Squid ink risotto dark as the depths of the Mediterranean Sea; handmade gnocchi that dissolve in the mouth; lamb neck, cabbage and fennel stew, sharp and astringent to a seven-year-old’s tongue; whole lamb on the spit, turning, waiting, cracked peppercorns, bijeli luk, sol and capula, fat that melts and spits, spits, spits, made with my mother’s hands, my father’s hands, sol, bijeli luk stuffed into the flank, capula overflowing from the cavity where the stomach once was. Flaky, powdery twisted bliss a thousand Venetian years in one crisp-fried pastry hrustule. Kiflici: shortbread biscuits, curved Ottoman quarter moons, a brief rule of delight. Cobbler stew, flesh that melts, made with krumpir, capula and bijeli luk — in shallow night water, the price of a cobbler barb in my father’s bare foot. “Keep peeling bijeli luk until you think you’ve peeled enough, then peel some more.” Snapper fish head soup, creamy, sodium, rice absorbing the dense goodness of the flavours of the riba head and bones, topped with fresh flat leaf parsley from the home-garden – “Pazi kako to jelo ideš, moje dijete” – maslinov ulje and bijeli luk, whole riba over coals of banksia bones, the bars of the gradeja tether the riba in its metal ribs, holding the flesh in place until it’s cooked and falls apart. Eat the crispy skin of the tailor and herring first, the sweetest meat by the tail, then eat carefully around the gut, child; careful, removing the thicket of bones. Kupus, krumpir, maslinov ulje and bijeli luk, paid for with the tail, fresh grilled from the shores of Korčula to the shores of Woodman’s point, Coogee; eating the thicket of bones, tail flesh that dissolves, maslinov ulje and bijeli luk; whole green beans, the beans my baba picked with her own hands, piling into rusted tin cans and topping them with a wet hessian sack to keep cool while sitting on her verge waiting for the vendor to stop by and collect the beans for market; pickled red and green paprika with peppercorns and capula; the crispy riba skin of delight; kruh, a bone broth soup; the splintered bone shards of family. To think I’m eating the stomach, to think I’m eating my words, or the world, or the whole sea; more more more more — once, it was the sweetest thicket of meat by the tail.
bijeli luk: garlic
capula: onion (Dalmatian)
gradeja: a hand-held stainless steel net mesh grill for cooking over coals
hrustule: thin pastry that is folded and fried, similar to Italian crostoli
kiflici: a shortbread biscuit made in a crescent moon shape
kupus: kale/collard greens
maslinov ulje: olive oil
more: the sea
Pazi kako to jelo ideš, moje dijete: Careful how you eat, my child. (Dalmatian)
Natalie D-Napoleon is a writer, singer-songwriter and educator from Fremantle, Australia who now lives in California. She was raised on a farm by her Croatian-immigrant parents, who both left school at 14. She has an MA in Writing from Swinburne University and currently works as a Coordinator at a Writing Centre in a California city college. Her work has appeared in Southerly, StylusLit, Hippocampus, Westerly, Australian Poetry Journal, and Writer’s Digest. Recently, her poem ‘First Blood’ won the prestigious Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize, through the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.