Svako selo svoju feštu ima… is Croatian for every village has its own festival. One of the most popular Croatian pop festive songs begins with this sentence. Indeed, during summer almost every city or village on the Dalmatian coast will declare “its day” and prepare a feast in every sense of the word, for all the senses.
On the day of the festival, the villagers start preparing for the evening when the main party will commence: the stage for the concert is set up and wooden stands are brought on site. I’m writing from a perspective of a small island villager here, but bigger cities have more animations and a rich programme even during the day. In the small villages of the islands the night festivity has a special homely atmosphere. The village centre is decorated with colourful lights and little flags hanging from the porches of cafés and shops. In the late afternoon the villagers start preparing the dishes that will be sold in the evening to the hungry dancers and the curious. While the band is having a rehearsal before the evening concert, fish and squids are being cleaned, kilos of onions and potatoes are chopped and peeled and drinks are arriving in crates.
As the sun starts coming down, lights are being lit up, food stands are ready to serve their delicacies and the first passersby are reading the menus. The smell of fresh fish and grilled meat is inviting and all of a sudden, the village is packed with people of all age. The music starts after sundown. People are dancing, eating, or sitting by the sea with a drink in their hands, enjoying the summer breeze by the sea.
There is something for everyone. After the meat, risotto or fresh fish, traditional sweets and candies made on the premises by local women or already prepared and wrapped in a rustling paper are waiting for the one with the sweet tooth. My favourites are fritule, a doughnut-like Dalmatian pastry, prepared with a secret ingredient: a touch of rakija. The band plays till late night reaching a crescendo after the great fireworks at midnight while the party for the young continues in one of the bars until dawn.
The village festivals like these are the best opportunity to try local unpretentious food, prepared with fresh ingredients on the traditional way. It’s definitely a treat one can rarely find today. If you find yourself somewhere on the coast one summer, check for the date when the fešta is held. Ask the locals, they will know best.