Dalmatia, a Roman province in antiquity, has a unique history that has influenced its gastronomy.
The Romans left numerous traces of their prolonged reign over Dalmatia and one of those traces is definitely visible in Dalmatian gastronomy.
Dalmatia is the epitome of sustained heritage, as Stephen Mennel mentions in his book “Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue. Also, a culinary kaleidoscope of ancient sea urchin dishes, raw fish salads, meat roasted under the lid, ancient doughs and breads, Byzantine sweet and sour sauces and Saracen vegetables like stuffed aubergines.
Ancient dishes in Dalmatia are popular even nowdays. You cannot visit local restuarants without trying smoked ham – the Dalmatian pršut, unleavened bread or Viška or Komiška pogača.
But journey of ancient taste doesn’t end there. Well known pašticada, marinated and dressed beef rump cooked in a slow-simmered vegetable sauce that exudes, as Stephen Mennel again says, aromas of Rome, Byzantium and Venice.
But fish recipes are definitely road to discovering history of Dalmatian cuisine.
Lešada or popara (boiled fish), famous at the island of Korčula, or gregada (fish stew) prepared on the island of Hvar are one of the best Mediterranean fish stews and the queen is definitely Dalmatian brujet which combines strength of the sea, olive groves and vineyards, everything Dalmatia is all about.
Since ancient times, salt has been used as a preservative to keep meat and seafood edible for longer periods, and it helped to eliminate dependence on the seasonal availability of food.
Old records, in which historical facts are sometimes intertwined with myths and legends with archaeological findings, are merged into a mosaic of a small, yet so strong and powerful world whose historical significance and fate are determined by the sea and sailing.
Records mention falkusa boats from Komiža which were sailing to Palagruža and sailing back with full vessel of salted anchovy, going with maestral and returning with jugo (maestral and jug are Croatian local winds).
Each fishing season always started with regatta. Coming first meant anchoring at best fishing position. Salt-marinated anchovies and pickled capers and olives were staple foods that sustained families during winters.
Two biggest places on island Vis, Vis and Komiža always had certain tensions between themselves. That can be also seen in famous recipe.
Croatian gastronome Veljko Barbieri explored also the story about this specific ‘bread’ from Island Vis (Issa).
Ancient Greeks were the ones who brought these recipes from Syracuse (Vis also is known as Dionysus Issa). In its older form, this cake had only bread with onion, garlic, petrusimula and fillets of salt fish, mostly sardines. And this is Viška pogača (Issa). But, thanks to Spain and her colonies, Europe as well as south Mediterranean start to use tomato, and tomato sauces.
And that is cake from Komiža.
Trogir Rafioli – Legend behind the treats
We might say that in a good part of our oldest province rafioli are a kind of ritual object, something like the communion wafer – it’s there on the table with christenings, communions and confirmations, with weddings and wakes.
Like other Dalmatian treats, every family has its own recipe that it hands down from generation to generation with jealous zeal.
As for the origin of Trogir rafioli, there is a legend attached to it, true enough, the way it often is here, with no historical backing.
A girl named Rafioli was imprisoned in the famed Kamerlengo Tower in Trogir, who, in the expectation of being rescued by her sweetheart, baked delicious cakes.
A Trogir patrician lad liberated the lady and led her off to his mansion, where to the end of her life she baked him rafioli. Once in Trogir until the wee hours during the time of the feast of Bacchus (a wine event that stems from Antiquity) we discussed rafioli with Duško Geić, a good spirit of Trogir, winemaker, poet, etymologist and above all a supreme connoisseur of Trogir history and tradition.
He claimed that the true name (for the singular) was rafiola and not rafiol. Under the heavy burden of the patriarchal inheritance, rafiola had changed its gender and become male, rafiol.
So typical of Dalmatia in which olive oil too has a masculine gender although the olive tree itself is feminine.