Monday, May 23, 2022

Croatia: Some Basic Info & History

George Bernard Shaw wrote that on the last day of Creation; ‘God desired to crown His work’ and so fashioned the Croatian coastline ‘out of tears, stars, and breath.”
--A Traveler’s History of Croatia (2nd ed) by Benjamin Curtis

From the eastern shores of Italy, if you travel across the Adriatic Sea (known to Croatians as Jadransko More), a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, you'll encounter the Republic of Croatia. You could also follow the roads along the northern coast of Italy to the east, crossing Slovenia and then into Croatia. Croatia is alternatively known as a Balkan country or a Central European country, dependent on how one wants to depict the context of the country. In July 2013, Croatia became a part of the European Union.

Croatia has a land area that's roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia, a population of about 4 million, and 90% of that population identifies as ethnic Croats. It's estimated that over 4 million Croats live outside of Croatia, in countries all over the world, from New Zealand to the Chile, with over 400,000 living in the U.S.

With a mainland coastline of about 1100 miles, Croatia also possesses over 1,200 islands in the Adriatic Sea, about 50 of them which are inhabited. Some of the most famous islands include Hvar, Vis, Ran, Korcula, Brac, Mljet, Cres, Bag, and Losinj. The famed Mali Ston oysters, a type of European flat oyster, comes from the Mali Ston Bay in the Adriatic, and they are amazing, possessed of a unique merroir and taste. The Adriatic Sea is vitally important to Croatia, and has been so for many centuries, especially for mercantile purposes. In addition, the Adriatic and is an important reason for its popularity with tourists, who revel in the gorgeous beaches of Dalmatia and the the various islands.

The history of Croatia extends back thousands of years, with the Illyrians being one of the first most noticeable civilizations, even though little is still know of them. However the names of a few of their tribes eventually became used for various Croatian regions. For example, the Histri tribe inspired the name Istria and the Delmati tribe inspired the name of Dalmatia

The ancient Greeks traveled across the Adriatic Sea at least as far back as the 7th century B.C., although their first known colony, on the island of Vis, wasn't established until the 5th century B.C. Today, there are few Greek ruins in Croatia, although evidence of their presence has been found. 

By the 2nd century BC, the Romans started taking control of Croatia. Illyrian pirates had been harassing merchants in the Adriatic for years and that is one of the major reasons why the Romans got involved, to thwart that shipping threat. Today, there are numerous Roman ruins, some well-preserved, spread across the country, from Diocletian's Palace in Split to the Pula Arena in Pula, one of the largest surviving Roman arenas. On my prior trip, I got to visit some Roman ruins, and I should do so again on this new trip, including the Pula Arena

A number of Slav tribes began settling in the Balkan peninsula during the 6th-7th centuries but the Croats were the first to break free from Byzantine rule and establish their own kingdom, led by King Tomislav, around 924. About 165 years later, when the last Tomislav king passed away, the country fell under the dominance of Hungary. 

Throughout the centuries, the lands of Croatia would often be immersed in war, being seized and controlled by various factions, including the Byzantine Empire, the Croatian Kingdom, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Each faction left their impact on Croatia, and those roots are apparent in the modern day. 

Around 1918, Croatia was absorbed into what would soon become the nation of Yugoslavia. It took over seventy years, on June 25, 1991, before Croatia declared its independence, leading to a war, the Homeland War, that ended, fortunately, in Croatia's favor, around August 1995. During the last 27 years, Croatia has maintained its independence, and eventually joined the European Union.  

Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
--George Bernard Shaw

Croatia now borders the countries of Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Bosnia & Herzegovina actually splits Croatia, at a section known as the Neum Corridor, an oddity that extends back to a treaty in 1699. It is only about 9 kilometers long, giving Bosnia & Herzegovina a tiny coastline. However, the new Pelješac Bridge, which is set to open in July, will allow people to bypass the Neum Corridor, with no need to cross into Bosnia & Herzegovina. This was a massive undertaking, and a Chinese company is largely responsible for its construction.

Croatia joined the European Union in July 2013 and though some consider Croatia a small country, it's actually larger than a number of other EU countries, including Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia. Next year, Croatia will abandon the kuna, their current currency, and adopt the Euro. Kuna is also the name of the pine-marten, part of the weasel family, and its image is on several kuna coins. The design for the new Croatian 1 Euro coin was recently selected, and it will use an image of the pine-marten.

Culturally, Croatia can roughly be divided into three main areas, a bit of a simplification, and each region is reflective of its neighbors. The most eastern area, generally composed of Slavonia, is close to Hungry and Serbia, and is more similar to Hungarian and Slavic cuisine and culture. The more coastal and southern area of Dalmatia, is more Mediterranean in nature while the region of Istria, to the northwest, is more Italian in nature. Great diversity in this relatively small country.

