Sardine Escabeche and Croatia

The Nanbanzuke recipe I posted earlier this month intended to allude this Sardine Escabeche recipe.

I came across savur, a.k.a. ‘savor’ or ‘saor’, Croatian escabeche when I was making  my ‘To-Eat in Croatia’ list picking out the local dishes from Taste of Croatia. It describes savur that ‘Traditional way of preparing and preserving fish, usually sardines and anchovies, that is very popular in regions where ancient Venetian republic ruled but very similar recipe can be found even in distant Japan’, which attracted my interest on the propagation: the Portuguese  or Spanish dish was passed on eastward – e.g. to the Mediterranean regions, Philippines, Japan etc. as I mentioned on the Nanbanzuke  post (also spread westward to their colonies in the new continent as well, though).

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to try escabeche in Croatia, so I made it myself referencing a recipe on the web and adding some changes.


(for 2 servings)

6 butterflied sardine fillet
salt and pepper
15 g plain flour
15 g  cornstarch
50 ml olive oil, to shallow fry

100 ml water
75 ml white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
60 ml white wine (I used medium bodied Riesling)
½ tsp caster sugar
60 g red onion, finely sliced
30 g carrot, julienned
30 g celery, julienned
3 small sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
½ tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
fresh rosemary springs
fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp juice of fresh lemon

extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
sweet paprika, to garnish (optional)
celery leaf or flat leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)


  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with a mix of the flour and starch. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry over medium heat, skin-side down until lightly brown and drain excess oil. Set them aside in a wide non-reactive tray.
  2. Place the celery, carrot, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, bay leaf, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, sugar, vinegar, water and wine in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour over the fish. Set aside to cool completely, and scatter the lemon juice before place in a fridge. Leave for at least 2 hours or overnight to marinate.
  3. On a platter, top with sardines, garnish with the paprika and green leaves, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil when serve.

I tried as many dishes as I listed whilst in Croatia this summer and learnt that Croatian cuisine has received influences from neibouring cultures and the countries ruled the territory of Croatia throughout history. It has similarities with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish etc., but each region has its own distinct culinary traditions. I stayed mostly in Split and Dubrovnik, the coastal Croatia, and enjoyed lots of seafood cooked in traditional Dalmatian way.

Seafood Dishes

Brudet: fish soup served with polenta
Gulaš od Hobotnice: octopus stew
Škampi na Buzaru or ‘Skampi Buzara‘ @ Villa Spiza in Split – this place is getting very popular and takes no reservations. Go earlier to avoid the long queue, prob. by 7.00 pm at latest.
Crni Rižoto: black cuttlefish risotto @ Amfora near Gruž Port in Dubrovnik – loved the wild fennel adittion! Their Miso Fish Soup and Chilled Fennel Cream Soup looked nice.

Meat Dishes

Pašticada, so called ‘Queen of Dalmatian Cuisine’, served with potato gnocchi – meat dish but one of the most popular Dalmatian dishes.

I tried Ćevapčići in Bosnia Herzegovina where it is considered a national dish. Ćevapi or Ćevapčići is well known and eaten in all parts of the former Yugoslavia once under the Ottoman Empire. Next time Dubrovnik, I will try Taj Mahal (funny, it’s not an Indian restaurant!) near Lapad, not in the Old Town, to explore more about Bosnian food. Sofra in Zagreb was pretty good.

‘National Plate’ @ Sadrvan in Mostar – dolma, japrak, ćevapčići, lepinja, ajvar, đuveč, Bosanski Kolacic

Those I mentioned above were all nice, however, what I enjoyed more was the food cooked with bare minimum of seasoning and really brings out the full original flavour of ingredients.

grilled trout @ Plitvice Lakes

The octopus salad at Konoba Menego in Hvar Island is highly recommended. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, especially the caper! They don’t sell their homemade capers, unfortunately…. Instead, they advised me to find ones preserved in vinegar at farmers’ market. Their cheese and dry-cured ham platter looked yum.

octopus salad @ Konoba Menego

In Dalmatia, fresh seafood grilled over open flame is superb. It is simple, but tastes different as it is cooked with fresh olive oil and Mediterranean herbs over olive tree or grapevine wood fire, which gives it deep flavour. So the grilled meat and vegetables are flavourful, too.

grilled sea bass @ Miličić Winery

Lady Pi-Pi, one of MUST places in Dubronik, offers delicious BBQ food at reasonable price considering to the location (within the Wall), a great view over the Old Town and good atmosphere under the grape trellis. They don’t accept reservations, so I avoided dinner time and dropped in just before lunch time (breakfast is served until 11:00). I had to wait a bit for a table to be ready, but there wasn’t a queue.

left: my lunch – grilled squid @ Lady Pi-Pi

You absolutely must try peka while in Dalmatia! Peka is a slowly baked dish with meat or seafood along with vegetables in a pot or tray, but it is actually a method of cooking, and also a dome or bell-shaped ceramic or metal lid. The dish is also called ispod čripnje, or ‘under the bell’ – food cooked under the bell-shaped lid in fireplace.

dome-shaped peka -(souce: Travels with Tricia)

The lid is covered with hot coals while the ingredients are being slowly cooked in their own juices under the ‘bell’. That is why they are moist and flavoursome. It is said that it probably is the oldest way of food preparation in the Adriatic, even Mediterranean area – according to some archaeological researches, the artifacts of peka was found in the layers of Bronze Age.

