Sunday, 4 March 2012

Peka Pushes My Palate Into a New Bracket

There is a Croatian speciality called peka that is so darn good, it has made me angry.

It has pushed my palate into an entirely new bracket, you see.  Created a monster appetite, if you will.  As there is nothing remotely like it in Canada, I am beginning to nurse a grudge.  I think it is a Croatian conspiracy to ensure that at any time I have saved enough pennies, I will make a run for it to get my fill of the stuff.

It is a modern-day piracy of sorts, and I am hopelessly hooked.

Peka dish banked in coals
Note the massive peka lid
The term  peka refers equally to a cooking dish, the method of cooking, and the resulting tasty morsels.  The dish itself is massive.  Inside are meat (any type will do - this night we had lamb), potatoes, onions, and a variety of seasonal vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and so on.  Sprinkled with salt and pepper and doused in some local olive oil, the peka dish is put into the coals on the hearth of a konoba (a local eatery which uses its own freshly sourced, locally produced foodstuffs.)  You must call ahead, because the peka must remain banked with ashes for several hours, cooking slowly in its own juices.  The result is so astonishingly good, it makes my mouth water maddeningly at the thought.  The meat is fork-tender, the vegetables are crisped in the olive oil, and the flavours are outstanding.  The only thing that is close in my area is a pot roast with veggies added, but it falls sadly short in all categories.  I conclude that it is the fresh ingredients, olive oil, and fire-cooked method that push peka over the top.  We had one peka dish in which the meat was one huge squid and a sea bass.  You would think that the entire dish would taste like a fish.  But there was not even a hint of fish in the delectable, crisp potatoes or juices in the pan.  It was absolutely deadly delicious.

While eating at this particular konoba one evening, we noted the ability of our hostess to switch to excellent English on the fly as we were seated.  Later, an Italian couple came in.  This was interesting not only because they were so busy making out behind us, but because again our hostess switched effortlessly into Italian to accommodate them.  I was just wishing aloud for some Germans to enter and make the room complete, when lo and behold, in walked a German couple.  Fascinated, I watched our server closely to see whether she was up for the challenge.

She was, indeed, and rattled off a guttural prattle of German as if she had been born there.  Between the peka, the amorous Italian strangers, and our multi-lingual hostess, that evening was again a quintessentially Croatian masterpiece of cultural texture, aroma, flavour, and fun that has woven itself inexorably around my heart-strings forever.


  1. Now you've got MY mouth watering! I can almost taste it, it's right on the tip of my imaginary Croatian tongue. We have got to try and imitate it. Come on we can do it???

    I just heard from a friend living in Paris (sigh) that their vegetables actually taste better there...more fresh. I think it could be true that the veggies in Europe just taste better...maybe it is the soil? The air? The ambiance? I have no idea because I've never been there...double sigh!

    1. I think it is the 'picked that day' freshness combined with the fresh olive oil. I have tried to make potatoes here to rival those I had in Croatia, but I can't...sigh. I have the luxury with my garden of fresh-picked veggies - but only in season, and our season is so short.

  2. That dish sounds and looks absolutely delicious! I've never heard of it before and not something that I think you can get in the states. I may have to do some traveling soon just to get my hands on this dish!

    I also find it really interesting that your waitress seemed to know so many different languages. That's really impressive and I'm somewhat envious of her because I wish I knew so many myself. It sounds like you had a great time along with some great food!

    1. I drool when I think about peka - and it is very regional food, so you may just have to go there to get some! We were constantly amazed at the way ordinary people could flip back and forth into different languages - it made me very ashamed to only know my own (well, and a smattering of French and bits and pieces of others which don't really count...) Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Yup, I eat this every summer with my Croatian mates every time I go back - at least once. You see, Croats do not use much beef (apart from using it in soups lol), they eat veal and use veal meat rather than beef to prepare meals such as this (aside other meats and sea food). Potatoes which they use, usually sourced locally had been grown in unspoiled mineral rich soil and hence have outstanding flavor on their own. The fire is burnt using wood rather than coal, so as not to overcook the food. This local wood also adds to the flavour. When you prepare this on an open fire it is a delight, both to prepare and to devour (sweating profusely whilst throwing those pesky embers on - usually replenishing lost water with gallons of beer)
    Back to potatoes - my mate can just prepare chips for us in a pan - they are sooooo shweeeeeet! lol

    You will never be able to reproduce this elsewhere, I have made it with my parents in UK, with UK produce - nowhere close. You have to go there and check it out - hopefully if you know someone who can make it for you for the BEST experience, or you can get it in some restaurants/konobas.

    There are many, many other meals as good or perhaps even better for some people, than this one.