The history of wine in Croatia extends back over 2500 years, with the Greeks and Romans responsible for much of the early viticulture. However, the native Illyrians already engaged in winemaking prior to the arrival of the Greek and Romans. The Roman Poet Lucan penned a poem that praised the Illyrians’ winemaking expertise. 

There's a Greek coin from the island of Vis, dated from the 5th century B.C., which depicts a bunch of grapes on one side and an amphora on the reverse side. The Stari Grad Plain, on the island of Hvar, was colonized by Greeks during the 4th century B.C. Vineyards have been continuously planted there for over 2400 consecutive years and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site!

Around 200 A.D. Athenaeus of Naucratis. a Greek teacher and write, composed The Deipnosophistae, which means "dinner-table philosophers," and touched on many matters of food and wine. One quote stated, "In Issa, moreover, an island in the Adriatic, Agatharchides says a wine grows which is found by test to be better than all others." Agatharchides of Cnidus was a famed Greek historian and geographer.

Once the Romans colonized parts of Croatia, they planted many vineyards. Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus, who ruled from 276-282 A.D., ordered that vineyards be planted in many regions, including Europe and Croatia.

According to A Short History of Croatian Viticulture and Winemaking by Ivan Sokolić, "The Croats, who arrived in this area and as far as the Adriatic Sea in the early 7th century (and never gave up their language), accepted the culture of viticulture from the Romanised indigenous population (and of the holy olive tree from the fruit of which, in the words of the Croatian poet, Vladimir Nazor, they squeezed condiment for food and picked a flame of light for the days of winter darkness). These plants bound them to this soil and thus became the guardians of their new homeland and nurtured them where other cultures could not survive."

During the 15th century, with Dalmatia under the rule of Venice, many of the people earned their living through the wine industry. This would still be true as the late 19th century, when about 80% of the population of Dalmatia made their livings through wine. However, the arrival of the dreaded phylloxera devastated vineyards, and partially led to numerous Croatians emigrating elsewhere. 

Throughout the centuries, as Croatia has been ruled by various countries, including Italy, Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia, their wine industry has sometimes prospered, with Dalmatian wines receiving many accolades around the world. At other times, the industry has suffered, with vineyards being destroyed and uprooted. 

After those tumultuous times, and since Croatia gained its independence, the wine industry has been making major steps forward. In some respects, and despite its antiquity, it's a young wine-producing country, exploring its potential and proving that it can produce world-quality wines.

Croatia wines were first imported into the U.S. at least 140+ years ago. The Chronicle-Star (MS, August 20, 1880, published an advertisement by a wine importer of the wines he had for sale, including 60 ½ pipes (a type of barrel) of Dalmatia wine. No price for the wine was provided.

In an article in The Pall Mall Gazette (London), November 3, 1880, Mr. E.F. Knight, author of abook on his travels to Albania, “... describes the samples of Dalmatian wine which he tasted as equal to the best Burgundies, sherries, and ports.” He also stated, “There is also an excellent light wine. These wines are cheap and need only be introduced into England to be appreciated and widely consumed.” The writer of the article also commented, “In this we heartily agree with Mr. Knight.”

"The simple fact is that no one knows for sure where the Croats originally came from."
--A Traveller's History of Croatia (2nd ed) by Benjamin Curtis

Some other fun facts about Croatia, its cities and island:
  • Croatia is home to the world’s smallest town. In the center of Istria, you’ll find a small town, called Hum, which is said to be the smallest town in the world. It has a population of about 20-30 people. Legend claims that Giants had some left over stones and decided to build the fortress city of Hum.
  • According to Alfred Hitchcock, while he was filming at the seaside city of Zadar in Dalmatia in 186, he felt to held the title of the best sunset in the world. Hitchock said, “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.” 
  • The Croatian currency, the kuna, is named after an animal in the weasel family. The word kuna is also the term for the pine-marten, a furry ferret-like creature that is about the size of a cat and has a bushy tail. In the past, pine marten’s fur was used for trading so the term was later adopted for currency. A marten is depicted on the 1, 2 & 5 kuna coins, minted since 1993. Unfortunately, the kuna will be replaced by the Euro in 2023.
  • Croatia has a heart-shaped island, Galešnjak, which is also known as the Island of Love or Lover’s Island. And you can even get married on this romantic island. 
  • The city of Dubrovnik had one of the first medieval sewer systems in Europe.
  • There are the names of two Croatian’s on the map of the Moon, scientists J.R. Boskovik (a crater) and A. Mohorovicic (also a crater).
  • Croatian innovator, Slavoljub Penkala, invented the very first mechanical pencil and the name pen comes from his surname.
  • The longest Croatian word is “prijestolonasljednikovičičinima”, which roughly translates as “heirs to the throne”.
  • The medieval Croatian town of Motovun, in Istria, is known as the ‘land of truffles’. This town is also said to be the center of three "ley-lines," paths of mystical energy. 
  • Croatian Ivan Vučetić pioneered the use of fingerprinting.
  • Besides Game of Thrones, other movies and TV series which have shot scenes in Croatia include Mamma Mia 2, Robin Hood (2018), Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Captain America, Dr. Who, Spiderman: Far From Home, and Strikeback
My prior journey to Croatia, spanning from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, eventually led to over 25 articles, and I'm sure my new trip will also lead to the creation of numerous articles about my travels to this compelling country, especially as I'll be exploring different Croatians regions, including Istria and Slavonia. Croatia is a country that many people know little about, and the more I learn about it, the more I understand it deserves greater attention.

