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Dubrovnik offers all of the regional specialities found in Dalmatia – but also boasts an array of unique local dishes, too. The gastronomic traditions of this maritime city reflect the storied history that has played out within its ancient walls, influenced variously by the Romans, Ottomans and Venetians.
Alexandra Cram, the founder of gourmet picnic company Piknik Dubrovnik, suggests that Dubrovnik shares dishes found throughout the Dalmatian coast, but what makes its cuisine especially interesting is the Venetian influence, and “flavours that reflect the history and regional specialities of Dubrovnik”.
Alexandra has garnered a reputation as a Dubrovnik food expert, packing her picnic hampers with hard-to-get local specialities you won’t find in the restaurants. Depending on the season, picnickers can expect made-that-day cheese, pickled samphire and candied bitter orange peel – alongside a selection of cured meats, marinated fish and pastries.
According to Alexandra, seafood is at the heart of Dalmatian cuisine. But, she points out that to “take things up a notch, you should experience fresh oysters and mussels from the nearby town of Ston, the gateway to the Peljesac Peninsula – Dalmatia’s prime wine region. To the south, the Konavle valley provides a bounty of seasonal produce, wines and domestic specialities year-round.” Alexandra gave Culture Trip the lowdown on where to find the most quintessentially Dalmatian dishes in Dubrovnik.
Brodet is the Croatian word for seafood stew, similar to the Italian brodetto or the French bouillabaisse. Expect regional variations – some are paprika-rich, others contain eel or trout, but the essence is always the same: a tomato-based, fish-heavy stew. “Brodet is just perfect at Kopun restaurant, but also try their signature dish, of (castrated) rooster in a bitter orange sauce,” Alexandra suggests.
Sardines are a staple of typical Dalmatian cuisine, often eaten as part of a marenda – a late Mediterranean brunch consisting of freshly baked bread, sardines and white wine. “For a light lunch, try a yummy plate of grilled sardines at Gusta Me restaurant,” a modest fish restaurant set on a raised platform opposite Ploče Gate, Alexandra suggests.
Grilled fish is as Dalmatian as rocky beaches and chirping cicadas. Usually served with blanched chard and potatoes, the dish is a deliciously simple example of traditional Dalmatian fare. “One of my favourite aromas in Dalmatia is the smoke from a wood fire grill: laurel, bay and olive wood, mixed with the smell of grilling fish. It’s quintessentially Dalmatian,” Alexandra says, suggesting that the best place to sample grilled fish is Lady Pipi. “People trek up the Old Town’s steepest flights of stone steps and squeeze onto the lofty terrace for straightforward and fresh seafood and meat platters. Go for a whole fish or tuna steak and the house wine.”
Sporki makaruli (dirty macaroni) is a dish packed with local and historical significance. Served on 3 February for the Feast of St. Blaise, a celebration of Dubrovnik’s patron saint, it’s been one of the most important events in the city for centuries. “Households would prepare the meat sauce in advance and serve it up with pasta as guests dropped by throughout the day. As the celebrations continued, the last guests would be left to scrape up what was left of the sauce to mix with pasta, giving it the name dirty macaroni.” Alexandra explains. To sample it outside of the festival, “Kopun and Toni’s Spaghetteria are good bets.”
A Dalmatian classic, whitebait is a staple on many local menus. “For a super casual afternoon bite, try the small white bait fish, fried and eaten whole like chips. A la Mizerija beach bar is perched on the cliffs above Šulić Bay. You can lounge in swimwear and soak up the view of Lovrijenac fortress towering above the bay,” recommends Alexandra.
An unmissable Dalmatian dish, crni rizot (black risotto) is prepared with squid ink, cuttlefish and olive – and a generous smattering of black pepper. Alexandra recommends heading out of town to the pint-sized Zaton Bay (6km from Dubrovnik) to Gverović Orsan “for their unique take on the recipe and intimate seaside terrace”.
Cooked for several hours under a terracotta lid, peka is the essential must-try dish in the Dalmatian region. “If meat is your game, the iconic slow food meal peka is the ultimate feast of roasted lamb, veal, and potatoes. Cooked for hours under a metal dome piled with hot coals, you have to order it in advance.” For an authentic peka experience, Alexandra suggests ‘Dubrovnik Eat with Locals’ , where you join local chef Marija on her garden terrace, enjoying her “serious commitment to good food.”
For the freshest seafood, Alexandra says it’s worth venturing just outside of Dubrovnik. “A worthy trip out of the Old Town is to Hodilje village, the heartland of mussels and oysters. Seosko Domaćinstvo Ficović restaurant is where locals flock for their superb wild mussels buzara-style (cooked with olive oil, wine, garlic, breadcrumbs, and herbs), and other incredibly fresh seafood,” she says.
For dessert, traditional Dubrovnik restaurants offer rozata, rosewater infused crème brûlée (a good bet for this is popular restaurant Proto) or cake made from rogac (carob) which is “less common but well worth the hunt”. Alexandra also recommends stonska torta, “a surprisingly tasty cake made from macaroni and sweet spices”. For authentic local desserts and gelato, make a beeline for Gianni’s, a cosy patisserie and ice cream parlour tucked behind the Old Town’s harbour.