For hiking long distance trails through the mountains you need a lot of food to keep yourself going. Food can be seen as fuel, preferably lightweight, long lasting and super nutritious, because you have to carry everything on your back. But, do you really have to?
I had no idea what to expect. Where to find stores to resupply, what would those stores have to offer, or would it be easier to buy local produce? How often could I find a serviced hut or restaurant and how often could I afford to treat myself to a meal in places like that?
It soon became clear that I brought way too much food. One hour after my start in Valbona I came across a little mountain bar in Rragami. I wasn’t even hungry yet, but a group of Greek hikers were about to have lunch and they insisted that I join them. Well, some fresh veggies won’t harm and I saved my super-nutritious-long-lasting-light-weight-hikers-lunch for the next day. The next three days were a pub-crawl through the mountains. I hiked from one lovely mountain bar to another, tasted one lovely local dish after another, and in the meantime my backpack didn’t get any lighter.
In Montenegro there were no bars, but katuns; wooden cottages where rural farming families live during the summer months. It was the shepherds and peasant families who introduced me to their homemade produce, like milk, yoghurt and cheese. I’m an absolute cheese lover, but I never tasted anything like this. This is as fresh as you can get, straight from the cow. Or sheep. Fantastic!
Although most of those people live a very basic life without any luxury at all, it’s those people who share everything they have. A family in Sinjajevina shared their little living/bedroom with me when the weather was (according to them) too nasty to camp. The next morning I got about a kilo of cheese (refusing is rude) as a goodbye present. How sweet! Couldn’t lift my backpack though!
In several places along the trail I would resupply those basic ingredients that are hard to get in small towns. This way I could make my favourite hiking snack: date balls, and my super-breakfast-mix with nuts, seeds, cinnamon and oats. Besides being healthy, tasty and fun, I enjoyed reminding myself of something ˝normal˝ or familiar every now and then.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like eating local food, but some things I simply cannot get used to. Raw onion or garlic as a side dish for example. Just to snack on. Or the white bread that is served with everything. I love to eat white bread, with peanut butter, honey, marmalade or chocolate sprinkles. And with soup. But not with every warm meal. Not with pasta, rice or potatoes. Or pizza! White bread always has been something special for me, something you don’t eat very often. That is, until I started to travel to the Balkans.
The same with meat. I have been a vegetarian most of my life, once I started to eat meat, it was only on special occasions. That is, until I started to travel to the Balkans. I like to try new things, taste new things and I certainly don’t want to refuse something that is offered to me. The generosity of the people I met, in combination with my own curiosity made me change my diet completely. When I’m in the Balkans, I’m a white bread with meat and raw onion eater. And I love it!
Food is a great way to get to know a country, a culture or a region. Although it's absolutely possible to hike the Via Dinarica with a lightweight backpack full of super-hiker-food, I definetely recommend spending a little time with the locals to taste real, authentic food. Once you have, you don't mind making a detour or carrying a few extra kilos.
Besides local produce, there is of course food from nature as well. Forest fruits, edible plants and great smelling herbs for example. The beautiful thing about spending a lot of time in a region is that you can see the seasons changing. With the changing of the seasons, different food shows up.
July was full of strawberries, the wild ones. Those you smell before you see them. So sweet! A bit later, in August I picked fresh figs next to the road and the Via Dinarica turned into a true berrie-paradise. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and more strawberries. After the summer, mushrooms and pumpkins came and also more and more sour cabbage showed up on the menus. If I ordered something in a mountain hut, it was the awesome soup called čorba. No hunger for the rest of the day, guaranteed.
I'm sure I could feed myself with just fruits from the forest and food from the land, but I do need a bit more knowlegde before I dare to do that. It's absolutely not nessescary to carry all the food you have to eat on your back. There are heaps of places to eat and plenty of locals who offer a great variety of procucts and tradional meals. It does cost a bit more time, but it's how trekking on the Via Dinarica turns into a journey of a lifetime.