On my recent trip to Croatia, I and my friend wanted to eat peka. We intended to have it in a restaurant, but my Airbnb host recommended that we have the dish in a setting where we could experience the food in a domestic context, have other traditional food and drinks alongside the meal, and get the chance to talk about Croatian culture and cuisine with our hosts. Dubrovnik Food tours owner, Hamo Ovcina, efficiently and cheerfully made this cultural immersion possible the next day after I reached out to him by email, and thus enabled me to have one of the highlights of my trip.

When we arrived at the meeting point at 8, we were promptly greeted by Marija Papak, who warmly welcomed us to her home and introduced us to her husband Zlatco, and later, her children. Marija has been gaining international attention, having been featured in National Geographic Traveler and the Wall Street Journal, and the experience we had shows how deserving she is of this exposure. We began the meal with local wines and liqueurs, one of the most memorable of which was rakija, a brandy made and infused by Marija herself with cherries. Zlatko showed us jars in production on the terrace, carefully marked by date of production. Alongside the wine were nuts, figs, and candied orange peel, also prepared by Marija.

While Zlatco finished the peka over the hot coals (roasting takes a few hours) Marija served cheeses of different ages, thinly sliced Dalmatian prosciutto (Pršut ), begetables both fresh and picked and her own home-made bread, accompanied by infused olive oil. This was all delicious, and it was difficult not stop eating it, but I had to remember to leave room for the main dish and dessert to follow!

The peka came next, and it was amazing—veal and lamb perfectly seasoned and roasted over a bed of potatoes, which absorbed the juices of the meal and were flavorful. This was definitely worth the wait. And finally, the dessert came, a cheese or cream pastry from around Zagreb, I believe; probably the best Croatian dessert I ate over my ten days visit.

I must here say that the excellent food was only made better by the very excellent company of the Papak family, who were all friendly, conversational and kind, answering all the questions we asked of them and also curious about our lives and experiences. This is the kind of cultural exchange that the best of tourism is based on, and a very memorable 3 – 4 hours. It is definitely worth the money we paid, and I say that as someone who regularly goes on food tours when I travel.

Peter B 

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