serbian event comes shortly after Croatia's only Master Chef, Zdravko Kalabric, returns to the island to continue his training of a young Dalmatian team of chefs (including one from Kod Kapetana, Tonci Jerkovic) to prepare them for the culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany in October. Kalabric took part in a gastronomic event hosted by leading island hotel group, Suncani Hvar, last month, which presented food prepared by the young chefs.
With Hvar's wines also gaining more international attention, and a major wine and gastronomic festival planned on Hvar for May, the profile of Hvar's gastronomic offer looks set to be raised.