As autumn has definitely arrived and olives have already been picked, I would like to pay a tribute to the Croatian summer drink, gemišt, to the Croatian olive oil, and to some cultural differences between France and Croatia.
One of the things that surprised me in Croatia is the fact that it’s totally OK for people to mix their wine with some other liquid. Growing up, I witnessed my mum pouring water in her glass of vin rouge every Sunday for lunch. It never failed to provoke the same reaction from my dad “What are you doing? This is blasphemy, sacrilège, profanation…”. My mum likes her wine light, diluted with a finger of still water and it’s probably an acquired taste, since she grew up drinking this eau rougie (reddened water). Actually, it was probably made the other way around for kids: water with a little bit of wine.
Anyway, pouring any other liquid in your wine in France is a big no-no. As a teenager, in the one bar in my hometown that allowed underage patrons, I remember drinking calimucho: Coca-Cola and red wine, with a sprinkle of pepper. It pretended to be a trendy, imported drink, but at less than one Euro a glass, it must have been a marketing trick to get rid of a stock of bad wine… And I think my dad was more shocked by the fact that I was mixing coke and wine than by my underage drinking.
Wine mixing did not belong to my cultural habits and I was surprised to become acquainted again with calimucho under the name of bambus when I came to Zagreb. Then, I discovered bevanda, which made me think of my mum’s eau rougie and my dad’s Sunday outcries, except that it was a perfectly normal thing to do in Istria. I tried lovranski bambus, even though mixing Fanta and white wine is a step too far for me (there’s still more French in me than what I think, obviously). Then I started drinking gemišt and my life changed: what was described to me as the perfect summer drink became my perfect drink ever. In France, I started showing up to apéritif with a bottle of white wine in one hand and a bottle of mineral water in the other, eliciting startled looks and comments ranging from the unconvinced “But water is for pastis, not wine!” to the “You’ve learned really weird stuff living over there” steeped in French superiority. Pfff, the French can go to hell with their wine fetish and their rigid traditions, I live in a much more liberated country now. Or so I thought.
One day, as I observed the oregano growing wildly on the window sill, I told my Istrian husband that we should plunge a twig of it in one of our home-made olive oil bottles to get some flavored oil. I turned around and the look on his face was so funny, between disbelief “I didn’t just hear that” and shock “But why on earth would you do that to oil?”. So here’s one thing I discovered about the Croats: they are liberated when it comes to drinking wine, but when it comes to their olive oil, they are as conservative as my dad.
Here is today’s recipe: take a small bottle of olive oil and a sprig of oregano (I’m sure it works with basil, marjoram or tarragon). Plunge the latter in the former, wait for a couple of days, pour over salad and enjoy, along with a glass of gemišt.