by Lana V.
Like all childhood memories, the vision is a little foggy. Another hot summer’s day on a Croatian island. We are coming home wet from the beach, hungry like wolves, bruised knees, feet smeared with red dirt, ears blocked by water. We know we’re supposed to change into dry undies, but we can’t wait. Tomatoes are on the table, and some paprika and salt, and some fresh bread and pate, probably Gavrilović. Forget about everything else.
Back then, tomatoes were big, most of them wouldn’t fit in your hand. They were very red and very ripe. They had brown and black and green bits on the surface that wouldn’t meet today’s supermarket standards where each tomato is identical and perfectly round, in other words, they were beautiful, and they had taste that has tied itself forever in this perfect memory.
Three decades later I want to relive that feeling and find it, my perfect tomato. I drive to the shop. It’s full of tourists. They are happy, they’re on holiday. Maybe some of them, the younger ones, never tried the tomato I’m looking for. I hit the vegetable section and see some. It is not love at first sight.
Desperately looking for the country of origin I see ‘Netherlands’. The tomatoes look as desperate as I do. They traveled a long way, from the Netherlands to a Croatian island and I am sure the producers spent a lot of effort to grow them, but they look pale and boring, worn out like I do after travelling all day.
The smell is horrible.
I try another shop, and another shop and then another one. No luck. Country of origin: Not Croatia. In the third shop, I decide I am not going to give up that easy and look beneath the stand. Jackpot. There is a wooden casket full of little red balls and the sign says they are produced in Croatia. Obviously hidden for the locals my brain figures. I immediately purchase some. They weren’t my tomatoes but. Their taste was sad also.
Almost giving up my quest, I meet a girl I know who is very much into food (and in the meantime avoid all acquaintances who are not) and ask her “where do you get your tomatoes?” almost before I ask how she is. She looks at me confused and in horror like a little girl almost as if I am an evil person trying to steal her doll.
“Mmmmaybe I know one”, she whispers reluctantly, looking left and right, “but keep it a secret”. “I will text you.” She could obviously sense the crisis. After all, I had a domaća hrana (local food) crisis and no hope on the horizon.
Two days passed and nothing, so I decided to remind her. “Oh sorry”, she forgot. Now I already feel like we’re dealing in illegal substances and totally get into the lingo. “How much stuff do you need”, she asks over the phone, not mentioning the name or products, in order to keep her source secret. “1-2 kg. for starters.” She sends me her account number.
I need to see that tomato or I will die. Money was wired.
She left it for me in a red and green Konzum bag in a local cafe. I open the bag, the smell immediately takes over. I am in heaven, I wanna stay with my head in that plastic bag forever. This is the good stuff.
I will lock myself up for a few days and have a solo tomato feast. I carefully close it making sure no-one else sees what is in and selfishly take it home.
With eggs, with olive oil, I will not make salsa because it is a sin to cook them, olive oil, mix with cucumbers and other veggies, pick some fennel from the path to the beach and sprinkle it on top with larger grains of salt and olive oil I was on top of the world. I still am. Those childhood tomato memories came flashing back. I got my fix.
I was high on tomatoes again.