Friday, 01 December 2023
Gillie Sutherland Gillie Sutherland

Stranger Things in Dubrovnik

Written by  Gillie Sutherland Jul 10, 2022

Most of the time here in Croatia, I feel right at home, but from time to time I’m very conscious that I have a long way to go until I “fit in”.

One of these scenarios is when it comes to what and how to eat, and in particular in social situations, I’ve found myself doubting whether I’ll really ever get it right.

It’s interesting that the word they seem to use here for a foreigner is “stranger”, and I’m sure I’m regarded as stranger than most with some of my ways!

This week I was at a bar be cue, where I had offered to help out. The locals had sorted out the fish and the main course, and I thought it’d be a nice idea to make one of my favourite summer dishes, Watermelon and Feta Salad, which I thought would be light and cooling in the midst of the heatwave.

I’m about to cut the watermelon (the wrong way I’m also advised!), when I’m quite firmly told that watermelon belongs at the end of the meal not at the beginning, so I have to scrap that idea.

We have to default to slices of cheese and prsut, and everyone is happy, back to what they know. None of these stranger things like fruit or salad at the beginning of a meal.

I’m confused as I know that fruit is better for the digestion before a meal, but I say nothing. I just smile and nod, and things are done as they always are.

I often wonder if it’s because I’m from the U.K., and the Balkan nations are worried I may be introducing something from my home nation. As I’ve discovered, British food is not top of everyone’s list here.

“You just wash the lettuce, Gillie”, I’m told.

I have to admit, I feel a little diminished, and disappointed. Food is a great pleasure for me, a chance to share some of the dishes I’ve discovered from all over the world, and add in what I know about nutrition, and eating seasonally and locally. I love nothing better than preparing food to share with others, but I realise in this situation, I have to just sit down and shut up.

Next day I try again, and I have a least one ally, Maja who has been living in San Francisco and before that Paris, and she reassures everyone that it’s quite commonplace in other countries, including Greece, to have watermelon and tomato together.

She’s a little more used to the Balkan ways than I am, having grown up in Bulgaria, and she’s able to joke about it.

We share many laughs over the next few days, during our time in Pasman island, about how things need to be a certain way, and anything that is slightly different is met with suspicion.

It’s not the first time this has happened. At New Year in Paklenica, I thought I’d do a nice Goan curry one evening for the group.

Butternut squash, red lentil and coconut milk curry (a nice mild one so as not to be too much for the delicate Croatian palate). My idea was that it would be a nice contrast to the bar be cue’d food, cheese and meat, and would provide some good energy for hiking.

Well you would have thought I’d tried to make them eat tree bark. My dish was largely ignored to begin with, and out came the kulen.

However there were a couple of curious souls (or maybe they just felt sorry for me) who decided to give it a go. A small bowl initially led to a second helping, much bigger than the first one, and it was like Chinese Whispers as the word spread that it was actually pretty good.

Then came the questions about where it was from. I shared that I’d lived in India, and I’d learned a lot about Indian cuisine there, with a French chef I was with at the time. I told them about the spices I used and the particular health benefits of each of them, and why I’d chosen this particular dish for our Velebit adventure.

Of particular interest was that turmeric detoxes the liver. Eyebrows raised, looks were shared, as the Rakija was poured with even more enthusiasm.

I wonder whether it’s just a case of being patient, and building trust, or whether it’s a case of knowing which scenarios I’ll just have to accept my “lettuce washing” role, and where people may be more open.

I’m conscious I don’t want to offend anyone here. I am, after all, the foreigner, and I want to be respectful of the culture and the way people do things. I want to learn Croatian cooking, in fact I just got given a 1700 page Croatian cookbook as a gift, and I’m so excited.

I can’t wait to try some of it out, but I may be saving my culinary attempts for the digital nomads coming here, until I build my confidence up again with the locals.

But maybe, if I’m patient, I’ll be able to progress from washing lettuce, and bit by bit start to introduce some of my “stranger things” here.

In the meantime, I appreciate where I am everyday and focus on what I can learn. Like how to cut a watermelon.

Read more Gillie here...  


Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Cavtat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.

To find out more about Gillie go to


The Voice of Dubrovnik


Find us on Facebook