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 Zlatko, 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 Zlatko 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.
I was so excited to book this tour as many tours do not take or overcharge solo travelers. Dining at Marija and Zlatko’s home was the highlight of my trip. I would not have remembered Croatia the same was if it wasn’t for this amazing family. They are comfortable, hospitable and fun! I was joined by another travelling couple and we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. Everything was super fresh and home made, for example the one day old cheese we had. It was also my first time trying the cherry liquor which was also made by Marija. We watched the Croatia soccer match was sipped on wine until about 11PM when we headed out. Marija and Zlatko really enjoy company and there was no feeling of rush or “restaurant feel”. Seems like just a nice dinner with a few friends.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Had a local dinner of Peka prepared by Marija and her husband at their home. Food was delicious, hospitality was wonderful, and a grand time was had by our group of 9. Don’t miss this opportunity while you are visiting beautiful Dubrovnik.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Marija, Zlatko and their family treated us to the most wonderful evening. It started with a hearty welcome and small glasses of cherry, walnut and other assorted Grappa. This truly was a family affair with Marija and Zlatko’s two children, his brother and sister in law and some cousins in attendance. A couple from New York joined in as the other ‘customers’. Marija was clearly the head chef, the primary host and family matriarch. Her husband Zlatko, in accordance with universal traditions stemming back to early man, tended the fire, poured the drinks and declared in good humor that the primary topics of discussion for the night should be “sex and sports”.
Marija and Zlatko are a good team and expertly prepared the Peka dish which consisted of local lamb and veal, potatoes, and minimal but fresh spices. The Peka process involves heating a brick surface with a fire, placing a covered pan with the meat and potatoes on the surface and covering with hot coals. Cooking time was two hours but it zipped by with much conversation and other food. The appetizer plate was a charcuterie assembly of local cured meats and cheeses as well as olives, tomatoes and home made bread. Absolutely delicious. Notwithstanding the different cooking methods and wonderful unique local food, I was struck by how similar the affair was to a western backyard family barbeque. We were made to feel like members of the family. Thanks go to Marija and Zlatko for creating the wonderful food and atmosphere.
In researching where to find local and authentic cuisine in Dubrovnik, I came across ‘Eat With Locals’ through Dubrovnik Food Tours.
Marija, Zlatko and his daughter welcomed us into their home on a particularly warm summer evening in August. This was exactly what we had hoped for and it was such a pleasure to not only enjoy all of the local delicacies they had prepared for us, but to also get an insider’s perspective on Dubrovnik. Overly touristy locations abound among the beauty of Dubrovnik and Marija’s passion for authenticity, quality and hospitality made this a highlight of our trip.
Our evening began with a selection of homemade liquor and fresh fruit from their garden. Zlatko tended to the wood-burning fire in cooking the veal cooked under the iron dome or ‘Peka’. We continued with great conversation over a platter of local cheeses, an incredible ‘Prsut’ or Prosciutto and more specialties. The Veal Peka did not disappoint, incredibly moist and flavorful it was home cooking at it’s finest. Make sure you save room for the Paradizot a wonderful dessert of egg whites, cream and biscuits.
Overall if you are looking for an experience that’s off the beaten path, full of character and with some local flair, I’d highly recommend booking at place at Marija’s.
New York City, New York
We were on vacation in Croatia for close to 2 weeks. Although we had some great meals and enjoyed many of the restaurants, our best dinner of the whole trip was our Local Dinner at the Papaks with Marija and Zlatko. We had no idea what to expect when our travel agency recommended the dinner – but we thought at the least it would be something different. The night was so much more!
Food – amazing, company even better. Night started off with home made wine and munchies, meeting other tourists that came. When we sat down for the appetizers,we all said how amazing it looked and it could have been dinner – amazing antipasto plates: fresh prosciutto, day old cheese, other cheeses, salami, bacon wrapped plums, the best tomatoes I had all summer, eggplant, home made bread and even more!! All with more local wine.
Eventually , dinner came. This wonderful local meal – Peka with lamb, veal and potatoes. Honestly, best lamb I think I’ve ever had. Everything was so wonderful including the dessert, music, great conversation….it went on for more hours then we thought we’d be there, but not in a bad way – we all had the best time!! We can’t thank the Papaks enough for an incredible experience.
We randomly found out about Marija and Zlatko though our Sobe host, only to discover they have been written up in the WSJ, Nat Geo, and others. Their reputation is well-deserved: not only is the food fresh and delicious (often from their garden or a friend’s), and their knowledge of local cuisine masterful, but they are both truly warm-hearted and engaging hosts. Meeting people like this is why we travel, and after we left everyone in our group agreed this was an outstanding experience. If you can get on their schedule then make the time: 100x better than any tourist joint you’ll visit.
We heard very good things about this experience from our contacts at Jayway Travels, but Dinner with the Locals (hosted by Marija and Zlatko Papak) more than exceeded our expectations!
We were served a traditional Dalmatian feast. We started off with homemade grappa (had several shots because there were different kinds) and learned the native way to say cheers (zivjeli – something that was repeated several times into the night). The appetizer included a variety of cheeses, nuts, figs, pickled onions and the best prsut (prosciutto ham) we had in the entire trip. The main course was veal, lamb with potatoes cooked under a “peka” (an iron bell). This dish took at least 3 hours to prepare which required getting the right temperature and timing — something that Zlatko has mastered! The meat was tasty, juicy and tender. Homemade wine was overflowing.
Our experience diverged from the norm after the main course because 3 members of our party were celebrating birthdays. We arranged in advance to have live music (a very talented guitar and accordion duo who played a mix of Dalmatian songs with a mix of American standards, Abba and Madonna). Marija baked a beautiful and scrumptious Jaffa cake. We sang Happy birthday in at least 4 languages. Champagne was overflowing.
The delicious meal and wonderful music (plus an abundance of alcohol) definitely lifted our spirits, but the star of the whole experience is the company of Marija, Zlatko, their daughter, Lea, one of their friends, Sandra (an accomplished tour guide from farther up the Adriatic coast). We talked about local traditions and customs, how food is and should be prepared, the meaning behind folk songs, life under Tito and what happened after he died, the painful experience of war including the siege of Dubrovnik and the opportunities and problems in present-day Croatia. The experience felt so genuine that at the end, Dinner with the Locals became Dinner with Friends. Hvala Papak Family!
If you like to try local authentic food on you travels then Eat with the Locals is a must. We have done many food tours over the years and this is the top of our list now. When we arrived we were met by Marija who served us homemade wine and liqueurs very good indeed. Zlatko was on the out door cooking area. From start to finish the evening was amazing.
The food/drinks/company/hosts all top class. If in Dubrovnik again we will be back. Marija and Zlatko thanks so much for a great experience on local culture/people/food and of course the home made wine.