For such a small country, Croatia's cuisine is unexpectedly diverse, owing to multicultural influences from centuries of occupation. Dalmatia, a Roman province in antiquity, has a unique history that has influenced its gastronomy. The region, which encompasses the cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, is now a tourism hot spot. The Dalmatian coast is known for fresh seafood and homemade pasta—influences from its neighbor across the Adriatic Sea, Italy. Much of Dalmatia was part of the Roman Empire, and during medieval times, the Republic of Venice controlled the region. In 1815, the Dalmatian province was granted to the Emperor of Austria—which explains the delectable strudels and crêpes (palačinke literally translates as "pancakes").—Kristin Vuković
Peka is a famous Dalmatian dish of vegetables and meat or seafood—lamb and octopus are favorites. Ingredients are placed in a covered pan and roasted in the embers of an open fire. This traditional method of cooking is referred to as cripnja ("under the bell") because the pan's lid is often bell-shaped.
The origins of risotto trace to the Middle Ages, when Arabs introduced rice to Italy and Spain. Italy's influence spread across the Adriatic Sea, and crni rižot (black rice with cuttlefish) is now a favorite Dalmatian dish.
Located just an hour's drive from Dubrovnik, the towns of Ston and Mali Ston on Pelješac peninsula are famous for their oysters. Ston is also famous for its salt flats, and boasts the oldest salt factory in Europe. Oyster cultivation dates to the 17th century; today, 90 varieties are farmed in Mali Ston's bay, including Ostrea Edulis, a European flat oyster.
Since ancient times, salt has been used as a preservative to keep meat and seafood edible for longer periods, and it helped to eliminate dependence on the seasonal availability of food. Vis island—located about two hours by ferry from Split—relied on its natural resources to feed its people. Salt-marinated anchovies and pickled capers and olives were staple foods that sustained families during winters.
Fresh Adriatic shrimp are sweet and succulent; when paired with salty, lightly fried pamplina fish, the combination is spectacular. Pamplina fish can be eaten whole, and they're as addictive as popcorn. The garnish, motar, is a pickled seaweed that is only found in southern Dalmatia.
This "dirty pasta" is famous in Dubrovnik. The sauce comprises beef chunks and a blend of special spices, and has a sweet cinnamon flavor reminiscent of grandma's kitchen. In old times, the nobles were served their portions first; they took the lion's share of the meat sauce, and only "dirty pasta" was leftover.
Popular Croatian coastal dishes include grilled ligne (squid) or local Adriatic white fish accompanied by blitva, a signature Dalmatian dish of boiled potatoes and Swiss chard (mangold). Seafood is simply prepared with local olive oil and parsley.
Throughout Dalmatia, you'll find green tagliatelle with shrimp or other seafood on most konoba (tavern) menus. Tagliatelle, from the Italian tagliare, meaning "to cut," is a traditional type of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy—which are located directly across the Adriatic Sea from Dalmatia. This pasta sauce from the island of Korčula was sweetened with prošek, a sweet dessert wine.
Rožata is a traditional Croatian custard pudding from the Dubrovnik region, similar to flan and crème brûlée. Its name comes from rozalin (rose liqueur), which gives the dessert its unique flavor and aroma.