I have had the privilege of cooking with many people around the world, taking cooking classes and watching chefs ply their trade. But for me, the ultimate, all-time best cooking experience is with a grandma. In fact, when people ask me what I would like to do, that is usually my first response. “I would like to cook with your grandma”. This simple sentence has opened many doors for me, and these experiences have been my most cherished memories.
Yesterday, here in Montenegro, I had one of those amazing experiences with Grandma Vera, her daughter Zorica and her granddaughter Milica. We met at their family owned restaurant Rivijera in the beautiful Medieval city of Stari Grad, Budva.
A few days before, we had enjoyed the most delicious dish that was called Makarule with pasticada.
I have had and savored pasticada on several occasions and many places make something similar. It is a slow braised meat dish with a wonderful depth of flavor due to the blending of the vegetables that cook with the meat as it braises over several hours. Depending on what vegetables and sometimes dried fruit and wines are used is what makes each pasticada unique.
This pasticada, however, was not only outstanding but it was the Makarule that it was served with that I couldn’t get over. Makarule is a unique long bent noodle with a hole in the middle like a macaroni type noodle but very long. It was obvious that this noodle was homemade. I inquired about the noodle and when I heard it was made by “an old woman”, I of course asked if I could meet her, and watch her make it. To my delight, they agreed, and Milica arranged it.
When I arrived, I was greeted by three generations of the family. Vera, the Grandma and matriarch, would be the one to show me how the Makarule was made.
First, I was given a small handful of thin long sticks, a reed they call Zunga that is foraged along the shores of lakes and swamps. It is what makes the hole in the middle of the Makarule.
Vera set out a big bowl on the wooden table with two sacks of flour one that was wheat and the other white flour. She poured both bags into the bowl reserving some of the flour for rolling the Makarule. She then added some sunflower oil, a bit of salt, and some warm water, and then she began to mix it with her hand, adding a touch of warm water as she went. She combined it into a soft springy dough that is not sticky and then put it on the table to knead it. She then divided it into two pieces.
She took one piece out and began her lesson on how to roll the noodle. She took just one little piece just about an inch or two with a bit of flour on it and put it around the stick in the middle. She then began to roll it, using the palm of her hand and then both of her hands and fingers. She carefully moves the stick as the noodle begins to grow.
Moving the stick is a key element in making the noodle. Vera moves her hands with precision and grace. There is a definite balance between rolling and moving the stick to make the perfect Makarule. This is, without a doubt, a labor of love and takes some practice to get right. The reed is then twisted to remove it from the Makarule.
The noodle is then bent in half to form a u shape and placed on a tray that had a linen cloth on it. The process continues over and over again until all the dough is utilized.
It was the three of us making the noodles: Vera, her daughter and me. Thankfully, Vera’s granddaughter Milica was there to rescue me each time I tried to remove the reed. The Makarule would stick at one end. I clearly was not properly moving the reed as I was rolling the Makarule. I persisted and finally got one or two right by the end.
Next, Vera’s daughter Zorica took out the other piece of dough, divided it by three, and rolled it out to a very thin piece using a wooden rolling pin. She kept turning the dough and adding a bit of flour underneath so it would not stick. She then used a fluted pastry wheel/cutter to cut the dough into thick strips with a pretty edge to make what was called stratza. She then had me roll out a piece and cut the noodles. Thankfully, I was much better at this, then making the Makarule.
Both the Makarule and stratza are boiled in water with a touch of salt and oil for just a few minutes. They placed a good bit of hard goat’s cheese on the bottom of two trays and placed the Makarule noodles and the stratza over the cheese. Another bit of the cheese goes on top, and then both were doused with some warm olive oil. These noodles were served with pasticada and a gorgeous green salad that came fresh out of Vera’s garden.
We sat down and feasted together with plenty of laughter and wonderful conversation. The meal was amazing, and we devoured it. I was thrilled that I was able to learn their craft. These noodles are not ones you will find in many restaurants, especially the Makarule. The art of making Makarule is one of those traditions that I hope my blog here at International Cuisine helps to preserve.
These noodles are a true treasure of the Dalmatian coast, part of their heritage that should continue to be passed down from generation to generation, as it was to Vera and then to her family.
Until next time,
Dobar Dan (Good Day)
From Budva, Montenegro
A huge thank you to the entire Rivijera Restaurant family for taking me in and sharing this experience with me. It will forever remain a cherished memory along my culinary journey around the world!
If you are ever in Budva, Montenegro, make certain to visit Rivijera Restaurant. They are located in Budva Old Town Trg Palmi bb Budva, Montenegro.