Architect, chef, creator of the Radio Skala broadcast Bokelian Cuisine, housewife, leader of a local women’s Klapa (male or female harmony singing group), cookbook author, and our hostess at her home in Kotor for a meal of highlights from the local (Bokelian) cuisine, Vlasta Mandic explained the origin of the term “Bokelian”. “The Bay of Boka Kotorska, on the Montenegrin coast, with its spendid scenery, is one of the most beautiful places of the Adriatic coast and in the whole Mediterranean.” Bokelian Cuisine is the Bay’s local cuisine — the food of towns along the 20 miles of shoreline from the Adriatic Sea to the town of Kotor.
In her cookbook, Bokelian Cuisine, Vlasta Mandic explains: “The culinary identity of Boka Kotorska was created from recipes of diverse origin, through contact with various nations, who were constantly coming and going, staying and assimilating. Most traces were left by Italy, Austro-Hungary, France, Greece, and Turkey. For us the old Venetian cuisine has a particular influence, and through it the Jewish one. The local specifics left their traces, but the main features remained and are similarly shared in the whole Adriatic area, as well as in the wider area of the Mediterranean. That is why we may speak of the Mediterranean cuisine of the Boka.”
“In the 17th and 18th centuries the Boka experienced a period of economic prosperity. Sailing boats engaged in vivid trade; local produce was exported: kastradina, cheese, oil, lard, dried fish, etc. Long discussions and debates must have been had and various recipes exchanged within the parlours of the captain’s palaces, and in the houses of the commoners alike, in particular at the time of preparations for festivities and great Christian holidays. It all points to the fact that this was the stuff of women and that they were transferred from mothers to daughters orally and were forgotten in dowry chests.
“Bokelian cuisine is a culinary testimony of the 20th century, obviously seen through a prism of an architect who loves to sing, dance, be joyful with everyone, who enjoys a morsel of good food and to share it with people of good will, in a word — who love life in all its forms, always hoping for the best.”
The forward to her cookbook opens with: “My name is Vlasta Marinovic Mandic and I am an architect. I was born, grew up and still live in one of the most beautiful bays of the world, in Boka Kotorska, in the town dearest to me — Kotor.
“For my generation, and I hope for all other generations as well, Kotor has proven to be our extended family. We flow daily within its walls [Old Town], play on its streets and plazettas, absorbing the unreal beauty created by the blend of its unique natural creativity and the work of many builders, both known and unknown… A place which is human and made to fit humans, wise and tolerant, populated by families of various ethnic backgrounds, a town with history written it its genes — a world in itself.”
In his preface to the cookbook, Professor Nikola Malovic (who worked with Vlasta Mandic on the Radio Skala broadcast Bokelian Cuisine), wrote: “Bokelian cuisine is designed so that one person alone should not enjoy the delicacies presented here, be it seafood or meat or the sweets all the way to the Cake of Perast as its clime. Bokelian cuisine has not developed over centuries for one person only, or for two, except if the two have a romantic reason… Bokelian cuisine is intended as a gastronomy for a klapa, for company, for friends gathered around a dining-table. For the gossip of the Mediterranean type, after some perfidious coastal wine!”
At her home, after some aperitifs, introductions, and a history of her family home and local cuisine in the living room, abut 16 of us from the ship had a delicious luncheon in her dining room at a long table, full of good “gossip of the Mediterranean type”! The photographs illustrate the plethora of dishes, all designed for a large group of diners — “friends gathered around a dining-table”.
After the appetizers with some of their family’s farm’s homemade red wine and local bread with delicious extra virgin olive oil made from their farm’s olives, we had a cooking demonstration of making potato gnocchi for “Carnival njokada“.
Ingredients: 1 kg of soft white potatoes (boiled with skin on), 1 egg, a piece of butter “the size of a walnut”, 30-35 grams of all-purpose flour, chopped parsley, slat, grated cheese, and olive oil.
The shaped gnocchi are cooked in boiling salted water and removed with a strainer the moment they float to the surface.
The finished Carnival njokada were absolutely delivious.
While there was no demonstration of the preparation of the Krempita (Napoleon); reading the cookbook makes it clear that this is not to be attempted by anyone without some good pastry making skills! Again, really delicious.
Professor Nikola Malovic continued in his cookbook preface, “Erupting with charisma, Vlasta Mandic has given an authorial stamp to an indisputable entity in itself, the ancient Kotor. As a rule, it rarely happens like this. It is a more frequent case that someone leaves a Town, and then elsewhere, not at home, makes their Name. If the Town is lucky enough, the one with the Name always keeps saying where s/he comes from, but actually rarely returns because s/he is aware that the minute s/he comes back — the name would be diminished. Well to that extent, sinjora [a word for Mrs. or lady in the local dialect] Vlasta has indeed made it. She grew up, she achieved, and has never left.
“A true woman of Kotor”
And we were fortunate enough to meet her and experience her warm and generous hospitality in her family home, sampling some of her prized Bokelian cuisine, making wonderful memories of both wonderful cuisine and a vista that is a World Cultural Heritage site under UNESCO protection and a member of the World club of the most beautiful bays in the world.