Passing through Klis, Croatia on your way to/from Split, or on the road to the nearby fortress where some of “Game of Thrones” was filmed, you could be pardoned for thinking this is a town given over entirely to the roasting of lamb. The restaurants in Klis all serve it and have signs or displays proudly showcasing their roast lamb dinners.
Lamb is a common item on menus throughout Croatia, but the spit-roasted lamb (and lamb cooked under a metal, “bell”) is a kind of regional specialty and signature dish hereabouts. It’s not uncommon to see spits turning in shop windows and roadside grills as you drive across Dalmatia – the Adriatic coast of Croatia.
But in Klis, a surprisingly high percentage of restaurants proudly showcase their traditional roast lamb meals. And judging by the never-ending stream of Croatian customers, these are trusted roast lamb eateries. Though crowded, the wait seems to be minimal. As we stood in line, I was by turns fascinated, and admittedly a bit shocked, by the site of the still slightly bloody lamb slowly rotating right by the entrance. If you’re squeamish be prepared for that, but don’t let it stop you. By the time it hits your plate the lamb will be a lovely deep caramel color, and oh so tasty. The platter that appears before you will be a vision of earthly gluttonous delights, but it’s far from upscale or fancy. This is movie meat, minus the host of technicians making it look pretty.
Roasted lamb in Croatia is traditionally served with potatoes and raw red onion. The red onion adds some kick to the meal, and the potatoes are there to absorb lamb juices and temper the onion’s burn. It’s a combination that really works.
And as our succulent platter of juicy browned lamb arrived with crispy potatoes, I noticed that the large rings and wedges of purple onion give the table a lovely color accent. Prepared and presented in this way, the lamb is incredibly tender, smoky, and juicy. The skin is crispy and flavorful. I found a cold local beer or glass of wine to be a nice accompaniment to Croatian Roast Lamb. Although the half hour drive from Klis back to Split means someone will have to forego that part of the experience.
The Croatian friend who took me to Klis recommended ordering the meat in smaller batches. Much of the weight is bone, so a kilo or so at a time for 2-3 people is about right. You can always order more, and ordering smaller servings ensures that the meat is hot and fresh rather than cooling on the table for an extended period of time. The price is more than you’ll typically pay for a quick lunch in Split, but quite reasonable given the amount and quality of the food and the excellent service. We spent about €50 for a long leisurely two-person lunch that included drinks and a tip.
You see lamb throughout Croatia, and catch faint glimmers of it as the aroma wafts from kitchens, through your consciousness, and teases your sense of smell. Yes you can get roasted lamb in lots of places. But why would you bother? In Klis it’s reasonably priced, offers you a small adventure off the tourist track, and lets you take home a truly authentic Dalmatian experience.
text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
SOMETHING EXTRA: Klis is also the home of high-end specialty food producer, Stella Croatica, who make candied citrus rind, fig cake, oils, preserves, and sweets in their facility just off the village’s main road. Follow this link to read about Stella Croatica and my tour of their factory and ethno-village.
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