For me, one of the best parts about international travel is the food. Taking time to discover new flavours and dishes trumps all the well-meaning hop-on, hop-off bus tours. Boarding a flight and arriving in a new land is not possible right now, but the joy of unearthing great cuisines right here at home is.
A good place to start is to journey through Canberra’s many multicultural clubs. Located in suburban settings smattered throughout the city, they were initially set up by those who found themselves far from their homeland to celebrate heritage and culture. Over the years, they have become an ingrained, beloved part of social life in Canberra for all.
So while we can’t feel the light summer breeze coming in from the Dalmatian Coast as we tuck into plates of fresh seafood right now, we can get a taste of the breathtaking Balkan nation at the Vatreni Bistro located inside the Croatian Deakin Soccer Club.
Taking up a modest corner of the Deakin shops, the club was established in 1958 to foster a love of soccer and uphold Croatian cultural traditions in Australia. Over 60 years later, they are still proudly flying the flag of their heritage and can now boast of being home to the most successful team in the ACT Premier League Football competition.
It is most fitting that the bistro at the club also has a football connection. It is called Vatreni, after the nickname given to the Croatian national soccer team. The menu is full of club classics, including juicy burgers, steak, schnitzels and pizzas to share, but for a taste of Croatia, these are the top three dishes to try:
Cevapi: Possibly Croatia’s best-known foods, these skinless sausages are packed with flavour and a good kick of garlic. Served with a capsicum relish called Ajvar, they are delicious and very popular.
Sardines: Fish is a huge part of the Croatian diet, especially along the Dalmatian Coast. Sardines are very popular and are often served very simply: grilled, drizzled with olive oil, finely chopped parsley and garlic. Simple but very tasty and a big favourite at the club.
Slavonska Pizza: The pizza is named after the Northern region of Croatia. It’s topped with plenty of kobasica, a paprika and garlic flavoured smoked sausage, which the area is known for. The sausage gives the pizza its signature flavour, but it’s also topped with cheese, bacon, mushrooms and pickled chillies called fefferoni.
Vatreni Bistro is located inside the Croatian Deakin Soccer Club at 3 Grose St, Deakin and is open from Monday to Friday for lunch from noon and dinner from 6:00 pm.