600-years old dish Soparnik you cannot miss while in Dalmatia
Having come from Slavonia 20 years ago in Central Dalmatia, I actually arrived in a very different place. Different in cultural, geographical and gastronomic sense. Slavonian cuisine is typically continental, with Slavic roots and meat dishes, river fish, vegetables and cereals. While Slavonian cuisine is additionally shaped primarily by Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish influences, Dalmatian cuisine is typically Mediterranean in the coastal area, with olive oil, sea fish and other marine animals.
But, from all the sea delicacies I met in Omiš, I was delighted with a simple meal from the continental part of Central Dalmatia, the Dalmatian hinterland – Poljica. This may not be too surprising because I’m some sort of latent vegetarian, and this dish does not contain fish or sea fruits, but simply dough, chard, onion, garlic and olive oil. The word is, of course, a soparnik – a dish that dates back to the Middle Ages. But in order to better understand and experience the story of a cavernous, one should first know something about the cradle of the soparnik, region where this dish came from.
POLJICA – THE CRADLE OF SOPANIK
Soparnik is a traditional dish from Poljica, a historical-geographic region located in the Inland Dalmatia between Split and Omis. This area once belonged to the Principality of Poljica which stretched on about 250 km2, bounded by the natural border, the river Cetina in the east, from its estuary and upstream to the northeast at the foot of Gardun at Trilj, to the northwest across the Mosor mountain, down the river Žrnovnica to its estuary to close the circuit with Adriatic coast.
Poljica was a principality once, a self-governed administrative area, who inherited their independence from the 13th century until the beginning of the 19th century. On the internet is common information that a soparnik is a dish from Turks (Ottomans), but I would say that this is not so, because Poljica existed long before they arrived in these parts.
It consisted of 12 katuni / villages. It was a land of hard-working people who processed every piece of fertile soil, small fields (in Croatian poljica) scattered on the barren, karstic region of numerous scabs, karst sinkholes and karst valleys … The people of Poljica cultivated above all grains, then legumes, vegetables and cattle, most often sheep. And it is no wonder that emphasis in the traditional Poljica house was on dishes made from flour, such as bread and other meals which combined flour with foods such as cheese, eggs, onions, garlic, butter, dried figs, raisins …
Poljica is divided into Lower, Upper and Middle Poljica, so soparnik, depending on the part of Poljica, is differently named like “zeljanik” or “ujanik”. In some of the Poljica villages, raisins are added to chard, in some villages soparnik is topped by chopped walnuts. Personally, my favourite in the simplest way with no additions.
Traditional dishes of Poljica are very simple and what makes them special is the taste they get thanks to preparation on komin.
What is a komin?
Once, people of Inland Dalmatia lived in houses called potleusica, one-part houses built of stone in which the main room was a kitchen. The central place of the house looked like an open-hearth fireplace – komin that was the heart of every house, the place where the family was gathering, eating, hanging out and warming up during the winter time.
Komin was placed away from the wall and uplifted from the ground, and it was made of loam or a brick with a surface for cooking and baking. Above the komin was a chain beam and a hook to which cooking pots were attached.
HOW TO PREPARE SOPARNIK?
Although the cavernous is a simple, self-taught meal, which is ultimately the name given to the fact that it is dry, sophisticated, the way it would be prepared would not simply call it simple. On several occasions so far I have had the opportunity and honour to attend the preparation of the Soparnik. As a Slavonian woman and women from Slavonia are very well known of making cakes and pastry, I’m always stunned by the skills of the Soparnik chefs and the way they manage that huge piece of rolled dough which is in diameter, between 90 and 110 cm.
The whole preparation begins on the day before making the soparnik, when the chard should be hand-picked, cleaned and cut into the strips and left to dry off until the next day. On the day of preparation, the unleavened dough has to knead of really simple ingredients, flour, salt and water. After the dough has ‘rested’, it is divided into two halves and each half is thinly rolled, each on one of the sinijas (I will explain little bit later what it is). It is also necessary to prepare the fire on komin which has to be of an exactly specific temperature. The wood should be of grain, oak, beech or walnut. After dough is kneaded, on one sinija goes chopped chard that was spiced with onion and olive oil before and spread over the entire surface of the dough. Then it should be carefully covered with the other part of the dough. For the chard do not fall, the edge needs to be rolled up with fingers. Soparnik is now ready to bake on the open hearth fireplace where it has to be carefully placed and covered with hot ashes and ember.
Baking needs to be controlled so that soparnik does not burn, usually, it takes about 15 minutes. It is great fun to watch it while it is baking as the dough goes up and down due to the cooking process inside. When it’s done, ash has to be swept off, coated with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped garlic. Also, I like the way soparnik is cutted, always in rhomb shapes as one romb is roughly the size of a palm, so it also makes a measure of proportion. Before serving, few slices are taken from the middle to make room for bukara, wooden mug with wine.
Soparnik is listed on the list of non-material cultural heritage of Croatia and has a protected geographical indication at EU level.
WHAT IS SINIJA AND WHAT IS SPARA?
Although the sinija can mean a low round table, in this case, however, it is a big, round, wooden board on which the dough is rolled by lazanjur. Lazanjur is a rolling pin, which in this case is thin and long enough so that dough can wrap on it.
Spara is a headrest in the form of a cushion with a hole in the middle. It is made of wool and stuffed with pieces of textile. The spara was placed on the head to make it easier to carry soparnik on sinija and other cargo that women once carried on their heads.
Instead of the recipe, I would rather offer the necessary ingredients because the internet is overwhelmed with soparnik recipes, so I’m not even tempted to copy some of those recipes or choose the best. All the soparnik chefs in the preparation of the soparnik have some of their own secret and their own recipe that they believe to be the best. And I do not want to interfere in that. All I want is to motivate you to come to Poljica, to experience the soparnik preparation in the traditional way and to enjoy the original taste. And, possibly try to get the recipe from your host.
The basic ingredients are: flour, water, salt, chard, onion, olive oil, garlic.
To create it in an authentic way, you should have open-hearth fireplace – komin, 2 big, like jumbo pizza size wooden boards – sinijas, rolling pin – lazanjur, hand-broom for wiping of ashes and ožeg wich is a type of fire poker
WHERE TO BUY SOPARNIK?
You can order soparnik directly from certified soparnik chef or craftswomen. For a complete experience, you can also learn how to make it at a culinary workshop or simply enjoy the presentation by watching how it’s done on soparnik cooking class.
Soparnik from valuable Poljana women can also be bought at markets in eg Omis and Split.
WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW MORE ABOUT SOPARNIK?
You can download recipes from the internet hundred times and bake it in the oven, but no matter how good you are in cooking, the soparnik from the oven will never be soparnik, before all, it will be some sort of pie. Hopefully, you will not misunderstand me as I stubbornly insist on pointing out the differences that make up the difference.
And the proof that I don’t exaggerate is that soparnik is listed on the list of non-material cultural heritage of Croatia and has a protected geographical indication at EU level.
P.S. Today, we have access to all possible, with emphasis on ‘all possible’ information, so it is sometimes difficult to get accurate data. That is why people specializing in certain areas are worth gold. My specialist of Poljica is dear Nikolina Radmilo, who, with wide open eyes, examines the data I give about Poljica so that I would not make any mistakes J