This blog takes us to a gem of a city in the Adriatic, Dubrovnik, where I was this past July. I’m going to draw a picture during this blog that I hope will leave you yearning for our next post where I will show you how to prepare a traditional Croatian Peka that’s been prepared in the same way for centuries, where we’ll be using the Fornetto bread cloche. I won’t give too much away just yet, but continue reading and you’ll have a very good idea about where our next blog will take us. Enjoy!
There are places on Earth that are well worth taking the time to travel to and Dubrovnik is one of those places indeed. This beautiful city, nestled on the coast of the turquoise Adriatic Sea is built on the side of a mountain which gives you spectacular panoramic views from almost everywhere. Once a tiny republic of it’s own it is now a UNESCO world heritage site in Dalmatia, Croatia (Republika Hrvatska) which once formed part of the former Yugoslavia.
One of the best preserved medieval walled cities in the world, Dubrovnik is absolutely abundant with culture, fantastic architecture and culinary delights to please even the most finicky of palates. It’s a small city with only about 42500 inhabitants yet is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. A fun fact about Croatia is that the modern day necktie worn today, came from the “cravat” worn by Croatian soldiers in the 17th century.
The city of Dubrovnik has always been a place that’s been under scrutiny from outside forces and since it’s existence has gone through many transformations and attacks. Thanks to it’s immense wall of roughly 2 kilometres (1.24 miles) long that surrounds the city, it has always been able to come out victorious, including the most recent attacks in the 90′s after Yugoslavia split into several different countries including Croatia. After the shell attacks ended the city rebuilt following UNESCO’s guidelines as a world heritage site, staying true to the ways of yesteryear and the city is truly breathtaking!
Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian region isn’t beachy, it’s rocky and cliffy much like many other parts of the Mediterranean where the mountains flow into the sea.
Bougainvillaea grows abundantly and spreads like wildfire throughout Dubrovnik, clinging to the sides of buildings and growing over arbours and fences sharing space the ivy. Vibrant splashes of purple, mauve, pink and green are everywhere and it seems impossible to be unhappy. Not to mention the sun and pure blue skies!
From atop the wall, which is completely walkable from one end to the other, the roofs of Dubrovnik are interspersed with old and new from the rebuild. The island off in the distance is Lokrum, a national park that I had the opportunity to visit. Surreal is one way to put it when the peacocks that were imported ages ago flourish and eat out of your hand.
The inside of the city is absolutely astonishing. Medieval architecture at its best. The stone streets are so old and heavily walked on that they are shiny enough to reflect the passers-by. That being said however, it never feels crowded!
Though regional Dalmatian cuisine itself was heavily influenced by Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines featuring lots of seafood, cooked vegetables and pasta, national Croatian cuisine on a whole is far more broad, adopting dishes and cooking techniques from neighbouring Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and was heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine during its Vassal state under the Ottoman Empire. Croatia in fact is listed by UNESCO as one of the 7 countries where the Mediterranean diet is an intangible cultural heritage.
The farmer’s market is in a small square and is an actual FARMERS market, where local farmers come to sell their wares.
The produce throughout the Mediterranean is fresh beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The flavour of a tomato or pepper that was picked under the sun that morning can’t be beat!
The chard, beans and the cucumbers are unlike anything you can buy at the grocery store!
Now, I mentioned the traditional Croatian Peka earlier and what it is is a large, round cast-iron dish with a matching dome in which a variety of meats and vegetables are cooked on the floor of a wood-burning oven. I tried my utmost to buy one but it’s virtually impossible. Not only do they weigh about 20 kilograms (44 pounds), but you can’t find them in stores either. They are traditional and mostly made by artisans who sell them during summer fairs. So we will be recreating a traditional Peka dish in the next blog in the bread cloche, which is very similar in size and shape.
As I mentionned, Dalmatian cooking has been influenced by many different cultures and the aspect of the smoked meats and cheeses appealed to me the most. Bacon, ham hock, loin, meatloaf and local cheese, all smoked. Sensational!
Croatians are also great producers of cured and smokes sausages. We will making cured and smoked sausages from scratch shortly in an upcoming blog as well.
What I liked a lot about the cooking in Crotia is their non-shyness when it comes to the use of herbs and spices. They infuse salt with everything, from rosemary to turmeric and thyme to lavender, the latter of which I have to say is absolutely amazing on lamb! They’re also proficient wine and olive oil makers and even make salami out of figs like the one in the image. Amazing with wine and cheese.
Like most countries in Eastern Europe, Croatia has a very very vast assortment of brine-cured and pickled accoutrements. Inspired from as far north as Russia to as far south as Turkey you can bet your bottom dollar that they all go great with smoked meats and Peka! Click on the image for more info about the Fornetto bread cloche.
I look forward to showing you how to prepare and serve a traditional Croatian Peka in next week’s post.
You’re in for a treat. Enjoy!