The basic characteristics of Dalmatian cuisine are fresh ingredients, simple preparation with little intense spice and lots of mostly fresh herbs and wild plants.
Dalmatia is, in fact, rich with Mediterranean herbs, such as sage, bay leaves, rosemary, basil, thyme … which give dishes from this region a special aroma and taste. The traditional Dalmatian cuisine coincides with modern nutritional trends which prefer lightweight thermal processing of food and plenty of fresh fish, olive oil and vegetables.
You will often find shellfish and seafood which is prepared like fish, either grilled or cooked in a brodetto or a shellfish stew. Shellfish can also be mixed with noodles or rice.
Although meat is eaten less than in continental areas it occupies a very important place in the Dalmatian cuisine, whether cooked in aromatic sauces, with vegetables, grilled, roasted on a spit, cooked under a peka or served as a delicious smoked delicacy such as pršut (prosciutto) or panceta (pancetta).
Dietary habits of the Dalmatian Zagora ( hinterland) are inextricably linked with the coastal cuisine by taste and smell and twisted into a unique culinary whole of the sea and its karst hinterland, even when they resemble Lika and Gorski Kotar cuisine due to the availability of the ingredients.
Dalmatian Zagora traditionally uses Mediterranean herbs, vegetables, fruits and olive oil – ingredients which were, in the past centuries, often brought to Zagora in exchange for prosciutto, the trademark of Dalmatian cuisine, which thrives best when lashed by the Bura wind on the ‘other side’ of Velebit, Mosor or Biokovo mountains.
Prosciutto and Cheese
Prosciutto (dried, smoked pork loin) is indeed be the first thing guests are offered throughout Dalmatia. From the multitude of excellent prosciutto in the Zadar area those from Posedarje, dried on Velebit bura wind , stand out. Famous prosciutto from the Sibenik area come from Miljevci, Pakovo Selo and Drniš , while the famous prosciutto from Split area come from Vrgorac , Poljica and Imotski.
Together with home-made fried or pickled olives , mandatory accompaniment to prosciutto is local sheep, goat or mixed cheese , which has largely become known outside the Croatian borders.
Although the technology of production of Pag cheese is equal to that of Brac , Hvar and Vis cheeses , it is set apart from all others by its hardness and salinity. Pag sheep are bread on hilly areas where the grass is exposed to frequent wind and salt and is therefore full of essential oils which give the milk of Pag sheep a specific and recognizable aroma.
Salted Anchovies, Sardines and Oysters
A great way to start a Dalmatian meal is to have salted sardines or anchovies, while in the deep south they will be happy to serve you Ston oysters , which can be prepared in several ways, but are best eaten raw with a bit of lemon juice squeezed over them .
Another dish which can be served as an appetizer or a snack is Viška or Komiška pogaca (Vis or Komiža pie) made with salted fish. This ploughman’s ‘bread’ is stuffed with salted anchovies whilst tomato, onion and spices can be added optionally . In fishing villages, one can often find fried smelts as a starter – these are tiny fish, the only variety that can be served unclean and with the head.
Fish, Meat and Vegetables
The main meal in Dalmatian cuisine is hard to imagine without the soup followed by the meat or fish which was cooked in it, served with s teamed vegetables, mostly chard, and flavoured with garlic and olive oil. Contemporary approach to gastronomy, created a creamy version of fish and seafood (mainly crustaceans ) soup, but habits have not changed in preparation of legumes such as peas, broad beans, beans or chick peas, which are still often served as they were in antiquity.
Along with other vegetables like artichokes, cabbage or squash, beans are often prepared with rice and pasta (pašta fažol) and fresh or dried meat. Dried lamb or goat , known as kaštradina , is traditionally , as well as with beans, prepared with broccoli or a combination of green vegetables flavoured with garlic and olive oil, locally called mišancija .
Fresh lamb is often cooked with vegetables, this being the brand of Zagora and the Dalmatian is lands, especially Brac and Pag. On the latter island one of the specialities is a dish called vitalac – lamb offal stuffed into casings and barbecued.
The preferred method of preparing lamb in Dalmatia is still roasted on a spit or baked in a peka together with veal. Both types of meat as well as pork, are appreciated grilled , after which they are seasoned with olive oil and fresh rosemary.
