My Top 7 Croatia Experiences

The first month of Remote Year: overdrive on the senses and mind, but some of the most beautiful experiences possible in a part of a world I knew so little about.

1. Soparnik

This one is a huge credit to Remote Year for setting this up. RY offers tracks each month, various local experiences surrounding food, the outdoors, and culture, or all of the above in one day. We went rafting, bit of hiking, and while that was fun, the best part of the day was going to a local family farm run by an older couple who made us Peka and Soparnik, some best things I’ve eaten on Remote Year, a perfect combination of amazing ingredients and traditional cooking. They both involve burying food and slow cooking, but being able to see the multi-step process and enjoy the Soparnik, a Croatian version to me of 韭菜盒子 ,still remains one of my top RY memories a year out.

2. Mostar 

I talk more about the experience in this other post, but visiting Bosnia and Mostar was for me, of those travel moments that truly shake you with its beauty as well as its sadness. I definitely had one of my best meals all year and best times chatting with locals in Mostar, but everything from the scarred landscape to how a blonde police officer forced our driver to pay 20 euros (feels really little) as a bribe really informs you about the condition the place is still in due to its recent history.

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3. Swimming in the Adriatic Outside Workspace 

My first Remote Year workspace conveniently had a beach outside of it. Given how crazy my headspace was the first month, my favorite part was getting up everyday and swimming in the ocean with Croatian families. It’s one of the few places I felt super comfortable going alone and leaving my stuff out all year, despite being a super obvious foreigner (as you can imagine there weren’t many overweight Asian women swimming at a beach off the tourist-y areas). I felt so lucky everyday to swim in the pristine water.

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4. Greenmarket Shopping and Wandering Around Roman Ruins

The old town of Split, the old city center of roman ruins, incredible farmer’s market, and tourists galore (kind of gross). Even though parts of it are touristy-trappy, the farmer’s market is delightfully a place for the locals but friendly to tourists. I’ve had some of the best tasting produce I had all year and learned to enjoy it all with ajvar.

5. Island Hopping

Island hopping in Croatia from Split, can’t even describe how amazing, beautiful, and varied the experience can be. Swam in some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.  Fisherman’s House and Pension, run by a Scandinavian man who fell in love with a Croatian woman, served unpretentious fresh delicious seafood.

 

6. Meet the Barba: LAB Split Brewery 

Another Remote Year track “Meeting the Barba,” or the man behind one of first the craft breweries in Croatia. One of the best American Pale Ales I’ve tasted from the tap, can’t believe this guy just let us enjoy it. There’s not much high-end beer selection in Croatia, so this is your guy, who could easily go toe-to-toe with any California craft brewery.

7. Visiting a Working Shipyard 

Another Remote Year track and far off the tourist track, getting an up close look at the shipbuilding industry in Split. Took a look at the post-Yugoslavian socialist era to competing with much more modern and sleek operations globally. Wish them the best as they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Favorite Coffee Stops in Split, Croatia

The first thing my American ass I missed when I spent a month in Split was cold brew and drip coffee. Especially in the mediterranean, not really a thing. Croatia is still so recently a post-Soviet state with a small population to boot, so the sheer variety of such frivolities is still limited.

Luckily, a few places came to the rescue:

D16 

The most American style and first iteration of such coffee shops in Split Croatia. You can get Cold Brew growlers if you’re in town for awhile. Us American savages do not appreciate the slow drinking of expresso like the rest of the region.

  • Website
  • Dominisova ul. 16, 21000, Split, Croatia
  • ~$3-5 USD

4coffee soul food

More than decent stop for a good cup of brew while wandering around the old city. You can really feel the love for the bean here. They specialize in Italian style coffee, but have Cold Brew for American tastes as well.

All the Feelings about Croatia, and Bosnia. Where I was at and what what I learned. 

Where I Was At 

Every month on Remote Year, I wrote a bit about my mood and what I learned from each place each month. I got more disciplined about this over time, even taking a spreadsheet grid of each place I went to and what I liked. I’ll start posting that in the months to come. But it’s been more than a little over a year since I left and almost two months into my return, so I should start.

I have to say, a lot of my learnings are not necessarily the most happy, especially in the beginning, but I hope reflective and needed to decompress from a year as unbelievable I’ve had. I’ll start on some of the fun stuff soon. 

