The Konoba, part of Dalmatian Life Jack Montgomery | Posted: 04 March 2016
SlowMotion journeys in Croatia
SlowMotion journeys in Croatia
SlowMotion journeys in Croatia

I have a bit of a problem with konobas, a traditional type of restaurant found along Croatia's coast...

The problem is that once I get myself ensconced in one I never want to leave it.

Time fritters away far too easily whilst a mountain of food is consumed and a dizzying (almost literally by the end of a konoba experience) selection of alcoholic beverages is more or less forced down my throat. Translated, 'forced' usually means a waiter asks “would you like to try this local concoction?” To which I reply, “Oh, go on then, twist my arm.”

By their very nature konobas are homely establishments. Their roots lie in the name being derived from the room in the house where food and wine was stored and meals were prepared and eaten, possibly whilst tales were swapped and ballads were sung.

Konobas sound like they were the place in the house to hang out. The most authentic modern-day ones still feel more like you're a guest in a family home rather than a customer in a traditional restaurant serving regional dishes. It's not easy to tear yourself away when you're being embraced in a warm environment of genial hospitality.

On one island we strolled through olive and citrus groves, our legs brushing clumps of wild lavender which released a heady perfume into the air, to reach a konoba hidden in a mini Garden of Eden. The family who owned it took us on a tour of their gardens and allotments, the source of much of the ingredients in our lunch, before they sat us down to a sun-dappled feast which included the freshest of regional dishes and their own home brews. These included a revelation of an artichoke and broad bean stew as well as seriously drinkable wine and a variety of shots from their experimental grappa laboratory. We spent an extra special afternoon eating the most wonderful food whilst listening to tales of swimming wild boars and a crossbow-wielding, bagpipe-playing resistance fighter.

There's often something instinctively welcoming about konobas; a magnetic quality which draws you through shadowy entrances framed by rustic façades pretty enough to feature on a postcard.

Related Holidays & Further Information

Istria, Kvarner & Zadar

From the hilltop town of Motovun amid the vineyards of Istria, head south on a 10-night trip by car and boat to the Kvarner Gulf, exploring the islands of Losinj, Cres and Rab as you make your way to a grand finale in vibrant Zadar.

More about our island-hopping SlowMotion journey in northern Croatia >

Dalmatian Islands & Dubrovnik

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We were sucked in by one such place, Konoba Menego, tucked away in an alley in the upper reaches of Hvar Town well away from the town's exuberant main square and harbour area.

The stony exterior was quaint, the interior cosy with softly lit booths illuminated by dim bulbs in wicker shades which hung so low there was a danger I'd set one swinging as I leant forward to put a mouthful of herby Pag cheese or granny's pogaca (bread stuffed with anchovies, tomatoes and onion) into my mouth. Owner Dinko was a beaming, accommodating host... unless anyone requested Coca Cola instead of wine with their food. Our meal was rounded off with a bowl of drunken figs; alcohol and humour feature a lot in Croatian dining habits.

Even in the heart of great Croatian cities like Zadar, konobas offer a chance to enjoy regional dishes in rustic surroundings, albeit ones which might have urban 'features'. Being addicted fans we ducked up alleys and down narrow passageways in search of a konoba, treading the city's elegant marble cobbles until we spotted one which looked as though it might fit the bill.

Whilst many diners people-watched from tables lining the bustling alley, we delved inside Konoba Stomorica, finding ourselves alone in a charmer of a mini courtyard where a wall inset with an old door coyly covered by fishing nets had been transformed into a fantastical and vibrant work of art. As a complete contrast, lines of washing were strung to dry between windows high above us, creating a sort of domestic bunting consisting of shirts and bloomers.

Being in the city, Stomorica didn't have that familial intimacy of the more rural konobas but, like other authentic konobas, it still exuded bags of personality and was an engagingly atmospheric establishment in which to devour an overflowing platter of grilled meats partnered by a Croatian classic side dish, blitva; an untidy but moreish combination of Swiss chard, potato, garlic and olive oil.

Many of my most enduring memories of time spent in Croatia invariably involve enjoying the best of local gastronomy, fine wine and amiable company in various konobas. Dining in one feels more than just having a traditional gastronomic experience, it's also a delicious taster of a Dalmatian way of life.

Jakša Fiamengo, a member of the Croatian Academy of Art and Science, summed them up beautifully in one succinct sentence: “The konoba is really the soul of Dalmatian civilisation. All told, it is not a place, it is a philosophy.”

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