Fishermen's Night; A Taste of the Dalmatian Spirit

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Ribarska Noć or Fishermen’s Nights, are a true taste of the Dalmatian spirit. If you are looking for an authentic experience while you are holidaying or sailing in Croatia, keep an eye out for this!

I attended my first Ribarska Noć (Fishermen’s Night), some three or four years ago on the beach of Dugi Rat. I remember walking along the beach towards a hive of activity; there were children running around, the men at the grill were shouting loud, friendly greetings to everyone who came near, smoke filled the air and there was an all-round jovial atmosphere.

The other point, which did not go unnoticed was the language – it was 90% Croatian. Why does this stand out, I mean, we are in Croatia after all? Well, being that the Dalmatian Coast is a top tourist destination, it is very rare to be in a setting where the majority of people are locals. Even though I am from New Zealand and barely spoke a word of Croatian at the time, it was refreshing. The Dalmatian dialect itself, is very animated and almost musical to the ear (in between the shouting that is). I grabbed some wine sitting in an ice chest, poured myself a glass and simply sat back, taking in the scene.

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But, let’s not forget about the fish. The smoke-filled air, was the result of large grills, working over-time to cook hundreds of sardines for the evening. After living in Dalmatia for a few years, sardines from the grill are one of my simple pleasures. Fill up a plate with sardines, find yourself a bench or somewhere to sit, cover them in local olive oil and maybe some garlic mixed with parsley and – dinner is served. Cutlery? No way, this is a fingers-only affair! When was the last time you got down and dirty, back-to-basics with your food?

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It is messy work, but oh so worth it.

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Ribarska Noć varies from town to town. Typically, it is a night put on by locals or the town committee, sometimes they are completely free, otherwise a minimum cost is charged – maybe 10 – 15 kuna. The menu can be as simple as sardines or sometimes you will find huge pots of crni rižot (black risotto) cooking. If food and drinks are charged, money raised generally goes towards a community project or charity.

For example, this past Friday I was in Okrug Gornj on the island of Čiovo, for their Ribarska Noć – there were sardines on the grill, a huge pot of crni rižot, draft beer taps and a stage set up for live music. After speaking to a few of the locals, we learned that everyone working was a firefighter and all money raised was going to their fire department – which, if you haven’t been following the ‘summer that was’, in Dalmatia 2017, this is so needed (read more about the heartbreaking Dalmatian inferno here).

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Every year, Dalmatians lose their coast to hordes of tourists and the idea of summer being a time for locals to enjoy and relax is laughable; yet, on these nights, I feel the true spirit of Dalmatia. Everyone is relaxed, even those cooking had time to laugh and joke with everyone coming up to see, rather than being grumpy and irritated by onlookers and questions, they welcomed the interaction and a little friendly banter.

It was such a beautiful atmosphere. The live band got the children all grooving away, while the adults stood on the outskirts of the dancefloor – but they weren’t fooling us, we could see everyone tapping their feet, or subtly shimmying to the beat, secretly wishing they were children and could let loose! It didn’t matter, before long, the band’s eclectic set (everything from Croatian rock to Grease and the obligatory Despacito) – got everyone up and dancing. Young and old, families, teenagers, tourists, locals, everyone is welcome.

Speaking to my father-in-law, he said that nights like this were far more regular in Ex-Yugoslavia days. Everyone would go out fishing, bring back everything they caught and there would be a great fešta that night. These days, each town or area will do such a night maybe a few times through the season.

Many travellers often say “I want an authentic experience”, but truth is, if you are travelling to a highly touristic location, it is hard to find something truly authentic. However, if you want to feel the life and spirit of Dalmatia, get yourself to a local Ribarska Noć; it is nothing fancy, but you are sure to walk away with a full belly (on the cheap) and memories filled with music, laughter and dancing.

How do you know where and when? Honestly, there is not usually a whole lot of marketing for these, it is ‘back to the old school’, so keep an eye out for information boards or posters around town. Or, like my girlfriends and I in the weekend, perhaps you will stumble across one by chance, which makes it all the sweeter. A spontaneous fešta on a balmy summer’s night. What could be better?

Dalmatia as it should be.

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