The city of Struga, Macedonia sits on the northwest section of Lake Ohrid and is the second-largest city on the lake. Seeming to sit in the shadow of Ohrid, most visitors to Macedonia will forgo traveling to Struga. Many travelers simply head to the city of Ohrid and the springs of St. Naum. They don’t know what they’re missing.
City of Poetry and Bridge Jumping
Struga, Macedonia is known as the “City of Poetry.” It holds one of the oldest annual poetry festivals in the world during the third week of August. Literary promoters, theoreticians, publishers, and poets from all over the world come here to see who will win the most prestigious award, the Golden Wreath of Poetry.
While most people can appreciate the lyrics of a fine poem, for us, the real excitement to Struga lies in its local bridge jumping. Jumping off the bridges in Struga, Macedonia is a rite of passage. Here, kids and adults of all ages take the leap of faith into the Drim River.
“It looked like so much fun that we too eventually began jumping off the bridges.”
All summer long, people have great fun using the bridges that line the River Drim as high dives. There are many restaurants and café bars that line the river, and watching all the tricks and shenanigans serves as great entertainment over some cold drinks or a leisurely lunch.
Smaller children leap from the two-foot-high promenade that lines both sides of the river. They eagerly anticipate the day that they are tall enough to climb over the fences that line the taller bridges. It’s impossible to avoid getting consumed by the liveliness—it looked like so much fun that we eventually began jumping off the bridges too.
An Invitation for Dinner in Struga Macedonia | Stanica Oaza
The owners of Stanica Oaza reached out to us after seeing the video of us jumping off the bridges in Struga. They insisted that we visit Stanica Oaza to make sure that we tasted proper Macedonia cuisine. They describe their restaurant as, “a hidden gem, where locals enjoy Macedonian food, cozy ambiance, and acoustic traditional urban music.”
Positioned just a few blocks west of the center of the city, Stanica Oaza sits on a quiet street, away from the craziness of the river. Jasminka describes her husband Emil, the head chef, as a “passionate cooker,” who adores Pablo Picasso. It is self-evident that Emil brings out his creativity in the food that he prepares for his guests.
An Interesting History | Club Oaza
We learn from our hosts that this is a far different world from the one they led just a few years back. The current location of the restaurant was previously a discotheque, or as we call it, a nightclub. About three years ago, much of the nightclub was converted into a restaurant. However, a portion of the club remains.
Before dinner, we toured what’s left of the nightclub. As we passed through the door from the restaurant into the club, we were shocked and in awe. It was unexpected! What remains is a room filled with bar height tables and chairs, one that could easily hold 50-75 people (maybe more), a small bar, walls lined with giant Pablo Picasso-like art, a TV projector, and a commercial speaker and light installation.
For about 27 years, from 1989 to 2016, the nightclub was one of the most popular places in the region. It wasn’t uncommon to have nights where up to 700 people arrived, looking to party into the wee hours of the morning. Although innocent-looking, we knew our hosts must have a wild side and some crazy stories, which we looked forward to uncovering throughout the dinner.
Rakija and Appetizers a Great Combination
For those that don’t know, every great meal in Macedonia begins with a shot of rakija. Gliding from the kitchen, Jasminka enters the dining room holding a decanter full of the rakija and our appetizer. The air quickly filled with the sweet scent of grapes.
She pours the local rakija into a vintage-looking rose-colored etched glass. We first inhale it to enjoy the aroma and then quickly raise our glasses and propose cheers or Nazdravye (na ZDRAvie!) in Macedonian.
After a quick sip, Chef Emil and Jasminka run back to the kitchen to attend to the other orders. Instantly, we dig into the chef’s creative take on bruschetta and only admire his other dish from afar, it’s too meaningful.
“I made this special for you because I know from your Facebook page how much you love our country.”
The dish, probably the highlight of the meal was made up of tomatoes, local mozzarella and sheep cheeses, oranges, pesto, balsamic vinegar, and basil leaves—meticulously crafted into the shape of the Vergina Sun, the symbol of Macedonia. Upon presentation, Chef Emil states, “I made this special for you because I know from your Facebook page how much you love our country.”
Red Wine and History
After appetizers and many pictures, we sip on a red Tikveš wine. It was produced from grapes grown in the Povardarie wine region, about 100-miles from Struga. We’re looking forward to dining with our hosts but must wait for the orders of the night to be completed.
No problem. We enjoy the wine and look at the walls of the restaurant adorned with photos of local history. In the meantime, Jasminka brings out some bread and makalo (garlic spread). Little did Jasminka know Audrey’s a makalo fanatic.
Audrey’s Addiction to Makalo
During our previous visit to Ohrid in 2017, we learned that the region is known for makalo, or smooth garlic paste. When properly prepared, makalo is flavorful, but not overwhelming.
When Jasminka told us that we would now try the best makalo we have ever tasted, she wasn’t joking. Chef Emil’s version was creamy, with a hint of sweetness from the added honey, with just the right amount of garlic flavor. We have tried some garlic pastes that were so bold that left you tasting it for hours later. Thus far, Stanica Oaza has offered the very best makalo around the Lake Ohrid/Struga region.
We learn that there use to be a train line that ran from Ohrid to Struga. The final stop in Struga was called Oaza (Oasis). The name of the restaurant Stanica Oaza (Station Oasis), actually relates to the history of this nearby train station.
We jokingly laugh and both state that we wish it still existed. It would make commuting between these two great cities so much more enjoyable, making them easily accessible to tourists.
It’s Time to Dine on Macedonian Cuisine
As the restaurant slowly clears out, our hosts now have the time to join us and eat dinner themselves. Jasminka brings out the two dishes—Ushtipec with kajmak and roasted ribs served with potatoes. It’s easy to see that Chef Emil likes to take traditional recipes and add a bit of flare.
Over dinner, we discuss their previous nightclub life and what persuaded them to transition from disco hosts to restauranteurs. We learn that the disco lifestyle became too tumultuous for the couple. Together, they decided it was time to pursue some new endeavors.
As we continue eating and chatting a man walks into the restaurant looking for directions to the nightclub. Apparently, the nightclub still has a life of its own. We continue to discuss the “spirit of Struga” and our hosts’ ambitions to begin offering unique local experiences to tourists in the area.
As the night rolled along, friends of the hosts’ stopped in to converse and join us for a drink. One of the highlights of traveling full-time, as we do, are experiences like this one—people looking to share the highlights of their country with others.
Stanica Oaza is a great option for anyone looking to enjoy a unique take on traditional Macedonian dishes, great service, and hosts looking to satisfy and maybe chitchat a bit. We especially enjoyed the quiet location, away from the hustle and bustle of the river and the touristy strip.