Sunday, October 3, 2021

How to eat like a local and have a meal you'll never forget in Dubrovnik

I spent 2 weeks in Croatia, so I had many delicious meals, but one stands out above the rest. My husband and I joined Marija Papak, her husband Zlatko, and a group of other curious American and Slovenian guests around a long table in the Dubrovnik couple's outdoor courtyard.

Meats, cheeses, olives and figs on a platter

Dinner with Marija and Zlatko starts with homemade Croatian aperitifs (rakija) and a charcuterie spread that will blow your mind. Croatian prosciutto (pršut), local sausages and cheeses, olives, and juicy peaches and figs straight from the farmer's market were gorgeously arrayed on large wooden platters and might have made a meal all on their own, but they were just the beginning of an epic meal. The aperitifs ranged from fruity to herbal, but all were delicious and packed a kick.

Tomato tart on a platter

Their garden's bounty was on display in other appetizers, like a gorgeous tomato tart and a tomato salad that put all American tomatoes to shame. A soft cheese doused in olive oil, and made just that morning, was a stellar accompaniment. To wash it all down, Croatian wines like the famed red, Plavac Mali, were poured liberally and reappeared in your glass when you weren't looking.

Lamb and potatoes in a traditional Croatian peka
Lamb and potato peka

The main event at Marija and Zlotko's dinners is a traditional Dalmatian peka, a hearty slow-cooked meat and potatoes dish made in a bell-shaped vessel in an outdoor wood fire. Zlotko manned the fire throughout the evening, tending to our lamb peka, a sweltering job on a sticky hot August night. But the results were well worth the effort. The meat was meltingly tender and the potatoes were both crispy and soaked in the lambs juices.
Woman, Marija Papak, talking at a dinner table
Our hostess Marija Papak

Like your mother, Marija didn't want anything to go to waste, so she cajoled guests to try less popular parts of the lamb, and my husband tucked in for some lamb brains (cream and delicious according to him), while a Slovenian guest was the only taker on the lamb's eyeballs.
Our hostess regaled us with the tale of how these dinners began, first an informal dinner for a visiting journalist, then some serious internal coverage in places like the WSJ and National Geographic, and now regular dinners for tourists, like us, who were looking for a more authentic experience.

I loved the opportunity to interact with a local family plus meet other food-loving tourists. My husband and I always appreciate an excuse to talk t some new people after we've been traveling just the two of us. There's only so many new topics you can find when you're together constantly! And the food was incredible across the board. The hosts are so gracious, the setting so lovely, and the food so divine, that this evening was easily one of my favorite food memories while traveling.

Just when everyone was completely stuffed, out came dessert. Marija's homemade apple strudel was just as good as everything else we'd had that evening, and even though I could barely move at this point, I couldn't resist eating the heavenly figs or ice cream that accompanied it either. We left the evening fat and happy with new friends and excellent memories. 

Want to plan your own trip to Croatia including dinner with Marija and Zlotko? Jayway Travel arranged our entire 2-week trip and made the entire process so easy. They helped us choose and book everything we did including all hotels, tours, restaurant reservations, ferry tickets and private transfers, based on our preferences. You can also book directly with Marija at Eat wth Locals.

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