Crossover cuisine - dining on the Slovene-Croat border
One of the leftover disputes from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia is the precise location of the border between Slovenia and Croatia. Talks on resolving that dispute have been held in a restaurant - which just happens to sit on top of the border. Aperitif in Slovenia - Coffee in Croatia.
Usually good food and service as well as a nice atmosphere are the main reasons to visit a restaurant - or maybe a friend's recommendation - but my decision to visit the restaurant Kalin was based on its unique location. It is located on the international border between Slovenia and Croatia near the border crossing Obreje-Bregana.
I must admit I was surprised to reach the restaurant without crossing the border. Coming from the Slovene side, you don't even see the border crossing: the only way you know you are near an international border crossing is the traffic sign denoting the border. The family-run restaurant is an area where one can cross freely the Slovene-Croatian border without showing one's passport or being hindered in any way.
The restaurant is registered in Slovenia and the major part of the restaurant lies on the Slovenian side, but guests from both sides of the border are frequent customers. In the months of July and August however the restaurant opens at 5 o'clock in the afternoon because guests are rare in the summer months. So I entered the restaurant and was surprised to find it almost empty. But a very friendly waitress waited on me and was willing to answer my questions:
How would you describe working in this unique environment?
"It is interesting to work here because the Croatian elite is coming to our restaurant, politicians, actors, singers, there is always something happening it is interesting to get to know new people."
What is the guests' reaction to the fact that the restaurant is situated at the Slovene-Croatian border?
"Before the border between Slovenia and Croatia was established it was easier I must admit some of the guests that used to visit our restaurant don't come any more due to the border. They simply forget their identity cards and so they are not allowed to enter Slovenia and visit us. The reactions are mostly negative, because of the control at the border crossing."
How would you describe the relations between the inhabitants of the border region?
"People react differently to the situation. Some of the inhabitants have a realistic view on things others react strangely. Compared to Croatia, Slovenia is a small country. But in general I would say we have successfully adjusted to the new situation."
After our little chat Mitra Bajs, the friendly waitress, showed me around. It is really easy for the guests to find out whether you are on the Slovene or the Croatian side of the border because the border is marked by a line on the walls of the restaurant. You enter the restaurant on the Slovene side and if you turn right and walk a few metres you can drink your coffee in Croatia - of course without showing your passport. Weddings also take place on the Croatian side of the border in their big hall, all the rest of the restaurant, the kitchen, toilets, and another big room are on the Slovene side.
You mentioned that politicians from both sides of the border visit the restaurant. Will the tensions between Slovenia and Croatia ease in the near future or are you sceptical that a satisfying solution will ever be found?
"Well the last time Lojze Peterle and Croatian Foreign minister Tonino Picula were here for a meeting and the athmosphere was good, so I think everything will turn out well, both sides just need time."
Were any details of the meeting revealed any kind of progress?
"No, we were just asked how we live at the border what kind of problems we face in every day life, other than that no concrete solutions were given."
That's the story of the restaurant Kalin and the story of the Slovene-Croatian relation, which is once again marked by tensions due to Croatia's intention to proclaim an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic. Is Mitra Bajs right when she says that everything will turn out fine? Well it would be nice.