To start, I had a dark predilection for visiting and learning about unhappy places and sectarian conflict. I can easily draw a straight line back to my own family’s history. You project your own history on the history of others in the tragic tapestry of the human experience a way to sort out one’s inheritance. It’s a particular Asian American refugee neurosis for those of us in the tribe and other with similar experiences, but difficult for outsiders to comprehend that constant state of mind. Given world events the past few years the awareness I’d soon no longer be considered young, I was in a kind of mood. 

I wasn’t ready for a routine and not ready to settle down. At this point, I’d also gone through years of feeling figuring out my identity, that didn’t fit in anywhere and deprogramming myself from intergenerational trauma. Unfortunately through that progress I had evolved into the sort Asian female yuppy monster – you’ve seen them on the streets of NY, SF and LA, a bunch of recovering ABGs never too far from a needless act of aggression. 

My co-workers affectionately told me “you broke out of a middle class prison” by job hacking to work remotely for a year. I digress to say we’re better off than most New Yorkers, so it’s some real first world urban elite complaints. Still I wasn’t feeling it, so with the encouragement of a dear friend and mentor who did RY I put laptop on my backpack and got on a plane to Croatia, which had to be the most fitting places for both literally plunging into beautiful ocean and into dark history. 

All the Feelings About Croatia and Bosnia

In between daily gorgeous swims in the Adriatic outside of our beachy hipster workspace, exploring the islands, seeing insane natural beauty, running through roman ruins, and still working my full time job, I steeped myself in really terrible news articles and reels about Srebenica and the Bosnian wars for probably more time than was healthy and read Girl at War  and The Tiger’s Wife. I remember also reading S in college and remembered what Dr. Quinn, shout to one of the best professors I’ve had, taught us about the unfortunate nature of how history repeats itself despite knowing it and the shock to Europeans of it happening again in living memory at their shores in the Balkans. 

This behavior was probably not something someone should do on a couch with a view of the sea or anywhere for their psychological and emotional health. This month I had in Croatia and the next two were weird places for dark historical tourism juxtaposed to a kind of magical European vacation and drunken party Eurotrip alongside serious work hours and pressure on top of the madness of the first two months. Your sense of time and experience becomes warped and compressed in this way on Remote Year along with a sense of displacement. A friend told me about a French word dépaysement that describes it well I think.

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I felt this acutely traveling into Bosnia. It was really the first time I contemplated and saw blue hair blonde eyed White people in such a destitute ruins and recovering from such a recent and tragic history. 

In Croatia, it felt like the past wasn’t far behind, but the scars of war are visibly gone in most places a tourist would go. In Bosnia, bullet holes and no go zones with land mines are part of the tourism. It’s one of the early experiences that sticks with me. When I think about my time there, I think about one of the best meals I had all year and the beautiful landscape while sinking into a disturbingly recent shocking moment of humanity’s depravity. 

Dark tourism aside, I loved hanging out with a few college students telling me how their family saved the coffee roaster they got from Italy during the war and about Bosnian coffee. They asked me questions about what I was doing there and expressed how they wanted to join the EU and be like another EU member state, be able to travel and get jobs in places like Germany. Definitely a favorite moment of the trip, even if bittersweet. Really want better for them.

What I Learned

The enormity of how little I knew about this part of the world sank in, and I consider myself pretty cultured and well-traveled. Everything from the beauty, how charming the people were in a particularly slavic way, and histories I need to learn more about. 

So my lesson for the first month was fitting for the start: how little I actually knew and still don’t know. This would prove to be hypnotic contrast when I got to Asia, so in hindsight I felt grateful for the humility. I really leaned into that vibe as we traveled to Prague.

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First Transition Day aka traveling hoard of digital douchebags.

Bombay Elegance at Dishoom in London

Whenever I go to London, I make it a point to eat at a Dishoom.

Their famous bacon breakfast naan roll is incredible, but I couldn’t make it for this quick layover I had in London before I embarked on Remote Year. Reveling and reflecting now in this first meal from my epic journey last year and last this location. I’ve been to the one in Shoreditch multiple times, but I went to this one in Kensington, which had a more elegant interior.

Dishoom pays homage to Irani Bombay cafes. I love the inherent nostalgia of places like this or even upmarket tributes to it, steeped in tradition of food, beverages, and conversation like the cha chaan tengs of Hong Kong or American diners where people of all backgrounds rubbed shoulders for a quick and delicious meal.