Have you been to Croatia before? If so, what were your thoughts?

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Celebrate International Pošip Day: Bring On The Oysters!

Today, May 21, is the second annual International Pošip Day, a day chosen to highlight and showcase this intriguing and compelling white wine grape, indigenous to Croatia. As it's relatively unknown to many people, very much a niche wine outside of Croatia, then Pošip is worthy of a holiday intended to spread wider recognition of this grape. 

This holiday was created by the Croatian Wine Alliance, a public-private collaboration led by Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., and including organizations around the globe united in raising awareness of premium Croatian wines, including the Wines of Croatia (an association within the Croatian Chamber of Commerce), Vino Dalmacije, (an association of winemakers in Dalmatia), some Croatian wineries, as well as many importers and distributors around the world.

As I'm currently in Croatia, I'll definitely be celebrating this holiday, drinking plenty of Pošip (hopefully paired with oysters), and likely learning even more about this grape. For those unfamiliar with Pošip, let me provide you some history, background and information, so you can better celebrate and appreciate the white wines made from this indigenous grape.

In New England, we love our seafood and Croatian white wine, made from the indigenous Pošip Bijeli grape (more commonly known as simply Pošip) make an excellent pairing with everything from oysters to haddock, shrimp to crab. Pošip is primarily produced in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, where seafood is prominent, and I can personally attest to how well it pairs with a variety of seafoods.

The Pošip grape likely originated on the Croatian island of Korčula, which derives its name from an ancient Greek colony named Melaina Korkyra (Black Corfu). As an aside, it’s also claimed that Korčula was the birthplace of Marco Polo. The origin of the term Pošip is a bit ambiguous, with two main theories. The first is based on the elongated shape of the grape while the other theory is that the grapes once grew closely near pomegranate trees, known as šipak.

Though some believed that Pošip was brought to Korčula by ancient Greeks, DNA analysis has shown that Pošip was born from two other grapes, Bratkovina Bijela and Zlatarska Bistrica, both which are known to be indigenous to Korčula. So, it’s clear Pošip had to have been born on Korčula, and not transported by the Greeks or any other travelers.

For a lengthy time, Pošip remained relatively unknown and wasn’t intentionally grown in the vineyards on Korčula. However, during the early 1880s, a Korčula farmer, Marin Tomašić (nicknamed Caparin), from the village of Smokvica, found a wild grapevine growing in the forest, one which had resisted the harms of phylloxera. Marin was intrigued and planted some of it in his own vineyard, eventually becoming enamored with the grape, which was Pošip. He shared his find with others, who also planted it, spreading Pošip across the island.

In 1967, Korčula became a legally protected appellation, making Pošip the first Croatian white wine to be part of such an appellation. Pošip eventually spread throughout the Dalmatian region, becoming one of the most popular white grapes in this region. In 2020, it was the ninth most planted grape in Croatia and you can find Pošip wines on most Dalmatian restaurant wine lists.  

Pošip is an early ripening grape, versatile and expressive of its terroir. You can find a wide variety of expressions, including still wines, sparkling wines and dessert wines. Some Pošip wines are aged only in stainless steel while others receive some oak aging. Each winery puts their own spin on this indigenous grape and that makes these wines even more interesting. 

In general, Pošip wines can range from medium to full-bodied, possessing flavors of citrus to tropical fruits, and commonly have fresh acidity. They are often aromatic and may also have mineral notes, a taste of almonds, and might even have a high alcohol content, over 14% ABV. Much will depend on the terroir of the vineyard and winemaking style, which means you should be able to find a Pošip wine which caters to your personal preferences.

It’s definitely a fine pairing with seafood, from shellfish to grilled white fish, though it would also work with light chicken and similar dishes. Or simply enjoy it on its own, while sitting outside on a fine summer day. Share it with family and friends, exposing them to a more unique wine.

So, buy yourself a bottle of Pošip and revel in its delights. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Bound For Croatia, Once Again

With the Dalmatians, Slavs or Slavonians, red wine is much like coffee or tea to Americans. They drink it for breakfast, lunch and supper, if they can afford it. It is nearly always on the family table, …”
--Tacoma Daily Ledger (WA), December 19, 1915  

In 2019, when I first visited Croatia, it was a record year for tourism, with over 20 million tourists, from all over the world, traveling to Croatia. That's approximately five times the population of Croatia, which has only about 4 million people. In comparison, Massachusetts has a population of about 6.9 Million and in 2019, had about 29 Million tourists, only about 2.5 Million from outside of the U.S. 