It may be a primitive way of cooking, but the result is more than satisfying!! Even the potatoes accompanied by were moreish!

fireplace for peka @ Miličić Winery

I wish I could have joined sunset tuk tuk tour followed by dinner at Konoba Dubrava, one of the most popular peka places in Dubrovnik! Unfortunately, it was not available for just one person…. Anyway, I had a chance to try some, which was divine!

peka @ Miličić Winery

Some locals I met while in Dubrovnik dreamily said octopus peka is scrumptious and much tastier than meat one. It was too late to notice some restaurants near Polače Port in Mljet serve octopus peka – little time was left until departure back to Dubrovnik…. Peka usually needs to be ordered in advance and takes some time to be prepared. Stop by and ask restaurant staff before you visit the Mljet National Park if you make a day trip to the island.

octopus peka (source: Croatia Travel Guide & Blog)

In Dubrovnik, I rented a holiday apartment halfway between the Old Town and Gruž Port – less expensive and much quieter than staying inside the Wall. There are very frequent bus services to/from the centre until late, however, it was just about 20 minute walk and very safe even at night. I sometimes walked down for a glass of wine or a scoop of ice cream enjoying cool evening air after dinner at the apartment.

There are fish and green markets near the port, where I popped in almost every day to get some fresh fruits for breakfast, and vegetables etc. for my cooking. I cannot recall well, but I think the mussels were about 15-20 kunas per 1kg.

my cooking: mussels cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine
Also made my lemony pasta with ricotta filled raviori instead of adding the cheese (click here for the recipe)

Dalmatian cheese and dry-cured ham also are a must, which I shall mention when I write about Croatian wines.


Nanbanzuke – Japanese Escabeche

Nanban is a Sino-Japanese word, originally referred to the inhabitants of Southeast Asia, particularly the islands of modern-day Philippines and Indonesia. After Portuguese first made contact with Japan in the 16th Century followed by Spaniard, the trades based in their colonies in Southeast Asia were carried out. Consequently, ‘Nanban’ became to designate Portugal and Spain (mainly the former), the people and things from the countries and trades.

As the name indicates, nanbanzuke (tsuke or zuke means ‘marinade’, ‘pickled’, ‘soaked’, ‘dipped’), a Japanese dish which is principally deep-fried fish soaked in vinegar based marinade flavoured with soy sauce, dried red chili pepper, onion or Japanese leek etc., is Portuguese origin and derives from the escabesche.

… in Portugal, escabeche (eesh-kah-besh) is a way of preserving food in vinegar and aromatics. It is commonly served cold as a petisco (Portuguese tapas) with some bread to soak up the sauce. Recipes vary but the basics consist of fried sardines or mackerel marinated in a sauce made with vinegar, olive oil, onions and herbs. Its origins go back to the Romans who used vinegar to preserve both fish and meat though the word comes from the Arab iskbê.

(source: Portugal on a Plate)


Sardinha de escabeche (source: Pinterest)


When it comes to the main ingredient of nanbanzuke, it usually refers to aji, Japanese horse/jack mackerel, but there are many varieties: wakasagi Japanese smelt, mackerel, sardine or salmon, meats like chicken nanban, or even vegetables. The Nanban-style marinade and the history of influence to Japanese cuisine remind me of Filipino Adobo originated in Spain.


Click here for my Chicken Adobo recipe


Red chili pepper and deep-frying cooking method you can recognise in nanbanzuke dishes, were also introduced to Japan through Nanban. That is the reason why the pepper is also known as ‘nanban kosho’, or nanban pepper.

At soba or udon noodle places, you might come across kamo nanban (soba/udon) and/or curry nanban (soba/udon). In this case, ‘nanban‘ designates red chili and onion or Japanese leek (as substitute of onion), which is  plausibly said that Nanban-jin were eating a lot of Japanese leek to prevent cholera at the time when kamo (duck) nanban was invented in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867). Onion was also brought to Japan by Nanban trade during the period, but remained as an ornamental plant until the turn of the last century.

Oops! Sorry, too many trivia. It’s already September, but summer is still here. Enjoy this refreshing nanbanzuke dish in hot weather!





(for 2 servings)

5 cm x 5 cm dashi kombu (dried kelp)
60 ml water
50 ml rice vinegar (acidity 4.5%)
2 tbsp usukuchi shoyu (Japanese light soy sauce)
2 tsp caster sugar
½ dried takanotsume red pepper or dried red chili pepper (small-sized)

60 g onion, finely sliced
20 g carrot, julienned
6 small fillet of aji, mackerel, salmon or sardine
10 g plain flour
10 g katakuriko or cornstarch
vegetable oil, to deep fry

optional as garnish:
shishito pepper or okura,  prick each to avoid explosion
kabocha, sliced




  1. Leave the akatogarashi in water for a while. Drain, seed and cut into thin slices.
  2. Put the water, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in a non-reactive tray, and mix well until sugar dissolved. Add in the kombu and akatogarashi, then onion and carrot to marinate. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat to 180℃. Lightly dust the fish with a mix of the flour and starch. Fry shishito and kabocha (without flour/batter coating) first, both sides until slightly brown and drain excess oil. Fry the fish in the same way.
  4. After frying, immediately marinate: remove the vegetables from the marinade, put the fries into the liquid and cover with the onion and carrot. Stand for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.



On more trivium:


You may already know, but tempura is one of the Nanban cuisine as well.

Portuguese merchants introduced tempura to Japan. They were in the habit of eating fried fish during the religious seasons (“tempora“) of abstinence from meat.

The word “tempura“, or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word “tempora“, a Latin word meaning “times”, “time period” used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesimae), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days or quattuor tempora refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and instead eat fish or vegetables. The idea that the word “tempura” may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning “to season” is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word “tempero” as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese.

(source: Wikipedia)