The House Chai is second to none for me, with refills. While I couldn’t get the famous breakfast this time, I really enjoyed the lamb with naan and the bhel salad (very filling on its own really). Worth it to be THE restaurant you make time to go do when visiting London.

  • Website
  • 4 Derry St, Kensington, London W8 5SE, UK
  • ~$12-20 USD 

The Perfect Combo of Udon Curry and Gently Fried Veggies at Kuon in Kyoto

I’d see people lined up as if Kuon was the hottest club in town when I’ve leave my hotel (Intergate Kyoto – highly recommended with great food, coffee, and tea) to go do work at my to the hipster workspace. I’d be bummed and curious because I had to get my day started. Turns out the place had just opened and been featured on Japanese TV so people wanted to check it out.

Kuon specializes in udon noodles with Japanese style curry, which is more sweet than spicy, and various, mostly veggie, tempura skewers.

I ended up getting a table for two with no issue right as they opened for dinner. Come here in the evening if you’re on vacation so you’re not competing with the office lunch crowd, bored housewives, and retirees during the day. I ended up going here multiple times during my stay in Kyoto despite it being one of the pricier choices for a casual meal.

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Udon has what we Taiwanese term that QQ flavor, 嚼勁, or that rich al dente texture but still with that softness inherent to udon. Really high quality noodles paired with sauces and curry. It’s one of those places where the ingredients are such a cut above the rest and why people come back after waiting in line. They boast that their curry consists of over twenty spices and udon carefully sourced. Even the side dish of rice with egg tasted exceptional.

I’m a meat eater, but I have to say the vegetable dishes and those versions of the set meals are a standout. Get the avocado tempura, seriously. As a tourist, I haven’t found Japanese cuisine vegetarian friendly so I recommend it for the veggie-inclined.

The interiors have those beautiful warm wood hues and feels like a bit of a rustic oasis in a bustling part of Kyoto characteristic of so many of the small shops running in traditional Kyoto townhouses around the Kurasama neighborhood, which I highly recommend staying in if Kyoto. One of those rare places that can be good for a solo diner at the bar or a nice date.

Service is friendly, and they have English and Chinese menus. Highly recommended and worth going out of your way to eat at in Kyoto.

  • Website
  • 京都四条 くをん / KUON 420 Komusubidanacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8223, Japan/ 〒604-8223 京都府京都市中京区小結棚町420
  • $8-15 USD 

Chilean Sandwiches: I’ve Never Loved Tomato, Mayo, and Avocado with Meat So Much

Seriously. The food I miss the most from Santiago are the sandwiches. I had the fancy stuff, the delicious wine, and the upscale experiences, but sometimes the food I appreciate the most are the greasy pleasures after work with a beer.

First of all, I have to thank my from Maria from Santiago for recommending these delights to me and giving me some background. Chile, like the rest of Latin America and the Americas in general received immigrants from all over, including many Germans and Italians. At some point techniques and food culture combined with local ingredients transformed and created new dishes like Chilean sandwiches.

My must recommend for Chilean sandwiches is Fuente Alemana, styled like old school German diner with vague feelings of when I visited Bavaria, only in Spanish and a world removed. It was literally one of the first places I went to and one of the last places (both locations above) I went to in my time in Santiago with multiple visits in between.

Upon Maria’s advice, I ordered a Lomito Italiano that tasted like a melange of Chilean, Italian, and German with sliced cuts of pork, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and a generous heaping of homemade mayo that I realized is a signature joy in Chile. No Best Foods trash here; It tastes way more creamy, flavorful, and possibly more fatty yet doesn’t leave you with the feeling of self-hatred and disappointment when you squeeze it out of a bottle of artificial mass-produced Kraft goop.

I loved Lomito with the draft beer on top. Then I quickly discovered that one of Chile’s best crops and what people brag about are the tomatoes, the best and juiciest I had in the South America by far at these sandwiches, and avocado, called palta and this part of Latin America. The food is about the ingredients, and the avocado here tastes extra buttery and rich.

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I became obsessed with the simple combo found all over Chile of tomato, avocado, and mayo. It sounds so basic bitch, but every ingredient is so of top quality, especially paired with churrasco beef, which I personally liked more than the lomo, and the fica buns that vaguely remind me of a cross of NYC kaiser rolls and Italian ciabatta, again, the combination of the history of Chile here in my interpretation.

I think multiple orders of this the month I was in Chile singlehanded raised my cholesterol level for the year. Worth it.