During 2019, about 617,000 tourists from the U.S. travelled to Croatia, constituting only about 3% of the total tourists that went to Croatia. During 2019, the top three most popular travel destinations for U.S. tourists were Mexico (39M tourists), Canada (15M), and the UK (4M). However, in the period from 2014-2019, U.S. tourism to Croatia increased by 135%, the country with the fifth largest increase during that period. So, Croatia is becoming a more popular vacation destination for Americans, although it's still a niche destination.  

Obviously, when the pandemic struck in early 2020, tourism declined, and Croatia hopes to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023. In 2021, there were still nearly 14 million visitors to Croatia and preliminary statistics for the first few months of 2022 look very positive. Only about 284,000 people from the U.S. traveled to Croatia in 2021, with Dubrovnik and Split being the two most popular destinations, visited by about 170,000 Americans. Only about 19,000 Americans visited the region of Istria and a mere 1200 visited the region of Slavonia

For a time, it seemed that everywhere you looked, Croatia was being showcased as a hot new tourist destination. The hugely popular TV series, Game of Thrones, which ended on May 19, 2019, contributed to this popularity as a variety of scenes were shot in numerous locations in Croatia. Dubrovinik became a central spot for tourists, especially for cruiseships, to explore these locations from that famed series. Three years later, a new sequel series, House of the Dragon, is set to debut this August, and some scenes were also filmed in Croatia, which should bring more attention to this country.  

Especially during the summers, numerous celebrities vacationed in Croatia, basking on the beaches in Dalmatia, touring the islands in the Adriatic, or just relaxing on their yachts. For example, in the summer of 2021, a few of the visiting celebrities included Michael Jordan, Demi Moore, Harrison Ford, and Gordon Ramsey. The publicity of their visits helped to introduce people to the beauty of Croatia, motivating some to also visit. 

With world travel reopening, it's likely you'll see attention once more given to Croatia as a travel destination. It has much to offer, from its pristine beaches to its ancient history, from its diverse cuisine to its historic wine industry. It's a beautiful country, with so much to offer, and I certainly relished my prior visit, often recommending it to others. 

If you want a more active vacation, from water sports to hiking, Croatia can meet your needs. If you want a quieter time, you can spend your hours on the Croatian beaches. There are plenty of museums to visit, shops to peruse, and historic attractions to check out. There is much sheer beauty in its nature as well, from incredible waterfalls to impressive mountains. Whatever your preferences, Croatia is likely to be able to cater to them. Based on my prior trip, Croatia was also a relatively inexpensive destination, although some of that may have changed due to the pandemic and inflation. I'll know more soon.

The Croats seem able to imbibe any quantity of alcohol without injurious consequences, and they rarely quarrel when out for enjoyment. One seldom sees a Croatian in a dangerous and nasty temper except when politics are under discussion,…
--The Edinburgh Review, October 1914 

Croatian wines are getting more visibility and attention in the U.S., and people are more curious about the country of their origin. Consumers are also intrigued to visit Croatian vineyards and wineries, to seek out a new vinous destination, different from the usual they know. Locally, Croatian Premium Wine Imports is now importing over 70 Croatian wines, and they also ship to most other states. So, almost no matter where you live in the U.S., you probably have access to a significant number of Croatian wines. 

I work part-time at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose and we have been selling several Croatian wines. Customers have been eager to try these unique wines, to experience indigenous Croatian grapes that are new to them. And they have been returning to buy these wines again and again as they very much enjoyed their taste. 

Croatian wines are definitely on the rise but when will Rakija, Croatian brandy, get the spotlight tt deserves? Rakija can be made from about any type of fruit, though plums (šljivovica) and grapes (lozovača) are the most common. Some Rakija may also have the additions of honey, herbs and spices, such as Travarica, which contains a blend of wild herbs, though the exact blend will vary from producer to producer. It's an intriguing and delicious spirit which also is worthy of more attention. 

Later today, I'll board a plane and fly off to Zagreb, the first stop on my new exploration of the Republic of Croatia. I'll be accompanying a small group of writers and wine lovers as we trek across this fascinating country, visiting numerous wineries, dining on the local cuisine, immersing ourselves in its culture, and delving into its historic past. Much of my trip will be in the regions of Slavonia and Istria, where few Americans currently visit. I'll add that both regions, in general, receive far less tourists from the rest of the world too. Dalmatia is by far the most popular tourist destination within Croatia. 

