A Lesson in Cooking Peka, the Signature Dish of Croatia’s Dalmatia Region

Featured Post Cooking Peka Lesson

One of the most popular meals in Croatia’s Dalmatia region is peka, a blend of vegetables and meat drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, and then baked to perfection under a bell-like dome, or ispod čripnje. You’ll see it listed on menus throughout the region, and if you are lucky enough to be invited into the home of a Dalmatian family, it’s likely that you’ll feast upon it for dinner. It is traditional for Dalmatians to cook peka in their fireplaces at home. Many Croatian families, especially those in the countryside, even have a special oven outdoors for cooking.

During our seven-week sojourn in the delightful seaside town of Trogir, we stayed in a holiday apartment above the Pizzeria Mirkec, which many locals regularly referred to as “the best pizzeria in town.”

A close up of cheese pizza.

In addition to making delicious peka, the Pizzeria Mirkec is also well known in Trogir for its tasty pizza.

pizzeria mirkec in trogir pizzeria box Pizzeria Mirkec in Trogir

Whenever we left our second-floor studio apartment, our olfactory glands were hit with a blend of mouth-watering aromas emanating from the pizzeria. Since I am a gluten-free diner, I did not get to feast upon the pizza or pasta (which my husband, Shawn, still raves about) but one afternoon we did get to enjoy the peka. Since it was a relatively quiet spring day, the staff even showed us how to put together a mouth-watering peka. Lucky for me, it was naturally gluten-free too.

peka in croatian restaurant Croatian Peka Restaurant in Trogir Peka Pizza Pasta Croatian Food 03

First, Anita washed and sliced a brilliant mélange of vegetables: potatoes, carrots, onions, and zucchini, arranging them in a flat, round tray. Then, she massaged the chicken, lamb and veal with olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and bay leaves, adding them to the vegetable mixture. She garnished the dish with sprigs of fresh rosemary – the ubiquitous Mediterranean herb that is planted in seemingly every Croatian homeowner’s garden. I’m envious that they can grow it year-round!

A dish of peka ingredients: chicken and sliced vegetables: potatoes, carrots, rosemary, zucchini, etc.

The peka, before being popped into the restaurant’s wood-burning fire.

A man and woman stand before a wood-burning oven, preparing to put the peka inside.

peka under bell dome in oven

With the Pizzeria Mirkec’s wood-burning fire already glowing, and churning out the pizzas that are so beloved with Trogir locals, Anita and the pizzeria’s co-owner, Ivan, carefully placed the peka tray into the oven. Then, they topped the dish with the cripnja, a bell-like lid. Adorning the front of the oven’s chimney was Trogir’s ancient symbol – the Greek Kairos. In Greek mythology, Kairos serves as a reminder to seize life’s fleeting moments – those opportunities when something special can happen.

kairos over wood burning oven pizzeria mirkec

Trogir’s ancient symbol – the Greek Kairos – adorns the front of the oven’s chimney. In Greek mythology, Kairos serves as a reminder to seize life’s fleeting moments.

While we waited for the peka to bake, we enjoyed glasses of red Babić wine, which co-owner Ivan made himself, and talked to the staff about what it is about peka that they like so much.

Their responses had an air of confident brevity.

Ante, one of many staff members whom we’d come to enjoy talking to during those weeks simply said, “It is the most special Dalmatian food.”

Mirko added that peka is the “number one home-cooked meal.”

babic wine at pizzeria mirkec in trogir croatia Restaurant in Trogir Peka Pizza Pasta Croatian Food 33

A man pours a draft beer

Iron peka dish inside an oven in Croatia

They explained that though peka is often made in cast-iron dishes today, it was traditionally cooked in earthenware dishes.

