It doesn’t matter if you are heading out to the mainland or coastal Croatia, one thing is for sure, their food is delicious. One you don’t want to miss out on. For those who will visit the country for the first time, it is a good idea to research Croatian cuisine. This way, you will know what to try when you arrive in the country.
Top 10 Foods to Try in Croatia
Every city in Croatia has its own market. Aside from seeing a variety of fresh produce, you’ll also find fresh fruit here too. On top of that, local products like cheese, olive oils, grappa, and the like are available here as well. The best part is that the products in these markets change with the season. And with it, the dishes served in various restaurants do the same.
A Quick Introduction to Croatian Food
Croatian dishes have similarities to the meals by the nations that once ruled their land. Aside from that, the neighboring countries also contributed to the rich flavors that you will find in their cuisine. In fact, if you see their menu, you will notice that they are a mix of Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish food.
In addition, traditional Croatian food changes from one area to the next. For starters, there are certain types of dishes that are common on the Croatian coast. On the other hand, some are staples in continental Croatia.
What this means is that Croatia’s traditional food covers meat and vegetables from its mountains and fresh seafood from its coast. In fact, their traditional dishes are more diverse compared to other regions in the Balkans! This means that you are off to a culinary adventure when you visit here.
Top Traditional and Popular Croatian Food That You Must Try
Like it was mentioned before, the food here is quite diverse. For example, the mainland dishes are somewhat similar to the Turks and Hungarians. Those that are close to the coast of Croatia are influenced by Greek and Italian-style cuisine.
Aside from that, their methods of cooking also vary. For example, in Zagreb, meat stews are popular. You can find hearty meals of pork or lamb either spit-roasted on an open fire or cooked using a traditional baking dome.
Head east in Slavonia (a region in Croatia) and you’ll find that their dishes are mostly spicy food and fish dishes. Aside from their fish stew, they also have “saran u rasljama” which is basically grilled freshwater fish. Travel to the coastal areas like Istria and you’ll find that Istrian ham, cheese, and Croatian prosciutto are their staples.
If you push on further down the Dalmatian coast, there are more Mediterranean dishes waiting for you. This means that you will find plenty of fresh vegetables, herbs, pasta, seafood, gnocchi, and others.
That said, let us take a closer look at the top 10 foods that you need to try when you visit Croatia.
#1 or Pag Cheese
The island of Pag is off the Croatian coast. Aside from that, it is the fifth-largest island in the country and is home to a large sheep population. In fact, the sheep outnumbers the humans 4 to 1. This is why it is not surprising that Pag island is well-known for its sheep milk cheese.
What makes their cheese extra special is the size as well as the diet of their sheep. Although their sheep is quite small in size, they make it up for the quality of milk they produce. This is because their diet consists of aromatic herbs that have salt coming from the Adriatic Sea. In fact, their milk needs no extra salt before they are made into cheese.
Aside from that, the aging process can take from weeks to months. The young Pag cheese tastes like Machengo while the aged ones have a similar taste to Pecorino Romano. You can pair the young cheese with Plavac Mali. They often serve their aged cheese with Croatian olive oils to bring out their flavor.
#2 Black Risotto
Black risotto is best known for its unusual color and rich seafood flavor. This is not surprising since it is a squid risotto. In fact, making this dish requires onion, rice, cuttlefish, cuttlefish ink, olive oil, and red wine. The squid ink is the one that gives this dish its black color.
You can find this or Crni Rižot with other types of seafood other than squid. For example, it can come with mussels, clams, or any other type of shellfish. In addition, this meal comes with some grated parmesan cheese. Best to pair your black risotto with a glass of red wine because of its thick texture. Also, don’t mind the blackened teeth that you will get after this. The flavor will not be complete without it.
Brudet is another example of a traditional Croatian dish that you don’t want to miss. This rich fish stew is made from different kinds of fish and crustaceans cooked in a tasty oniony tomato sauce. You will find restaurants serving it along with polenta to help soak up the juices. In fact, it is a popular dish in Istria, Dalmatia, and the Kvarner regions.