Our plans include visits to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), Slavonia (the "breadbasket of Crotia"), and Istria (known to the Romans as "Terra Magica"). We'll attend at couple of wine festivals, including Pink Day (dedicated to Croatian Rosé wine) and the Grasevina Festival (dedicated to the Grasevina grape). We'll meet Croatian winemakers, sommeliers and chefs. I'll be in Croatia for about two weeks and my itinerary is filled with so many interesting elements.

I'm obviously very excited to visit this country once again, and have spent time researching more about Croatia, from truffles to oysters. I've mentioned before that Croatia was the birthplace of the oldest documented European vampire, Jure Grando, who lived in the village of Kringa in the region of Istria. On this trip, I might get to make a stop in Kringa to get a touch of that history. The region of Istria has numerous other ancient legends as well, from the fairies who allegedly built the Pula Arena to giants who allegedly constructed some of the fortified cities of the region.  

How has Croatia changed since the start of the pandemic? That's one of the major questions I'll be pondering when I visit the country this time. I'm sure there have been changes, like everywhere else, so I'm curious how the country differs from my previous visit. 

This press trip is being sponsored by the Croatian Tourism Board, Vina Croatia, Graševina Croatica Wine (in Slavonia), Vinistra (in Istria), and Croatian Premium Wine ImportsI'll also be flying to Croatia on Turkish Airlines. Mirena Bagur (who is Croatian) and Win Burke, of the Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports, will be our primary guides throughout our visit to Croatia. They are great people, who led my first trip there as well, and we're sure to have a fun and exciting journey.

In addition, a number of the Croatian wines that I'll write about, upon my return from Croatia, may also be available in Massachusetts now or will be in the future. Some Croatian wines have been previously imported by other companies, but they have remained relatively rare in wine shops and on restaurant lists. Mirena and Win have been working hard to make Croatian wines more available to local consumers, and they have also been leading a number of local tastings of Croatian wines. It's such passion which is needed to persuade consumers to taste and purchase Croatian wine.

I'm sure I'll have some free time during my two weeks in Croatia, and I won't be using that time to take a nap. I'll be exploring the area on my own, seeking out intriguing spots, from restaurants to bars, shops to historic sites. In Zagreb, I'm already planning to stop by Cahunan 80+ year old hat shop which still makes some hats by hand. I bought a great fedora on my previous trip and I hope to get another hat this time. Maybe I'll also check out the Zagreb Zoo, or at least the Cat Caffe, the first in Croatia. 

I'm also intrigued by the L'Erotic Gin Bar, which features Croatian gins along with local foods, as well as Bota Šare, which features Sushi, Mali Ston Oysters and seafood. I'm craving those Mali Ston Oysters and hope to have them multiple times while I'm in Croatia. I'm also eager to taste Boskarin, the famed Istrian cattle whose meat has become a culinary wonder. It will be fun to attend a couple wine festivals too, one dedicated to Croatian Rosé wines and the other to wines made from the Graševina grape.

I look forward to everything I'll experience in Croatia, and then I'll enjoy sharing my stories with my readers. 

As they say in Croatia, Živjeli! ("Cheers")

Monday, May 16, 2022

Clam Box of Ipswich: Excellent Customer Service

Fried Lobster and more Fried Lobster!

We all know lobster prices have been quite high lately, and I've seen lobster rolls at some spots selling for over $50. This past Friday, I had lunch at the Clam Box of Ipswich, my favorite clam shack on the North Shore. On Fridays, they often offer a special, a Fried Lobster dinner and that special was available when I dined there. So, my dining companion and I ordered a Fried Lobster plate, as well as a Combo plate with Fried Clams & Fried Scallops.

The Fried Lobster plate was only $37, and each lobster piece is basically half a lobster tail, so you end up with about three lobster tails of meat. This dish is only a few dollars more expensive than the last time I had this dish, sometime last year, and somehow they have avoided the significant price increases at other places. The dish came with a pile of French fries and onion rings too. The lobster was delicious, with a nice, light and crispy batter, sweet lobster, and some melted butter for dipping. It's a dish I highly recommend, and which I will almost always order if it's available.

When I picked up my order, there was another plate of fried lobster. I was told that the cook felt he had overcooked these lobster tails, so he had prepared me a new batch, which were atop the plater of fries and rings. However, they gave me the "overcooked" ones as a free extra. They could have just thrown them out, or eaten it themselves, but they chose to give it to a customer. What a delightful surprise!

Yes, these were a bit darker and slightly crispier than the other lobster tails, but if they had been served to me, I wouldn't have complained at all. They were still delicious, the lobster was still tender, and the slightly crispier batter was still very tasty. What an abundance of lobster for lunch!

It is this type of customer service which I want to highlight, from the perfectionist tendency of their cook to the generosity of their other staff. They didn't have to make a new batch of fried lobster, and could have just served me the original batch. However, the dish didn't meet their high standards so they chose to redo it. And they didn't have to give me the the original batch too. They didn't even have to tell me what they did. They chose to do so though, and that would impress any customer. It's something that any customer would tell their family and friends. They generated much good will. 

