History of Peka

Our culture cherishes cooking food over fire. Peka and gradele are staples of our local cuisine. Preparing (or baking?) a “peka” seems simple but it is not. You place meat or octopus, potatoes, and some vegetables in a metal or clay lid and enclose it with coals. A well-prepared peka is splendid. The lamb or veal roasted in peka is so exquisite that even renowned food connoisseurs appreciate it. It is part of our national pride and history. Peka is an ancient way of cooking that has been with us for a long time. Here is a bit on history of peka cooking in the region.

Peka setup on Brač Island
Peka setup on Brač Island

History of Peka

Every peka is actually a living history of the kitchen, and it is less important what people cook under it than the fact that this type of cooking has hardly changed since prehistoric times. It’s enough to compare the 20th century clay pekas with archaeological finds from the Hallstatt era (800-450 BC). They haven’t changed much. Archaeological finds from Slavonia or the border of Croatia and Slovenia show that people prepared food over an open flame in prehistoric times, and that this practice has been preserved in Eastern Slovenia, Southern Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Italy.

In Croatia, local potters produced the ceramic peka. In the Adriatic and Dinaric regions, they shaped it on a hand-turned potter’s wheel (čripnja, peka, pekva), and in Slavonia with the help of molds (pokljuka). Iron pekas spread to the Balkans through the Ottoman Empire under the name “sač,”. They nearly disappeared from the daily life of rural households with the disappearance of open fires, but today people use pekas for preparing traditional dishes in restaurants, too.

It seems that peka domes were usually local products, not objects intended for long-distance trade.

Peka dome over the cooking pan
Peka dome over the cooking pan

History of Peka in Croatia

Prehistoric peka had two basic shapes: bowl-shaped with two handles , or spherical with one handle on top which we use today. Peka is still in use in villages for baking bread and cooking special lunches. Peka was cheap , easy to make , and easy to use . It had many synonyms in different regions.

There are dozens of different terms for a dome-shaped lid used for food preparation on an open hearth but peka is the most popular in Croatia. The origins of such lids date back to the Bronze Age – the earliest period where they have been documented so far. They have been found at sites like Erdut, Kiringrad and Bregana in Croatia, and later spread across the western Balkans and eastern Adriatic coast to central Italy.

Irone age peka from Istrian Nezakcij

Around the mid-8th century BC, during a period of ethnic migrations, Illyrians adopted peka from their original Pannonian makers and introduced them to the Balkans where they were previously unknown. Histrian peka domes from Nezakcij have a distinctive bowl shape with two side handles, unlike the more common bell shape with one top handle. Baking trays have been discovered alongside peka domes since the Iron Age. On the site of Vinkovci- they discovered a peka handle next to its recipient . It was made of grey clay with few inclusions and dated to the 1st century AD. They found a similar handle and a fragment of the recipient on the site of Kuzmin (Bregovi-Atovac) in Srijem during research on a settlement dated to the 1st century BC. History of Peka takes us all over the region.

Romans and Peka

Peka domes have been a common kitchen appliance since prehistory until today, and they were also common in Roman kitchens. Different sources call this method of food preparation sub testu.

The traditional methods of baking bread and other foods that are still used today were probably also used in Roman times. Until the 70s BC, there were no bakers or bakeries; people made their own bread at home. This was mainly a women’s job, so women produced these vessels. Cato recorded information about baking bread loaves and desserts under a lid. He said that people baked bread under a lid, while they baked savillum in an oiled and covered bowl.

Roman Bakery at Pompei

Columella described how people could use the lid to dry fruits faster and bake unleavened bread. In Petronius‘ Satyricon, there is a description of a feast where someone served meat on a plate covered by the lid it was baked under. Pliny the Elder noted in his Natural History section on Roman bread and bakers that there were many kinds of bread named after the dish they accompanied (bread for oysters), by their taste (cake bread), or by their baking method (oven bread, pan bread). Peka was also used by Roman soldiers as a very convenient way to cook a meal while on campaigns.

Baking pans were used in early medieval Italy as they had been in late antiquity, but barbarian groups like the Avars, Hungarians and Slavs were unfamiliar with them and adopted them from the locals.

Byzantine peka from Barbariga in Istria

Peka Today

Peka is still one of the most popular dishes you can order but please note that it is usually ordered 24 hours in advance. It is mostly served in traditional restaurants and some taverns like Oštarija u Viđakovi’ in Split. Here you can read more on local tradition: https://atomic-temporary-6581387.wpcomstaging.com/2009/03/26/blacksmith-and-peka-traditions-of-dalmatia/ and you can order peka dome here: https://www.culinary-croatia.com/ if you want to cook on your own.

You can learn more on history of peka here: http://www.ami-pula.hr/prozor-u-proslost/peka-tradicija-pod-zeravicom/


  1. Anna says:

    Oh how I miss a good lamb peka!!!

Comments are closed.