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Jul 2, 2002 04:33 AM

Croatian appetizers, anyone?

  • m

A friend had pointed out my somewhat morbid interest in the cuisines of war-torn lands, i.e., Afghanistan, Basque country, Iraq, so it was a sure bet that this curiosity would lead me to check out Jen Maiser’s mention of Croatian food at a Polk St. grocer. My opportunity came Saturday as I was invited to a tasting of Oregon Pinot Noir in Healdsburg and needed to bring appetizers. It takes no imagination at all to buy smoked salmon and Tillamook cheese to accompany Northwest wines, why not surprise everyone with some Croatian hors d’oeuvres? At least I could be sure that no one else would bring the same thing and this group had been willing guinea pigs for past culinary explorations.

The Chinese lady minding the store showed me the various Croatian food products when I inquired and said they were very popular with the people from that country. While I didn’t buy them, she said the cookies were the best seller. Here’s what I picked up -

Jadrau (Jadkran?) Mackerel in Vegetables “Skuse s Povrcem”, $1.59 (mackerel, vegetable oil, tomato sauce, carrots, peppers, salt)
Storco Hot Ajvar Vegetable Spread, $1.99 (red peppers, eggplant, carrots, vinegar, vegetable, garlic, sugar, salt)
Podravka Pasteurized Cucumbers “Pasterizirani Krastavci”, $3.59 (cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, sugar, spices and natural flavour)
Podravka Pasteurized Red Beet “Pasterizirana Cikla”, $2.39 (red beet, water, vinegar, sugar, salt and extract natural spices)
PIK Vrbovec Tea Pate “Cajna Pasteta” (pork meat, water, pork fat tissue, liver, pork skins, sodium caseinate, spices and onions, salt, ascorbic acid, sodium nitrate)
Bulgarian feta cheese

I was happy to see Acme breads sold here, thinking that if everything else bombs, we’ll at least have good bread. With an herb slab and a sweet baguette, my bill was about $17. I had told the store clerk that I was headed for a party - she said she knew my friends would have fun with these.

At our hosts’ in Healdsburg, I was delighted to discover that chowhounds Mark B and Louise were also dinner guests! As an aside, Mark said that he had a feeling that I might be taking part in this tasting, even though we’ve never run into each other in the wine country. So, it was even more fun having chowfriends along who were familiar with the evolution of this Croatian grocery thing and who I knew would be willing to taste anything once. I assembled canapés by piling various combos of the foodstuffs on slices of the two breads.

The most popular seemed to be the hot ajvar sprinkled with feta cheese. It was not that hot, just mildly spicy, and will be a good thing to have in the fridge to make light snacks. The ajvar topped with pickled beets was okay, not quite as good a mix of flavors. The beets themselves were very firm but seemed no different in flavor or spicing than our domestic product. The mackerel in veggies was also well-received, maybe because we were expecting it to be horrible. The comments seemed to be that it was good for mackerel and more like tuna. It reminded me of tuna in caponata. The paté came in a small tin, like cat food, and while I’ve not tasted cat food, I suspect it’s something on this order. The pickles helped somewhat to perk up the flavor. I found the pickles quite distinctive – small and firmly crisp with less sweetness than our own bread & butter pickles but not as sour as a deli dill.

Here are the details for the store if you’d like to try some Croatian food yourself. There are several other items – olives, stuffed peppers, cabbage leaves, sardines, cookies, crackers, and patés – that I skipped.

Food Warehouse [Polk Gulch]
(across the street from East Coast West Deli)
1732 Polk St.
San Francisco


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  1. Thanks for the report, Melanie--it brought back fond memories of when I used to live in the neighborhood and shop there all the time.

    Ever since those days, ajvar has been a staple for me. I use it on bread, in omelettes (with chevre), on pizzas (either solo or mixed with tomato paste and olive oil, as a sauce base), or on pasta. Many of the grocery stores out here in the Richmond also carry ajvar.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Tom Hilton
      Melanie Wong

      Thanks for the advice on how to use up the rest of that jar of ajvar!

      The shelves of this grocer are a study in culinary ethnography. Seemed like there was an olive oil from every olive-growing country. I would have liked to try the Lebanese OO, for example, but didn't want to buy a whole gallon.

      The clerk was Chinese, but she told me the owner is Iranian.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Yes, that's what I always loved about it. Not quite the geographical breadth Haig's has, but quite a range anyway.

        If you're fascinated with foods from war-torn countries, you should try to find palacinken--they're a gigantic crepelike thing with either savory or sweet fillings. We had them in Sarajevo (1988, before the war).

    2. s
      Stanley Stephan

      This sounds like the sad selection of Polish food in the Bay Area. I am guessing this is not representative of Croatian cuisine, but carried for the small population that is desparate for ANYTHING Croatian.

      I would not like Polish food evaluated on the wierd canned goods available in the SF Slavic stores or even by the one Polish restaurant in the area. There's not a large enough population to produce the goodies that you get in Chicago or Buffalo.

      Hmm, I wonder where there are siginificant Croatian poplulations in the US.