I am grateful to this veteran tree for offering us delicious olives for generations. I feel honoured to have been born next to it and to live in this old town. We always experienced a peculiar beauty as olives fall under the tree and even at the shadow of decay all around it,” Nela Dabanovic said, holding the pale, yet strong branch of a 2,000 years old olive tree.
Montenegro is a recent fascination for seasoned travellers. So it was exciting to think about opening a restaurant in this region as suggested by Rasa’s well-wisher, Ashok. Taking a flight from London’s Stansted airport on the coldest morning for a long time and landing in eastern Europe felt exactly the same. Snow-covered Montenegro was a beautiful view, and warm and simple people made the country feel so special.
We drove past the capital city Podgorica into the countryside, surrounded by a spectacular line of mountains. We entered the Adriatic motorway and into Sozina tunnel (4.2 km) which shortened the journey to our destination city called Bar, closer to port town Budva.
As we approached the other end of the tunnel, we saw the gorgeous Lake Skadar under the clear blue sky, the largest lake in the Balkam Peninsula, which is spread all across Montenegro. Very shortly we could feel the coastline opening up and expanding into the vast ocean on our right. Whilst enjoying the magic harmony of the lake, the mountain and the sea, Nela’s car stopped right outside Caffe and Restaurant BB—our location for the evening programme—where they serve typical Montenegrin cuisine.
More than opening a curry house in this new tourist destination, my first pursuit was to find a meal that could be closer to anything spicy, and if possible vegetarian (many people haven’t heard of a complete veggie meal!). A cooking demo was already planned to get a local feedback and I took many of my favourite ingredients with me. However, I found most of them in the local markets later. The evening session turned out to be more than food. Indian culture as a whole was discussed. People were overwhelmed at the emotional and spiritual presence in Indian flavours. They couldn’t believe the versatile nature of Indian cooking and there were innumerable stories connected with food, especially memories of mother’s special dishes.
We were welcomed by the restaurant owner and his team. Their excitement was obvious as the spices and herbs came out of the suitcase and spread their aroma across the dining area. With the assistance of their kitchen crew, we created an atmosphere of a small Indian home kitchen at the back area. All the preparation for making the six dishes was done and we were ready to greet a group of local people who had never tasted Indian food in their life.
We began the evening by sharing timeless stories of spices and the importance of knowing your ingredients before cooking—an emotional connection to get their purified essence and sublime flavours. They had curious questions and expressed a deep-felt love for India without even seeing it. It is such a proud moment when you realise India’s culture and food is well-respected in faraway places where our food is generally not seen.
A fabulous evening of cooking progressed around equally nice people. Conversations continued as we sat down to eat. Their positive response to flavours was fulfilling for the effort that had gone in. One of the guests who had visited India once commented, “There’s something spiritual about this food and I can relate to it.” We met the next morning to say goodbye to our host Captain Ljubo. Nela made an unforgettable comment, “There are only a few nights in my life when I couldn’t sleep because of happy emotions and yesterday was one of them.”