Throughout the cooking process, as if heeding the Kairos’ message from overhead, Anita and Mirko checked on the peka, ensuring that it was moist enough. About three quarters of the way through the baking process, Anita and Ivan stirred the meat and added some white wine. Within 15 minutes, we were ushered to Pizzeria Mirkec’s seaside tables, in the shadow of great palm trees. We were eager to taste the hearty Dalmatian dish.

peka in dish

Croatian Peka Restaurant in Trogir Peka Pizza Pasta Croatian Food 45 palm tree and dalmatian along trogir's seaside promenade pizzeria mirkec
Pizzeria Mirkec on Trogir Riverside

Neither Shawn nor I did much talking initially, because we wanted to savor the incredible flavors and the peka’s exquisitely-tender texture. The dish was wisely paired with a salad (sliced cabbage, beets, cucumber and lettuce) and pita-like bread. It was utterly fantastic. I found myself so relaxed afterwards, after enjoying fantastic food, special wine and Dalmatian sunshine, that I returned to our studio apartment and took a power nap. Talk about comfort food!

If you find yourself in Dalmatia, I encourage you to try peka, and if you’ll be in Trogir, do stop by the Pizzeria Mirkec. If you want to eat peka, be sure to give them two to three hours’ notice, or touch base with them the day before to place your order.

For those of you with a culinary sense of adventure, a basic recipe for peka follows. Shawn also crafted a fun how-to video for making peka, which is included below.

Dobar tek! (Enjoy your meal.)

Croatian Peka Restaurant in Trogir Peka Pizza Pasta Croatian Food 46

Peka

Ingredients:

  • 1-1.5 kg meat of your choice (we had chicken, veal and lamb)
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 0.8-1kg potatoes, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 zucchini, sliced like thick coins
  • 1 onion, sliced into eighths
  • 4-5 carrots, sliced into 2 cm. segments
  • 10 mushrooms, with stems removed
  • 1 dollop of shortening
  • 100 ml white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • dried bay leaf to taste
  • dried parsley to taste

Preparation:

  1. Wash vegetables. Peel carrots, onions and potatoes. Cut the vegetables and salt and pepper them to taste. Set aside.
  2. Combine the meat and the vegetables in a flat, round tray.
  3. Pour olive oil on the meat and vegetables and massage it evenly into the food. Add a dollop of shortening.
  4. Add salt, pepper, dried bay leaf, dried parsley, and sprigs of rosemary to taste.
  5. Place the bell dome over the dish and place the peka in a wood-burning oven, or under hot embers in a fireplace.
  6. Check on the peka periodically to make sure that there is enough moisture. Add olive oil as needed. About ¾ of the way through the cooking process, stir the meat and vegetables, spooning the liquid onto them. Add white wine. Cover and return to heat for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat. Serve with fresh, hearty bread and a salad.
  8. Ajvar is an optional condiment for dipping the meat or bread. (This traditional, roasted pepper condiment is popular in the Balkans.)

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Pizzeria Mirkec restaurant is located at Budislaviceva 15 in Trogir. It has indoor seating, as well as seaside seating, along the town’s main promenade.
  • Our first winter in Croatia’s Dalmatia region, we stayed in one of the Mirkec studio apartments for 7 weeks and were very happy there (good Wifi, comfortable room and kitchen). Check with them in advance to see if they have availability.
  • If you go, give Ivan, Zoran and all the staff our greetings, and be sure to order your peka at least three hours in advance by dropping by or calling: +385 21 883 042.
  • During our 2+ months spent in Split the following winter, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the Diocletian’s Suite) featured much character, including Roman brickwork, and views of Old Town Split below. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

46 Comments on “A Lesson in Cooking Peka, the Signature Dish of Croatia’s Dalmatia Region

    • Ina, I can see why Dalmatians are so proud of this dish. What are your favorite main ingredients? I guess every family puts their own signature ‘stamp’ on the meal. :)

    • It was, Anita! We’ve had it twice – once cooked in this wood-burning oven, and another time at a friend’s home. Their handsome fireplace looked like something out of a Renaissance home. Very cool.

      I’d like to see if I could make something like this when we get back home, in a traditional oven.

