Rustic Korcula: Foraging for Herbs at Michelin Recommended Restaurants - the Konoba Mate Experience

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May 7, 2018 – Continuing TCN’s look at the recent Korcula Spring Food and Wine Festival, Korculanske Pjatance – a herb and pastry workshop in a divine off-the-beaten rustic restaurant deservedly in the Michelin guide. 

“You absolutely have to go tomorrow morning. There is no question about it.”

It was 2am, my head filled with the pleasures of the full range of Bire wines after the Lumbarda winemaker celebrated 20 years of his excellent winery over an outstanding dinner at Lesic Dimitri. Gourmet Korcula at its very finest. It had been quite a night and I for one was ready for bed and a nice lie in the following morning. 

But Drazen, the head sommelier from Lesic Dimitri, had other plans for me.

“If you want to experience the very best of authentic Korcula, do not miss Konoba Mate – it is one of the great dining experiences of Dalmatia.”

Drazen is one of about three people in the world who I trust implicitly. Although we have only met a handful of times, if he told me to jump off a cliff and assured me I would be fine, I know I would be. He is a tremendous addition to not only the front of house of Lesic, but to the Korcula culinary scene. All hopes of a relaxing morning on the beach were immediately abandoned. I would be at Konoba Mate in Pupnat, a village 7km inland, by 10am for the workshop making pastries and desserts whose ingredients included locally foraged herbs.

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The decision to go was made all the easier by the people we met at the Lesic dinner, including a lovely pastry chef called Petra who my wife recognised from her television show. And having given the kids the option of lying on the beach or foraging for herbs to make cakes, there was only going to be one winner. And so it was that we arrived in time for the workshop on herbs before the foraging began. 

And what a charming place! The longer I was on Korcula, the more people were recommending that we try this rustic konoba in a quiet village out of town. What made it so special? Well, for one thing, it was one of only two Korcula restaurants which made this year’s Michelin Guide. Here is what they had to say about Konoba Mate: 

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It’s well worth heading a few miles into the island’s interior to eat at this charming family tavern where the owners not only raise goats and chickens but also grow the vegetables used in their dishes. The whole family works hard to create the simple, yet delicious food served here. Specialities include ravioli stuffed with a creamy goat sauce and braised lamb with peas and potatoes.

– MICHELIN guide inspectors 

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Petra and her merry gang of foragers disappeared into the fields and returned with an array of local treasures, and she set up her cooking stall in the intimate Mate konoba.  

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There wasn’t a free seat in the house, and it was not just the humans who were hanging on to her every word… 

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I left the girls to it and had a wander round the village, passing first a very nice touch for the workshop participants, various plants of the local herbs to take home and plant.  

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Pupnat the village was new to me, and was a rather charming little place of fabulous stone buildings and lots of peace and quiet.   

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What a gorgeous post office.  

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The stonework in general on Korcula was very impressive, the lack of commercialisation very refreshing, and I could feel those Dalmatian heartstrings being pulled again. This region really is paradise on earth. 

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The Konoba Mate story is a lovely one. Opened in 2000, it is very much a family affair, with different generations involved in various parts of the business, and additional help brought in as required. As many locals got into the tourism business of renting apartments, it was clear that the way of life would change. Just 20 years ago, almost every family in Pupnat had their own pigs, goats and sheep, and donkeys roamed the pretty Pupnat streets. The family realised that if everyone went into the tourism business of apartment rental and abandoned the fields, there would quickly come a point where they would not be able to fulfil some of the basics of the unique offer – quality, locally produced food.  

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Rather than take the short-term gain, they opted instead for the much tougher route of opening an authentic village konoba, with home-produced food as much as possible, incorporating the local herbs and vegetables in the cuisine, as well as various products from their own sheep and goats. Each family member has its role and performs to perfection, and is such a relaxed way that even before I had tried the food, I knew I was in a very special please. Thank you, Sommelier Drazen! 

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I have been to many ethno-village eco-dining places in Croatia, but none came close to presenting the authentic simple flavours in such a stunning way as the entry plate above. I will not embarrass myself by trying to name each item, but the range of tastes and flavours was sensational. All I can say is try it. 

And having enjoyed that thoroughly, it was time to see what Petra and her crew had managed to put together after the morning forage.  

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Marshmallows with mint and lemon balm and pannacotta with lemon verbena. Gorgeous.

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As hard as it was to leave a truly special place, we wanted to explore as much of Korcula as we could during our brief stay. One place we were keen to check out was Blato which was rather a pleasant surprise. What a divine way to enter the town, with an arborial guard of honour, above.  

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Blato was apparently the biggest village in former Yugoslavia, and it had a number of striking buildings – the stonework was once again magnificent.  

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As were the details. 

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The loggia of Blato, where city council meetings were held – fantastic location. 

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We apparently missed the big annual celebration day in Blato, which had taken place the night before. While that would have been great to see, I actually preferred the quiet streets – inland Korcula at the end of April was divine.  

And after a tough day of the very finest rural living in inland Korcula, it was time to head back to the coast to see what was next in the programme on the Korcula Food and Wine Festival, Korculanske Pjatance. But that is another story. 

Check out the video of Konoba Mate above, and learn more about this wonderful inland Korcula gem on the official Konoba Mate website.  

And next time you have dinner at Lesic Dimitri, ask for head sommelier Drazen’s advice about what to see and eat – I guarantee you will end up in a fabulous place. 

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