Their Fried Clams & Scallops were also excellent, as usual. And they don't skimp on the seafood.

On one wall of the restaurant, they have an old menu, when prices were far lower than now and they once served ice cream. 

The Clam Box of Ipswich earns my highest recommendation, and this is certainly not the first time I've experienced excellent customer service there. They have always been responsive to any issues with their food, and those issues are a rarity. The importance of customer service cannot be ignored. Their food is also stellar, and their fried seafood has such a fresh and clean taste, and is commonly tender and sweet. They have moved their outside dining area closer to the restaurant, instead of on the other side of the parking lot. With the great weather we've been having, now is the time to make a trip to Ipswich and enjoy some delicious fried seafood.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Chef/Owner Will Gilson, the De La Boue Wines team, and the Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for an upcoming dinner,  a taste of Oregon's wine country in Inman Square, on Wednesday, May 18th at 6:30 p.m. 

Borrowing its name from "nostalgie de la boue," a french phrase loosely meaning a longing for simpler time and "de la boue" directly translating to “of the mud,” De La Boue Wines aims to serve as a reminder that all comes from the ground beneath our feet. Produced in Oregon's Willamette Valley, De La Boue Wines lets nature take center stage by sourcing from local vineyards that follow organic or biodynamic principles in order to maintain sustainable soil and vine health.

Paired with five courses from Chef Will Gilson, the wine pairings will feature:
2020 Chardonnay, Gregory Ranch Vineyard
2020 Pinot Noir, Vista Grande Vineyard
2020 Pinot Noir, Gregory Ranch Vineyard
2020 Syrah, Lewis Vineyard

The dinner is $150 per person with tickets available for purchase HERE.

2) Bistro du Midi is launching the Tour de Rosé to celebrate summer in Boston. Starting on June 3 and running through the month of September, there is a whole new reason to soak in the season at Boston’s only French bistro overlooking the Public Gardens. Executive Chef & Partner Robert Sisca and Sommelier Andrew Thompson are giving guests a whole new reason to drink pink with the Tour de Rosé.

Each month of the Tour de Rosé programming will showcase featured wines from France, USA, and Italy and will commence with a surprise collection of the Bistro team’s favorite selections from the season. Chef & Partner Robert Sisca and the Bistro team will also be offering seasonal small plates such as Ora King Salmon Rilettes (smoked and cured salmon, crème fraiche, chives, sea salt, crostini) and Soft Shell Crab (chorizo, rhubarb, spring peas, pea tendrils, saffron) to accompany the rosé selections. The following monthly features will be available by the glass, half glass and bottle.

June: Rosé Francaise
Terres Dorees Beaujolais Rosé
Chateau Sainte Marguerite Rosé-Provence
July: USA all Day!
Gail Doris Rosé-Sonoma
Bedrock Ode to Lulu Rosé-California
August: Vin Italien Nord et Sud
La Spinetta-Tuscany
Masseria Li Veli Sussumenelo-Puglia
September: Victory Lap
A surprise collection of the Bistro du Midi team’s favorite rosés from the season

3) Chef Michael Serpa’s South End seafood staple Atlántico has launched dollar oysters every weekday featuring fresh, local oysters for one dollar from 4pm to 6pm. 

Boasting an expensive, carefully curated wine menu, guests can enjoy the bivalves alongside a crisp, summer-y glass of blanco. The tasty new special keeps true to Atlántico's focus of bringing the fresh seafood, quality ingredients, and bright flavors of the Iberian Peninsula to Boston diners in an accessible, delicious, and creative way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

New Sampan Article: The First Chinese Restaurants in Springfield

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

For about two yearsr, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It's published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written over 40 articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, The First Chinese Restaurants in Springfield, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Springfield was one of the first cities in Massachusetts where Chinese arrived in the 1840s, primarily fueled by the desire for education. In 1901, the first Chinese restaurant in Springfield opened: the Canton, and by 1915, there would be at least 8 Chinese restaurants in the city. They were largely successful, but faced some backlash around 1917 when I union tried to prevent other Chinese restaurants from opening. Check out my article for the full story on these restaurants.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Monday, May 9, 2022

The 15th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie

I'm going to open some Bubbly as it's time to celebrate! Today, The Passionate Foodie blog celebrates its Fifteenth Anniversary, a significant milestone. During all those years, I've seen many other blogs come and go, but I've chosen to continue my writing, and to continue to challenge myself. In December, I published my 5000th article and I'm now working on reaching 6000 next. 

I'm very proud of all I've written and accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to write, continuing to share and spread my deep passion for food & drink. I've actually been writing about food and drink for 16 1/2 years, as I wrote for another blog, Real World Winers (since defunct), for 1 1/2 years before I started The Passionate Foodie.

