Raftrek’s guide to authentic cuisine: Dalmatia
Raftrek Adventure Travel BLOG
Because of its geographic position, Croatia’s authentic cuisine is unusually heterogeneous for such a small country. Each region of the country has its own distinct culinary tradition defined by its natural resources and its historical heritage. Dalmatia is the coastal region and the most visited part of the country. Therefore, it is what most visitors perceive Croatian cuisine to be. Dalmatian cuisine is essentially what is widely known as Mediterranean cuisine, or the cuisine which is a result of the Mediterranean climate and terrain. With simple cooking methods which complement the lightness, freshness, and aromas of the delicate ingredients, Dalmatian food is also the perfect summer food to enjoy during your stay. Here is our take on the most common Dalmatian specialties:
Lamb holds a special place in many Croatian’s hearts – especially in Dalmatia. It is considered a delicacy to be shared with others and is often associated with important social and family events. It is commonly found in the form of spit-roasted lamb and lamb under the bell known as „peka“. Even if you’re familiar with lamb where you’re from, Croatian lamb likely tastes completely different from what you’re used to. The lambs are raised in a harsh, dry, and rocky environment, with most of their diet being made up of wild Mediterranean herbs. These specific conditions produce lambs with delicious and distinctly aromatic meat, the flavor of which is enhanced only by salt or with the herbs the lamb had been eating all of its life. Dalmatian culinary simplicity at its finest.
2. Fish & Seafood
With more than 1,700 kilometers of coastline, it’s no surprise Croatia is well known for its fish and seafood dishes. Some of the most commonly found fish and seafood are sardines, seabass, sea bream, squid, octopus, mussels, and scampi, with certain rarer and more expensive types of fish being found in fine dining restaurants. However, for a truly authentic cuisine experience, rustic taverns which are only accessible by boat are your best bet. Caught and prepared by local fishermen – the only people who truly know fish – you will likely be served some of the best fish and seafood you have ever had. These places will often have no menu, but will present you with the „catch of the day“ and we strongly recommend taking their recommendations. Again, a brutally simple preparation of simple grilling, baking under the bell, or marinating is key to preserve the delicate texture of the flesh and the aromas of the sea.
3. Risotto & pasta
Many popular Dalmatian dishes feature rice or pasta as flavor-carrying vessels for the delicate ingredients that dominate its cuisine. The type of rice and the shape and texture of the pasta is intended to complement the sauce it is served with and the production of each variety is often closely linked to a certain area and its traditions. Some of the most popular dishes to try are the black risotto, also known as squid ink risotto, and a variety of Adriatic seafood pasta dishes. A pasta mix including potatoes is used to make dumpling-like pasta called gnocchi and is reserved for the bolder flavored dishes like the famous Pašticada made of beef and root vegetables – must-try for meat lovers. And if you ever find yourself in Skradin, make sure to try the Skradin risotto, a dish that takes two whole days to make, resulting in an incredibly rich, strong, and deep meaty flavored risotto.
4. Prosciutto & cheese
Often left ungarnished or simply garnished with capers and olives and served with bread and olive oil, the prosciutto and cheese platter is a classic cold starter or an accompaniment to a glass of fine wine. And just like wine, authentic prosciutto and authentic cheese have their own fan base and standards to live up to by the end of their production and aging processes. Prosciutto is essentially a raw ham, cured with sea salt and hung up to dry in the wind. However, there is a strict process each ham needs to go through to become prosciutto and every producer will have their own methods and reasons why they think theirs is the best. It’s much the same with cheese, which can be made of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk. The different varieties differ by how they were produced and each type should be appreciated in its own right.
5. Sweets & desserts
What most Dalmatian desserts have in common is that they are quite sweet and incredibly fragrant. Most are made up of a dough of some sort which can be a sponge mix, a shortbread mix, or a doughnut mix. The deep-fried varieties can be fried into puffy doughnuts or delicate crunchy shapes sprinkled with sugar. Other, more elaborate recipes often include shortbread or a sponge type dough with a filling commonly featuring ingredients like nuts, dry fruits, and candied citrus peels, lavender, and herbs for the aroma. Some also use local varieties of alcoholic drinks as a way to moisten, preserve and flavor their mixes. Because many traditional sweets naturally have a long shelf life due to the way they are made, they make wonderful souvenirs to take home. One of the most popular is the fig cake which can be found all along the Dalmatian coast. The fig cake is made of dry figs, almonds, and homemade herbal grappa. Varieties of this recipe often include different herbs and spices.
Whether you’re staying for a day or a week, we think it is only fitting for you to incorporate local, authentic cuisine into your Croatian experience!