A special place among the meat dishes is held by the Dalmatian pašticada or beef stew – marinated beef tenderloin, studded with smoked bacon , which is first roasted and then cooked in a sauce of vegetables, wine , Mediterranean spices and prunes . Pašticada is served with Gnocchi or dumplings, which also occupy an important place in the Dalmatian cuisine , whether served with meat, vegetable or seafood sauce.
As far as the fish is concerned , it is usually served cooked (boiled) or grilled. The most valued locally caught fish are dentex, John Dory, grouper, monkfish, sea bream, sea bass, amberjack, cod , sheepshead bream , tuna, and the more mundane species li ke sardines, sprat or pier. Wheather cooked or baked they need to be served with freshly cooked vegetables and olive oil.
One of the most famous Dalmatian fish dishes is brudet, a fish stew, traditionally prepared with several different types of fish, simmered over a low heat, with local spices and wine , while the rest depends on the person cooking it.
Mollusks like squid, cuttlefish and octopus are prepared in various ways and can be used , as well as crustaceans and shellfish , to prepare buzara (light fish sauce/stew) , soups, risottos or pasta sauces . The farmers’ and fishermen’s tradition is to cook octopus ‘stew’ with beans or broad beans, while crustaceans such as scampi , lobster or crab are best prepared when only briefly grilled .
In the far south, the mussels from Mali Ston Bay are a special delicacy , as are the eels from river Neretva and frogs from the Neretva valley .
Delicacies of the Hinterland
An absolute gastronomic brand of the Dalmatian hinterland has i n recent years been soparnik (pie made with onions and chard) from Poljica, which was once considered a poor man’s meal.
Soparnik is a simple dish made from ingredients that were available to every household: flour, chard, red onions, olive oil and garlic. Poljicki soparnik has been inscribed on the list of protected cultural property, where we can also find the traditional Sinj arambašici , a speciality of finely chopped meat wrapped in soured cabbage leaves, which are cooked in their own juices with pieces o f dried meat. In the summer , the meat is wrapped in vine leaves in the same way.
Another speciality of Zagora is ‘sir iz mišine’ (cheese from goatskin) , while the River Cetina area is known for its river crabs and frog specialities including frogs’ legs wrapped in prosciutto.
Cakes and Wine
The most famous desserts are Dubrovnik rožata (flan), Trogir ravioli (pastry filled with almond paste), fritule (little doughnuts), kroštule (fried sweet pastry) , paprenjak (old fashioned pepper cookies), and mandulat (almond, honey and egg-white desert) . Typical Dalmatian desserts will win your heart with their simplicity and the most usual ingredients include Mediterranean fruit, dried figs, raisins, almonds, honey and eggs.
Grapes and wine are an integral part of the Dalmatian gastronomic offerings. It was recently discovered that the most respected American grape variety Zinfandel , indeed originated from Kaštel near Split . Is has been a trademark of Californian vineyards for more than a century, where it was brought by Croatian emigrants from Kaštela and where it is still cultivated under the name kaštelanski crljenak.
Dalmatian oenology reached its peak on the peninsula of Pelješac and the island of Hvar through the production of red wine Plavac Mali. Hvar’s vineyards in Ivan Dolac and Sveta Nedjelja , and the best Pelješac vineyards in Dingac and Postup are all situated on the southern side of the island and the peninsula , on 300 meters or more above sea level , on the hills sloping towards the sea , so the vines get light and heat directly from the sun, as well as the sun’s reflection from the sea and the soil .
It is not surprising that the best Croatian wines bear the names of those sites – Dingac, Postup and Ivan Dolac, while the wine from the region of Sveta Nedjelja is named Zlatan Plavac.
White wines produced in Dalmatia include Pošip , Rukatac, Dubrovnik Malvasia , Kujundžuša, Vis Vugava, Debit, etc.
Dessert liqueur Maraschino, has for centuries been produced in Zadar from an indigenous variety of Maraska cherry, using the original, secret recipe. Maraschino has been exported to all European imperial and royal courts since the 18th century, and was drunk and toasted by the most powerful rulers of the world.