Hidden Dalmatia: Soparnik - 100% Authentic Croatian Food

By 31 August 2020
Poljički soparnik
Poljički soparnik © Marc Rowlands

August 12, 2020 - Vegan-friendly, delicate and delicious, traditional soparnik should be Croatia's national dish, yet few have even tried it.

The most popular fast food in Croatia is doubtless pekara (the bakery). Its handheld pastries like burek and pita - and pizza - a simple solution to pangs of hunger; satisfied easily, on the go.

Despite their omnipresence across Hrvatska, none of these foods is of domestic origin. But, Croatia does have its own unique pastry. More delicate and delicious than the Turkish options, soparnik gives even the greatest pizza a run for its money on flavour. And yet, you'll likely never see it while visiting.

© Maja Danica Pecanic / Croatian National Tourist Board

Soparnik hides in a historic region known as Poljica, a part of the Dalmatian hinterland behind the coastal town Omiš, on the side of the Cetina river closest to Split. Here, the women of villages like Gata so closely preserve the tradition of making it, that the pastry is protected at an EU-level as Poljički soparnik (soparnik from Poljica). One of those women is Mira Kuvačić.

Though its ingredients are few and humble - dough, blitva and onion, with garlic and olive oil to finish - the making of an authentic soparnik is far from simple. Now 70 years of age, Mira, and women like her, pass down the know-how to their younger neighbours and relatives, ensuring the dish stays alive and its quality remains intact.

A relative newcomer to preparing the dish, Mira only started to make it 25 years ago. Since then, she's won several competitions, been recognised by local authorities, national press and has gained an increasingly demanding customer base.

Mira Kuvačić mixes blitva and thinly-sliced onion for the filling © Marc Rowlands

She starts by taking blitva and onion from her garden. Blitva is a spinach-like plant with large leaves. It thrives throughout coastal Croatia. She cuts the leaves into small pieces, discarding the tough stalks, which are added to the feed of the chickens and pheasants she keeps. The finely sliced onion is added to the leaf pieces along with a small amount of salt and olive oil.

Mira rolls the dough in her extremely hot oven room © Marc Rowlands

She then builds a fire in her traditional oven. She uses only thin branches from the olive tree to do this, or vines from grapes. The embers required must be small otherwise the soparnik will burn. Each of these two kinds of wood imparts a flavour to the soparnik. Its taste also differs depending on the time of year; blitva is planted in stages, throughout a long season, to ensure it never runs out. Its water content alters depending on the sun's strength. Blitva harvested in midsummer is best for soparnik.

The blitva and onion mix is spread evenly on the circular sheet of pastry © Marc Rowlands

In the same room as the fire, she rolls out two circular sheets of a simple dough; flour, salt and water. The room is very hot and the layers of pastry are extremely thin. On one, she evenly spreads out the blitva and onion mix before placing the other sheet atop. The large circular wooden board she will use to carry the soparnik is briefly placed above it, flattening the surface.

Adding the second layer of pastry © Marc Rowlands

She trims and then carefully crimps the edges, ensuring there will be no bite without the tasty filling. The embers of the fire are brushed away to form a clear space on the hot stone where she carefully lays the soparnik. The embers are then dropped on top.

Crimping the edges © Marc Rowlands

Embers are brushed to one side to make room for the soparnik to lie flat on the hot stone © Marc Rowlands

The tiny, burning embers are placed on top of the soparnik, so each side cooks quickly and evenly © Marc Rowlands

While cooking, she finely chops garlic. Mira has cooked soparnik thousands of times before. She instinctively knows when it is ready. She brushes the embers from the top, removes it from the hot stone and places it on top of a wooden board to cool. She uses a traditional brush to remove the layer of grey ash that remains on the surface. Once it is less hot, she sprinkles the garlic across the surface, then olive oil, which she rubs in evenly with her hands. It must be allowed to cool a little more, so the pastry can harden, before being cut.

Soparnik placed on the hot stone © Marc Rowlands

Soparnik is always cut into diamond shapes and the middle four are always the first to be removed and eaten. These are traditions. A large wooden vessel was usually placed where these diamonds once were, a shared jug of wine from which everyone drank.

Soparnik is always cut into diamonds. The middle four are always removed and eaten first © Marc Rowlands

Soparnik is traditionally a peasant food. At lunchtime, the women of Poljica would place a small cushion on their heads, then carry the wooden boards and soparnik into the fields where others were labouring. These days, people order it over the phone and collect it themselves, or Mira takes their address and arranges for it to be delivered. She made five soparnik before 3pm when we visited. During the hour we were there, she took no less than three new orders over the phone.

Traditional cushions, placed on the head, would help women carry soparnik into the fields © Marc Rowlands

If you want to eat soparnik, you must either know someone who makes it, or you must order it from someone like Mira. You cannot find it in almost any bakery. Other soparnik makers, who live by the side of the road, advertise that theirs is a house which makes soparnik. Mira lives away from the road. Her busy custom comes only from word-of-mouth recommendation and her reputation.

Another soparnik maker advertises by the side of the road that her's is a house which makes soparnik © Marc Rowlands

Vegan-friendly, incredibly moreish and 100% authentically Croatian, soparnik should be the country's national dish and sold on every street. Instead, this secret speciality is savoured by a precious few thousand in the Dalmatian hinterland and across a short stretch of coast around Omiš. If you're ever in that region and want to discover Croatian cuisine you won't find in any neighbouring country, drive up into the hills of Poljica and seek it out.

Soparnik © Marc Rowlands

On these links you can read the other features in our Hidden Dalmatia series:

Unique in Croatia - the Fantastic Food of the Cetina River

Drniš - Drniški Pršut and Meštrović Roots

Wild Rides on the Cetina River