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Of course, the classic that Chileans’ talk about and is available everywhere is the Completo, a hot dog with, you guessed it, tomato, mayo, and avocado. Fuente Alemana has a high-end version of it and was so loaded the waitress held it in place because it plopped over from the weight of all toppings as soon as I put it down after a first bite.

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While I loved just hopping over to the Fuente Alemana locations whenver possible, I have to give an honorable mention and strong recommendation when visiting La Vega, a must do in Santiago. La Vega is one of the biggest local markets for everything with a storied history and significance to the city, and I have to recommend Donde El Nano for their version of the Chacarero sandwich (who knew sliced green beans could taste so good and fresh with so much grease?), which they called the Veronica. I asked for lengua meat, which they made for me special along with the delicious broth with a generous heaping of cilantro. I can’t describe how satisfying this was.

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The owner is also such a jovial and friendly dude and really goes out of the way and clearly wants everyone visiting to have a good time versus the Fuente Alemana experience, while it might feel more authentic, feels authentically like a place people are popping in after work for comfort food and expected to tip and bounce ASAP.

Either way, the sandwiches are the must for me in Chile beyond any of the really nice fine dining with wine places I went to because I really felt like I was tasting local comfort food with history.

Learn more about Chile’s sandwiches. Don’t believe? Anthony Bourdain agrees.

Fuente Alemana

  • Website
  • Bourdain went to this one near Plaza Italia: Av Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 58, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • Close to Sky Costanera: Av. Pedro de Valdivia 210, Providencia, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • $5-10 USD 

Donde El Nano

  • Website
  • Inside La Vega: local 235, Antonia López de Bello 743, Recoleta, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • $5-10 USD 

Peumayan’s Door to the Indigenous and Ancestral

I’ve had the pleasure of eating a lot of delicious food around the world this year, but this place struck me as so special because of uniqueness of the food, celebration of heritage, and the fact that if this restaurant were somewhere like LA or NY, the chef could charge 3x as much and be the toast of the town for innovation.

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A badass female chef took us through Peumayan Ancestral Food menu on lovely Sunday. The restaurant concept takes indigenous ingredients and cooking methods from groups like the Mapuche, Rapa Nui, and other indigenous groups in South America and builds a multi-course tasting meal with all those elements, with bonuses.

 

Normally, I loath the concept of elevating “ethnic food.” For an Asian person, that often comes with the baggage and implication that waters down food and plates it in a fancy way to make it more palatable to White people, when 1) the food is good as it is 2) high-end Asian cuisine already exists that isn’t geared toward White audiences.

On the flip side of those politics, why can’t “ethnic food” be just as finely enjoyed as French Food and Italian food, with the same pomp and ritual? Especially when food with seasoning just tastes better? (Haha.)

I don’t think that latter stance was fully clarified for me until going to Peumayan.

An explanatory comma first, traveling to Santiago was my first time truly traveling in Latin America. My stereotypes about Chile mostly came whatever content I absorbed on the internet through time talking about how the southern cone of Latin America is so “European.” Luckily my friend Maria from Santiago complicated those notions and told me the history of her country. Still, I knew so little about complexity of the indigenous history in Chile, and how the Mapuche were the one indigenous group to successfully resist the Spanish conquest.

Peumayan takes the richness of that history and creates a high-end dining experience celebrating the ingredients and cooking of pre-Colombian food, and does so exceptionally well. I’m mad that the dining and food culture locally and globally doesn’t seem to have that on the radar at all.

Most of my travels through Chile and Latin America weeks later all have the same sad undercurrent as the indigenous culture as among the least celebrated heritages in these countries. Although there are exceptions, especially in Peru and I’m assuming Boliva and Paraguay, the present-day living culture, and food culture in particular case of Chile, it isn’t something that seems to pique curiosity, let alone as a part of the rich heritage of the country to cherish and value.

I hope Peumayan and what the chefs are trying to do here gets a lot more famous. A tasting menu for food this quality would easily be triple the price in LA or NY. I put this at the top of the list for a restaurant recommendation in Santiago.

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Exceptional flavors from sweet to savory that I’ve never quite experienced. Everything tasted so earthy yet refined.

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The above is the bread platter and amuse bouche for the first round.

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Main courses.

 

Desert, with a lot of flavors of local Chilean wine.

 

More about the food.

More about Peumayan:

  • Website
  • Providencia Constitución 136 Santiago, Providencia, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • ~$50-70 USD tasting menu plus drinks