    • Oh, how I love the Mediterranean countries. It’s amazing to think of it growing in such massive amounts there – must be a heavenly aroma in the air!

    • Marilyn, I definitely think it could be cooked in a traditional oven, with a dish with a lid. The key is retaining the moisture and letting the flavors mingle.

      I’m certainly going to try it when we get back home.

  1. Wow that looks delicious! I wish I had the tools/wood burning stove to make the dish. I’m sure I could improvise but it seems like that is part of the charm.

    • Jen, I agree that the bell dome and special oven/fire give the experience its trademark character, but I’m still going to give the recipe a whirl when we return home, even without those tools. :) It’d be fun to put a different spin on it, making a fusion dish of sorts.

  2. Oh Tricia – what fabulous food. I look forward to making the Peka. I figure our tagine with its dome will be perfect to bake it in. Virginia

    • Virginia, do try, and please let me know how it works out in the tajine. I’ll also be curious to hear what ingredients you try. (We’d also like to add colorful bell peppers, and I’ve heard of others substituting fish or even octopus.)

      I don’t have a peka dish, but also thought the tajine might be a good substitute for it. What an international dish it’ll make – Croatian food in a Moroccan tajine.

  3. A very nice article, and very professionally done. Makes me hungry, especially since I have had to cook for myself for the past 4+ weeks. If I want Peka, and I do, I guess I better get my bike out and start pedaling South.

  4. Tricia I didn’t realize until I read your post that I had that in Croatia; I didn’t even know the name of it! It was def one of the best foods I did have in Croatia; the other ones were all pasta and pizza and some seafood and I was barely impressed.

    • Antoinette, glad I could put a name with the dish. :) Do you remember what main ingredients you had with your peka dinner?

      We haven’t done tons of eating out (mostly because of my gluten intolerance, and also because we’ve had kitchenettes in our little apartment and enjoy shopping the local markets) but I keep hearing that same comment – that food is rather similar, and at times, unimaginative. Guess we’ve been lucky!

  5. Hello Tricia,
    I’m an Australian potter about to make one of these traditional earthenware peka for a Croatian couple living here.They want it unglazed & porous so the dish is not too wet, but I noticed in your wonderful blog there was concern the food would be too dry.You have posted images of one peka that that looks like metal & enamel & another in porous earthenware with a glass of wine next to it.Anything you can share with me regarding the performance difference of these two different pekas would be useful to me.

    • Cornelia, that’s a great comparison, less the couscous. :) You have me now hungering for Moroccan cuisine. I do have a tajine back in Oberammergau, so maybe it can have its maiden cook-out when we return.

      Enjoyed your vintage pictures from Garmisch today too!

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  7. Tricia , My wife is from Croatia (Split) and when we were there last year I bought a cast iron Peka and brought it home in our luggage (very heavy ) we’ve used it and had great success with it ! We will be cooking in it today June 8th .2014. Today is chicken , beef tips and baby back ribs with all the veggies !!!! and maybe a couple Pivos !!!! Love your page , just found it yesterday and we be back many times ,I’m sure !!!! Wish me luck cooking today !!!

    • Gregory, how nice to receive your message and to learn of your adventures in cooking peka. So… how did it go? By now, you must have discovered a favorite tweak to a peka recipe?

      Also, knowing how bulky the cast iron pekas can be, I’m impressed that you lugged one all the way home. How often do you two make it to Split? We were lucky enough to have spent the past two winters in that area (first Trogir, then Split). We’d love to return this autumn for the olive & grape harvests.

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  9. Hello, Tricia. What a way to start my day. A lot of time, after I read a how-to-cook-this article, I was still not sure what to do, but your instruction is clear and easy to follow. I felt like going to kitchen now to bake it! Of course I like all the photos and the video too.
    Thanks for stopping by and following my blog. Can’t wait to read more of yours. Helen

    • Hi Helen, a pleasure to connect! I’m happy to hear that the post was clear, and that it might just inspire you to try something similar in your kitchen. I know peka dishes aren’t readily available back in the States, but I think a tajine might allow someone to make a noble attempt at making the dish. Wish you a wonderful day on your side of the Atlantic.