During the past 15 years of The Passionate Foodie, I've learned so much about food & drinks, exploring a wide variety of topics, essentially about anything I can eat or drink. I never wanted to limit my writing to a specific cuisine, type of drink, or other specialty. I want the freedom to explore whatever perks my interest and I know I'll never run out of subject matter. Every time I learn something new, I realize how much more there is to learn. That is one of my favorite aspects of blogging and it helps that I'm a voracious reader and love to research new topics.

My blog has provided me a myriad of wonderful opportunities and experiences, creating a vast storehouse of fantastic memories. I've sampled so much excellent and exciting food and drink, in this country and others. I've gotten to travel to some amazing destinations, including Canada, CroatiaFrance (Bordeaux and Champagne), Spain (Sherry region), Italy (Tuscany & Collio), Portugal (Douro region), Argentina and Chile. In the United States, I've visited a number of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and more.

I've met so many interesting people, which has enhanced my experiences as I've long said that food and drink when shared is even better. Some of those people have become very close friends, and I think those friendships will last for many years to come. It's been fascinating to meet numerous wine makers, distillers, brewers, wine & liquor store owners, importers, distributors, restaurant owners, chefs, and much more. From each, I've learned something new, which has expanded my understanding and enhanced my writing.

During these fifteen years, what began as a hobby transformed into my profession. I'm now a freelance writer, having been published in a number of magazines and newspapers. For two years, I've been writing a column for Sampan, a bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England, and have written over 40 articles for them. I'm also a Sake educator and consultant, working for a variety of clients, from restaurants to distributors, conducting Sake classes, tastings, dinners and more. 

It has been my pleasure to try to showcase and promote under-appreciated and/or lesser known wines, spirits and other drinks, such as SakeCroatian WinesGreek Wines, Georgian WinesUruguayan WinesPortuguese WinesSherryFranciacortaMezcal, Baijiu and more. I've championed many of these underdogs, all which are worthy beverages deserving of much more attention by consumers as well as other writers. We all need to expand our palates and seek out the liquid wonders that can be found all around the world.

Within the last few years, especially because of the pandemic, I've dedicated much time to researching and writing numerous historical articles about food and drink, and I'm especially proud of these articles, many breaking new ground in our understanding of certain topics. I've compiled links to all of these fascinating articles in All About My Historical Food & Drink Articles

I owe many thanks to all of my readers, as it is their support and encouragement which has helped motivate me to continue writing year after year. I also owe thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive for all these years. In addition, I am grateful to everyone in the food and drink community, from chefs to wine makers, who have helped contribute, in a myriad of ways, to my blog.  Life is about connections, about the relationships we make, and they all contribute to what we do.

If I didn't thoroughly enjoy what I've been doing, then it would have ended years ago. I find it fulfilling and satisfying, and hope that my passion for food, drink and writing never dims. I look forward to celebrating my 16th anniversary next year, and I hope my readers keep reading me year after year.

If you've enjoyed my articles during the past year, or more, please consider Donating to me through Venmo at @Richard-Auffrey-1, so that I can continue to provide interesting content. My largest expense is the cost of the resource sites that I use, especially newspaper archives, allowing me access to fascinating information which provides the background for my historical articles. Donations also allow me to continue operating this blog without any advertising, which I have done from the start. I appreciate any and all of your contributions.   

It's time to celebrate!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Kane’s Donuts is debuting new flavors for the month for May while also bringing back some fan-favorites. The May flavors of the month include Lemon Chiffon Bar, Chocolate Cloud, and M&M. To pay homage to the flavors of spring, Kane’s is debuting a Lemon Chiffon Bar, a light fluffy yeast stick, filled with lemon pie filling, topped with a creamy lemon chiffon frosting and a dollop of lemon filling. For all the chocolate lovers, Kane’s has brought back the Chocolate Cloud Donut, a light fluffy yeast donut, filled with creamy chocolate pudding, frosted with a rich decadent chocolate frosting, and topped with chocolate pearls. Kane’s will also have an M&M Donut for the month of May, crafted with a fluffy yeast-style donut with vanilla frosting and topped with mini-M&M’s. They will be available an all locations of Kane's throughout the month of May. 

2) Krasi Meze + Wine, one of my favorite restaurants, now has the largest all Greek wine list in the entire country. It had been the second largest until Molyvos in New York City recently closed. Sommelier and Wine Director Evan Turner has grown the wine list to over 300 bottles since Krasi opened in February of 2019.  Evan wine list showcases bottles from PDO areas with a focus on the known grapes of Greece as well as those that are more rare and indigenous.

At Krasi, Evan hosts a series called Symposium Wednesdays inspired by the ancient Symposiums in Greece that literally meant "to drink with friends" and were essentially the very first wine tastings. Symposium Wednesdays offer guests exclusive tastings, flights and by the glass pours of Greek wine. This is not a stiff and stuffy wine tasting but it's a unique opportunity to check out cool grapes like Limniona that date back to more than 3,000 years ago and were written about by Homer and Aristotle - and almost became extinct. 

