In the south of Croatia, 50 kilometers away from Dubrovnik lies the bay of Mali Ston, a unique nature park under the sea. With its rich biodiversity, this gem of nature is an ideal environment and has therefore been inhabited since prehistoric times. The story of seashell farming, especially of Mali Ston oysters (lat. Ostrea Edulis), goes way back, to the times when the Romans ruled over this area. The tradition of seashell farming was kept alive throughout its rich and turbulent history.
During the period of the Republic of Ragusa, detailed production records were kept and concessions were given to the resident farmers. An interesting fact concerns the members of the Habsburg royal family who loved oysters, which were sent to them to Vienna in wooden boxes, while the emperor Franz Joseph I even visited Ston on a special occasion. This extraordinary shellfish was awarded at the 1936 World Exhibition where it received the Grand Prix and won the gold medal for its quality. Back then it was exported to many European cities such as Paris, Sarajevo, Vienna, and Prague.
Mali Ston is an unavoidable stop for all real quality-food connoisseurs, especially in the case of seafood which has made this area widely famous. The restaurant Bota Šare is located within the medieval warehouse on the Mali Ston promenade. For 40 long years, this restaurant has been run by the Šare family, introducing its guests to the history and culture of this area through their cuisine. In addition to Mali Ston, one can also indulge in the specialties produced by this chain of restaurants in Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, and on the island of Šipan.
The Šare family found its culinary inspiration within the pages of two-hundred-year-old cookbooks, discovered in the dusty corners of this monumental building.
These cookbooks contained recipes that were used in the households of Dubrovnik’s noble families. The Šare family brought these centenarian recipes together, combining them with their own family cuisine as well as with high-quality ingredients, and fish caught by their fisherman boats and their own eco-friendly family-farmed vegetables.
Oysters as appetizers are an essential part of each meal. They are best when eaten fresh with just a few drops of lemon juice. When visiting Mali Ston make sure to take a tour organized by the restaurant, where you will have the opportunity to visit the oyster farm and taste them on spot, straight out of the sea, while getting to know all the information regarding their farming.
Besides oysters, one should also try other seafood from the bay of Mali Ston, all contained in one dish – The Popara. The Popara from Dubrovnik is also a house specialty of Bota Šare restaurants! The recipe for four people is provided later in the text.
The Popara is an old Croatian dish from the times when women used to make meals out of the ingredients they had on their disposal in the household. The Popara nowadays prepared at Bota Šare restaurants is based on a variety of ingredients from the traditional recipe, while guests can feel free to choose from the fish on display, such as fresh grouper, sea bass, or gilt-poll!
– 1 onion
– 2 carrots
– parsley leaves
– 2 garlic cloves
– 40 dkg potato
– 1 kg fish
– 1 dl white wine
– olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt
– pepper (to taste)
– mint leaves
Lightly sear thinly sliced onion and carrots on a mixture of vegetable and olive oil. Add the sliced potatoes, parsley, and garlic. Add a teaspoon of salt from the city of Ston, stew for another few minutes, then add water. When the water starts boiling, add the sliced fish, white wine from Pelješac, some pepper, and mint leaves. Cook on low heat for about 20 minutes, remove from heat and add homemade olive oil.
Keep the authenticity, offer originality, reach perfection, remain approachable and friendly – this is the motto by which the Šare family runs their business. They strive to preserve and present the riches of this area to all gourmands, lovers of history, culture, and of course, high-quality wine!