  10. I know that it is delicious, as it looks. I have a family in Korcula island, where we gather at my birthday and we have peka. The more, the merrier. I prefer lamb for my peka. :) Greetings from Croatia, and thank you for spreading the word on our heritage. :)

    • Ludabluna, sometimes we feel as though Croatia is a second home, so it’s a delight to share those aspects of your culture that we appreciate so much.

      How lucky you are to have family on Korcula. Though we’ve spent two winters in Croatia, we have yet to visit your family’s island. It sounds as though you celebrate your birthday with two of the most important ingredients: loved ones and good food.

      Hvala – thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment.

      • If you ever have a chance to visit Korcula, I will give you a free tour around the old city, I am a tourist gude. I also rent rooms and a studio in the town, you can have a look at http://www.apartments-marijana-korcula.com :) We really have great gastronomy and cultural heritage…it would be great if you can visit around Easter time, because we still keep tradition of Holy week, and we have a procession at Great friday that includes all three confraternities that originate from the Middle ages and renaissance. That really is a spectacle for the soul. :)

      • Ludabluna, that’s very kind of you to offer – hvala lijepa! You have me yearning to hop on a plane to Split now, then take a ferry over to Korcula. If we’re lucky enough to spend the next few months in Dalmatia, the Easter celebrations sound like something we’d love to see. Many thanks for the recommendations, and wish you a lovely weekend.

  11. May I help with this dish? I am Croat and I cook this for my family, very usually. The pictures are great, and you are describe cooking very well. So, if you want to cook this in your kitchen you can use ordinary oil it doesn’t have to be olive oil. Put onion, garlic, tomato, peppers, parsley and what spice you like, sometimes I put chicken, sometimes veal or steak or you can mix meat. It is better to leave the vegetables in large pieces so that you can remove it later. Onions and garlic give exceptional flavor of food.First you put meat to bake in the oven and after 20-30 minutes put potato with vegetables and spices. You salted all of this, of course. Most important if you have no some dishes with a lid for oven you can put aluminum foil over the dishes, bake for about 20-30 minutes more. At the end remove the foil and baked another 5-10 minutes. Dobar tek! (Enjoy your meal!)

    • Greetings Gaby, and hvala for providing an expert native’s input. :) It was particularly nice to hear your suggestion for what someone can do if they don’t have a peka bell in which to make this dish. In what part of Croatia do you call home?

      • Dear Tricia,

        The reason I was commenting is not a good knowledge of culinary, but beautiful photos of Trogir. Yes, Trogir. Trogir is a place that I call home in Croatia. Right across the bridge on the hill with a beautiful view of the Fortress Kamerlengo. I live between two addresses, one in Trogir, one in beautiful Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Both of them are under UNESCO protection. You should visit Mostar sometimes, I’ll be happy to give you instructions or to be your guide.

      • Gaby, many thanks for the thoughtful offer to show us around Mostar. Perhaps soon we’ll be back in the region, and we might be able to meet up. (We actually spent the last two winters in Croatia, so now I’m feeling a tad ‘homesick’ for the Split area.) I was lucky to visit Mostar back in 2007, however, my husband has yet to see the city. You’re fortunate to call two historic cities home! We spent a few months in Trogir in early 2013; I miss having the Kamerlengo Fortress just around the corner. :) How do you decide how to divide your time between the two cities?

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  13. I cannot wait to cook this dish and to also attend a Croatian cooking class in New Rochelle, NY at “Dubrovnik” learning how to bake fish in the peka. Having parents (now deceased) who were born in Croation, makes this special.

    • Hi Adriane, how fun that you’re doing a Croatian cooking class in NY! I’ll be curious to hear how it went (if you’ve already done it) and what type of a spin they put on the recipes. What a great way to remember your parents. Dobar tek, and thank you for stopping by. :)

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