In Dubrovnik, nestled along the stunning Adriatic coast, Christmas is a time of rich culinary traditions illuminating the city’s cultural heritage. The traditional Christmas dinner, Božićna Večera, is a heartfelt celebration steeped in centuries-old customs and savoury delights.
Peka, the Culinary Jewel
A centrepiece of the Dubrovnik Christmas table is the revered dish called Peka. This slow-cooked masterpiece involves an intriguing process where meat (commonly lamb or veal), potatoes, and assorted vegetables are meticulously seasoned with a blend of local herbs, often rosemary, bay leaves, and garlic. The ingredients are then placed in a bell-shaped lid or under a dome, and simmered, allowing the flavours to intermingle and create a savoury symphony that’s distinctively Croatian.
Sarma and Punjena Paprika
Accompanying this culinary spectacle are staples like Sarma, cabbage leaves brimming with a tantalizing mix of minced meat, rice, and spices, as well as Punjena Paprika, bell peppers stuffed with a hearty amalgamation of ground meats, rice, and spices, baked to perfection in a rich tomato sauce.
One of Dubrovnik’s finest desserts, Rožata, takes center stage in the realm of sweet indulgences. This delectable custard pudding, reminiscent of a crème caramel, boasts a silky texture and a delicate balance of flavours. Prepared with eggs, milk, sugar, and a hint of rose liqueur or citrus zest, Rožata is then baked to perfection and topped with a caramelized sugar glaze. Its charmingly simple yet irresistibly comforting taste makes it a must-try dessert in Dubrovnik.
- 6 eggs
- 500ml milk
- 200g sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a vanilla pod
- 100ml rose liqueur (such as rose brandy or rose water)
- Caramel sauce (sugar and water for caramelization)
- Begin by preparing the caramel sauce. In a saucepan, melt sugar over medium heat until it turns golden brown. Add a little water to prevent it from crystallizing. Pour the caramel into the bottom of individual ramekins or a large baking dish. Set aside to cool and harden.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until well combined and the sugar is dissolved.
- In a separate saucepan, gently warm the milk, lemon zest, orange zest, and vanilla. Avoid boiling; just heat it until it’s warm enough to infuse the flavours.
- Gradually pour the warm milk mixture into the egg and sugar mixture while continuously whisking to avoid curdling the eggs.
- Add the rose liqueur to the mixture and stir well.
- Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove any lumps or zest.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins or baking dish with the caramel at the bottom.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Place the ramekins or baking dish in a larger pan filled with hot water, creating a water bath (bain-marie).
- Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the Rožata is set but still slightly wobbly in the center.
- Remove from the oven and let them cool before transferring to the refrigerator to chill for at least a few hours or overnight.
- To serve, run a knife around the edges of the ramekin and carefully invert it onto a plate to reveal the caramelized top.
Festive Traditions and Togetherness
The Christmas dinner in Dubrovnik is not just about the culinary delights; it’s a cherished moment of togetherness, where families gather around a lavishly adorned table, adorned with holiday decorations and illuminated by the warm glow of candles. After the sumptuous feast, many families attend midnight mass, a significant part of Croatian Christmas traditions, to rejoice in the birth of Christ.
The traditional Christmas dinner in Dubrovnik encapsulates the heart and soul of Croatian culinary heritage, showcasing flavours that have been passed down through generations. It’s a celebration that resonates with warmth, tradition, and the spirit of togetherness.