Rijeka, the main port city for northern Croatia, used to be the Austro-Hungarian seaport known as Fiume, and is a stubbornly non-tourist city fabulously slagged off in almost every guidebook to Croatia ever written. It is a working port and working class metropolis by the sea - if you want beaches, go elsewhere. On the other hand, it is one of the most fascinating and unique destinations that nobody ever goes to on the Croatian coast. Rijeka isn't an easy visit: it doesn't expect people to stay, and accomodations are scarce and pricier than at resorts along the sea. Everything else - food, and the surprisingly lively night life scene - is far cheaper.Who needs night life when you have street life. We caught a park festival featuring guys dressed up as clowns and animals while contestants dived into a deep pool full of sudsy water groping around to pick up bananas and win prizes. Surreal, yes, but in a 1960s Italian film kind of way. Rijeka is famous for its local rock scene: we saw the Rijeka band Let 3 at the A38 a month ago and they just about blew even the most jaded rock snobs away when they finally stripped for their final number - played naked with dog muzzles covering their family jewels and with roses stuck in their behinds.
Controlled by the Hapsburgs since 1466, Rijeka came under Hungarian control in 1870. Although the population was primarily Croatian and Italian, a prosperous Hungarian middle class set roots down here in the years before World War 1. In 1912 the future Hungarian communist politician and party leader János Kádár was born in then Rijeka as Giovanni Czermanik. Former New Yiork Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia worked at the U.S. consulate here from 1904 to 1906, allegedly playing for the Rijeka football club while here.Hungarians tend to get nostalgic about the "loss of Fiume" - the only sea port they ever had control of, but after World War I things really started to go pear-shaped. After a brief Italian occupation, in November 1918 an international force of French, British and American troops occupied the city. Italy claimed Rijeka on the fact that Italians were the largest single nationality within the city. Croats made up most of the remainder and were also a majority in the surrounding area, including the neighbouring town of Sušak. On September 10, 1919, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was dissolved. Two days later a force of Italian nationalist irregulars led by the writer Gabriele d'Annunzio seized control of the city. Eventually Italy and Yugoslavia concluded the Treaty of Rapallo, under which Rijeka/Fiume was to be an independent state, the Free State of Fiume. In 1924, however, Rijeka was annexed by the Italian Fascists to Italy itself, and was only ceded to Yudoslavia in 1947. (Given that I am going to be doing a gig in Gdansk/Sopot, Poland on July 22 with Di Nayes, this makes two former Free Port States I will be visiting this summer. I feel like I ought to annex some territory or something.) Another result is that while Istria feels like a lost bit of the Italian countryside, Rijeka/Fiume feels like nothing so much as a funky, down at the heels Italian port city that just happens to speak Croatian.Rijeka is where you can really sense the meeting of Italian and Balkan cuisine. This isn't a tourist town, and we chose our dinner spot based on the "how many families are happily chowing down here" method of restaurant selection. And they were chowing down at a grill joint offering cevapcici and pljeskavica just next door to a tapas bar highly recommended by our associates at Time Out Travel Guides. The Tapas joint was deserted. The Cevap joint was packed. A difficult decision.
Cevap is the Balkan/Yugo version of the Turkish word "kebap" i.e., kebab. Essentially it is a mixture of beef and sometimes lamb (more beef in Croatia, more lamb in Bosnia and Macedonia) rolled into those tasty little skinless sausage patties we know in Turkish as köfte. I discovered at home that I could not make these using ground beef bought at the butcher's (or in our case, Tesco) because the grind was too coarse. The trick is to pulverize the already ground beef into a paste using a meat tenderizing hammer (hammer the handful of meat inside a plastic bag so you don't paint the room in explosive meat color) then season and form into thumbsize rolls. Smash the ground meat mixture into a dish-sized patty and the result is a pleskavica (or pljeskavica as the call it in je-kavian Croat) These may be served in a fluffy flat bread called lepinje, which can very rarely be found in Hungary as lepény. Ignore the recent cevap recipe given at Chew.hu which includes pork - pork doesn't belong anywhere near a cevap or pleskavica. For one thing, it would fall apart (ground pork needs a binder or a sausage casing to form a stable patty.) For another thing... it would taste like a Tesco cevap, and we wouldn't want that. (Or, to paraphrase Frank Zappa "Is that a real cevap or is that a Tesco cevap?") If you are hankering for a cevap or pleskavica in Budapest you will find them either at the Kafana serb resturant or at the Jelen Biszto behind the Corvin Department Store at Blaha Lujza ter in Pest. Kafana is more elegant, but the Jelen accurately replicates the lepinje sandwich style. (The orange stuff seen below is ajvar - a mild red pepper paste condiment.)In terms of interest, pleskavica and cevapcici are among the two items that lead the pack in leading readers to this blog from Google. Welcome to our blog, hungry Balkanoid appetites of the Internets! (The most common searches leading to Dumneazu are to the "Yidn Mit Pixels" page about B&H photo in NY, the Fröhlich Cukrászda post, the Kádár Étkezde post, with many, many Romanians visiting the posts on Vioara cu Goarne - possibly because those posts have earned themselves their own Romanian Wikipedia entry. Obviously, the world is hungrier for more info about weird bastard trumpet fiddles than we knew about. One final word: Croatia is still not conforming to the EU rules regarding modern information signs. As can be seen from the sign above (from the beach at Verdula in Pula) you are heartily encouraged to abandon your crippled family members by rolling them downhill into the sea. And this sign (downtown Novigrad) can be interpreted in several ways:
1. Policemen Not Allowed to Play in Picnic Areas.
2. Free Wifi for Members of Marching Bands!
3. Do Not Attempt to Fly the Cylon Base Star by Yourself!
We would also like take the time to aknowledge the ugly little shitbird who served as our Hungarian State Railway conductor on the couchette car back to Budapest from Rijeka. As our train was to leave at 20 minutes after midnight on Sunday, Fumie asked the conductor about our seats only to be told that the ticket was for Sunday night, not Saturday night, and no amount of discussion would get him to admit that 00.20 AM actually was on a Sunday. He was pretending not to understand Fumie's (quite fluent) Hungarian when I strolled up. "But you are not on the reservation list!" After calmly conversing with this transparently corrupt retard (my sincere apologies to all the honest and genuinely hard working retards out there...but one bad apple spoils it for everyone) I asked "So how do we solve this problem?" "Well, it can be solved... with a tenner!" 10,000 Forints... about 40 Euros, this after we paid 9 Euros for our valid couchette and knowing that a couchette bed costs only 14 Euros without reservations. I said calmly "rendben" - fine. He led us onto the train and proceeded to warn us about all the dangers - thieves mostly - that awaited us in Zagreb station. In twenty years of riding every cattle car in the Balkans the only actual thieves I ever encountered on a train were within ten kilometers of Budapest.Once on the train I had no intention of coughing up the bribe to this greedy little ogre, but faced by two speakers of Hungarian instead of one he lost face, and soon the little MAV geek popped his misshapened head into the cabin to announce "Oh! I found you on the list of reservations! Must have been looking at the older list!" So no, we will not bother reporting your pathetic attempt at extortion to the already pathetically corrupt MAV management in Hungary. They'll all be on strike in a week or so anyway. Nobody knows why. Nobody cares, either.