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Where does the name “dirty makaruni” or “šporki makaruli”, as the dish is called in Dubrovnik, come from?

Dirty makaruni is an unconventional name that has nothing to do with Italian dirty pasta (pasta alla zozzona) —this macaroni dish stands apart. This thick and fragrant sauce could be a distant relative of ragù di carne, classic Italian meat sauce recipe or the highly coveted beef tagine indulged in Maghreb region along the Mediterranean sea.

But we know for a fact that dirty makaruni was invented right here in the Republic of Ragusa, as Dubrovnik was named in the 14th century. It’s the traditional dish, straight out of the Renaissance playbook.

Dirty Makaruni Restaurant Arka Dubrovnik

Legend has it that dirty makaruni were served to the poor on Saint Blaise’s feast day, after the nobles had their fill, eat all the meat from the sauce and leave remains of sauce on the pasta for the less fortunate.

The wealthy would devour all the meat, leaving the poor just with sauce-slathered macaroni, the tube-like pasta. Another tale spins it as the ultimate carnival fare, meant to fuel relatives and friends who came in town for the festivities of saint patron of Dubrovnik to participate in the mass and procession.

Afterwords they would go to their families who lived in town for lunch. Since this was the major social event of the year and it was important to show off and to see and be seen, the women of the houses would than prepare meat overnight in large quantities to serve to extended families and just after coming from the mass in the morning they would boil the macaroni.

The bigger and the poorer the family the dish would consist of more macaroni and less meat. Hence the name…”dirty makaruni” because sometimes there was just some traces of sauce left that would make pasta-macaroni look “dirty”. And guess what? Nobody uttered a complaint; they just kept slurping it down and were ready to continue partying.

Who can resist slow-cooked sauce, with meat marinated overnight in red wine and mingling with veggies and spices? Each family boasts its own closely guarded recipe for “šporki makaruli,” passed down through generations like a prized heirloom. I know what my nonna added for that special sweet and sour taste and gooey consistency. She claimed it was her secret ingredient and swore me not to divulge it to anyone.

Much later, I discovered that her secret ingredient was passed on in tattered notes in dozens of Dubrovnik families. It is with those traditional recopies that make you savor in history of your city, history of your family and bite in your personal memory that you cherish from the nonna’s kitchen

Ah, nonnas and their secrets that somehow always involve delicious dishes and sweet memories.

Arka is a contemporary restaurant that is not detached with origins of each dish, so aim is not to provide just a meal but a unique dining experience that combines innovative cuisine with modern design and technology. This approach of combining tradition with authentic and modern twist made this artisan pasta dish to become a popular choice for diners in recent years.

Written by Amela Marin