Here is the upcoming lineup for May and June with some notes from Evan....

MAY 11 - WINERY SPOTLIGHT: DOMAINE DE KALATHAS. Jerome Binda, the owner of Domaine de Kalathas is a wizard from Middle Earth. Or I am willing to bet a decent chunk of change that he is, as his wines are magical that’s for sure. Made on the island of Tinos, an island that also looks like it is in Middle Earth, with boulders that are twenty feet high and twenty feet long. The only grapes he uses are native to the island, organically grown, made naturally, and of course, with magic. This is the first time I have featured just one winery for Symposium and I think you will absolutely agree. If I may be so bold, they will cast a spell on you. BOOM! Dad Joke! Cheers!

MAY 25 - MARVEL SUPERHERO SPOTLIGHT. WHAT IF THE AVENGERS WERE WINES. Ok, bear with me. I have been letting my “wine mind” run a little wild lately and have been thinking about what characters in fiction would be if they were wines. The Avengers were just too good to pass up, so I had to do this. Maybe I am being Tony Stark and tinkering where I have no good reason to, but I just can’t help myself. So strap in, get ready to ride through a wine multiverse with your faithful sommelier. Excelsior!

JUNE 1 - CEPHALONIA: ISLAND OF CONTRASTS. Cephalonia might be the most schizophrenic wine location in all of Greece. The island has a myriad of native grape varieties, made into wine by a wildly diverse group of winemakers who seem to follow one of two paths: Either hyper-focused clean wine that show of bright fruit and laser-like minerality or natural wines that are so funky that George Clinton would be impressed by their groove. This will be a wild ride of contrasts so be prepared to have your mind warped a bit. Afterall, a little madness is a good thing.

JUNE 8 - NORTHEAST GREECE: ACTUALLY, THE WILD, WILD WEST. If you want to make wine in Greece and do whatever you bloody well please, go up to Northeast Greece. Between experimenting with ancient grapes and using terracotta amphorae, or deciding that emulating California is the thing, Northeast Greece is the place to be. No other region is as wide-ranging in styles of wine and winemaking. No other place has so many philosophies on what to put in a wine bottle than here. It is a magic carpet ride of flavor and nuance that must be tasted to be believed. Get your glass out, we are going on an adventure kids!

JUNE 29 - WHAT THE ACTUAL F%*@ IS NATURAL WINE? Lots of wineries these days say they create “natural” wine. Well, what does that mean? In today's symposium we will taste through and explain what natural wine is all about. Whether they are white, orange, pink, or red, heck, even sparkling too. Taste through a whole new world of winemaking where what is old, very old in some cases, is new again. It’s like “Indiana Jones”, but with wine and no snakes. You can still bring your whip though, it could get kinky.

In addition, Krasi is offering a great new opportunity as you can now buy Greek wines at retail price! at Krasi. They can now sell their wine retail out of Krasi. They will sell anything they have in stock and is not already cold unless that is to your liking. They also have a wine club that allows you to enjoy a monthly six-pack of rare goodies picked by Evan Turner. Soon, they will also be able to sell those wines online too. Such great news.

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Rant-Free May: Embracing Positivity & Hope

As May begins, I just can't start this month with a Rant. In fact, I won't be posting any Rants at all during this month. Instead, I want to embrace hope and positivity, to look forward to what the immediate future will hopefully bring. 

Summer nears, and warmer weather is on its way. Pandemic restrictions have been lifted in many places and large-scale events, such as wine tastings and food festivals, are being held. People are beginning to travel once again, including journeys to other countries. You can feel the change in people's emotions, an air of hopefulness which brings more smiles. 

Yes, there are still plenty of matters of concern around the world, but we cannot surrender to despair. We can still try to address these issues while also being positive and hopeful. 

Some other reasons to embrace May include a variety of holidays this month. Mother's Day is May 8, a day to show love for our wonderful mothers (although we should also be showing them love every day of the year). May is also said to be National Barbecue Month, National Hamburger Month, and National Egg Month. Get our your grills, slap on some burgers, and top them with a fried egg! In addition, May 25 is said to be National Wine Day, to celebrate all things vinous, while May 21 is International Pošip Day, a celebration of a fascinating and tasty Croatian indigenous white grape. 

Personally, May should be an excellent month for me. The Passionate Foodie blog will celebrate its 15th Anniversary! The traditional gift for such an anniversary is crystal although the modern gift is a timepiece. In addition, I'll be traveling to Croatia on a press trip, exploring the regions of Slavonia and Istria, as well as the city of Zagreb and its environs. I have good reason to be positive this month, and also hope that positivity extends to many other people as well.

Embrace positivity and hope! And what positive and fun matters are you looking forward to this month?