The contents of this dish vary depending on what the fishermen haul in. You will find clams, fresh fish, langoustines, and other seafood included in its main ingredients. Although the recipes vary, they do have similarities in terms of preparation. Usually, the recipe calls for three types of fish cut into large chunks. Among the types of fish used here are scorpionfish, monkfish, and sea bass. Aside from that, any type of white fish will work well with this dish.
The fish and other seafood are put together in a large pot to create this hearty stew. You will need to add ingredients like red or white wine, vegetables, and vinegar. Aside from that, Mediterranean herbs like parsley, bay leaves, and rosemary give this stew a more robust flavor. Although there are different recipes for this dish, one thing’s for sure and that it doesn’t need to be stirred. You only need to turn the pot from time to time.
They say that this dish appeared between the 14th to 16th centuries. Aside from that, Brudet was fisherman’s food but nowadays, it is quite popular in countries along the Adriatic coast.
Strukli is one of Croatia’s cultural heritage maintained by the Ministry of Culture. This alone should be enough for you to search for local restaurants offering this dish. Aside from that, what makes this pastry truly delicious is its filling composed of sour cream and cottage cheese.
They use two different methods to make this dish. First, they do it by baking it in a traditional oven. Second, they use boiling water to cook it. Either way, the end result is one that will delight your taste buds.
Recent years showed that there are different versions of this pastry. Some contain black truffles while others use cheese and blueberry fillings. Others combine egg yolks, sugar, beaten egg whites, and almonds. You can find this meal in Zagreb which is Croatia’s capital.
The region of Istria boasts of its pasta. In fact, they have ravijoli, pasutice, pljukanci, and lazanje just to name a few. However, the most popular type of pasta that they have is Fuži. This pasta has a unique shape since it resembles a tube or spindle. They cut the dough into small diamond shapes pinched together to create the spindle shape.
Aside from that, it can be paired with different Croatian dishes. For example, you can have it with chicken goulash or mild red veal sauce. In fact, you can mix it with any Croatian stew that you want to try, including those that contain wild game or beef if you prefer. Some prefer to mix their Fuži with thin slices of white truffles and olive oil. It’s simple but it certainly packs a punch. These two ingredients are delicacies in the Istrian area.
Another traditional food that you should try is Peka. You can find this in many restaurant menus. However, it is best that you order it ahead of time since it may take a while to put it together.
In fact, this is the best Croatian food that you can add to your list of dishes to try here. On a good note, this is a simple dish that you can make on your own. Among the ingredients that you can use are meat, vegetables, or even seafood. They mix it with spices, potatoes, salt, and olive oil.
The traditional method is cooking it under a terracotta dome-shaped lid. Hot coals from the fireplace will be placed on top of the lid to allow the food to bake for a few hours. The end result? You will have a dish that is not only tender but also comes with plenty of flavors. A good example here is Ispod Peke.
They use any kind of meat like chicken, lamb, or veal to make Peka. You can even use seafood for this too. In fact, octopus is a good option since the meat becomes tender after baking for hours. Restaurants serve this with fresh bread to mop up the sauce with.
Among the popular foods in Croatia that you should add to your list is Sarma. How do they make this dish? It makes use of sour cabbage leaves stuffed with a combination of diced beef, onions, rice, and garlic. Afterward, you roll the leaves then tuck the ends to keep the stuffing from falling.
Aside from that, they season the filling with sea salt and black pepper. To cook the cabbage rolls, you will need to put them in water and boil for two to three hours.
There are several variations of Sarma in Croatia. In fact, some make use of parsley, pork belly, nutmeg, celery, lemon zest, and cinnamon even. Also, you can substitute cabbage leaves with Swiss chard if you like. You can have it with fried fish or with mashed potatoes. This winter dish is a staple during New Year’s Eve.
One of the best things that you will love about your trip to Croatia is its food. You can go around the country and try sampling the different kinds of sausages. In fact, one of those sausages that you should definitely have is Kulen. Aside from that, Kulen is the king of all Croatian sausages. It is not surprising that it is one of the national dishes here. That alone should be enough to convince you to try this one out.
Kulen is a type of Croatian pork sausage that gets its flavor from garlic and paprika. It boasts of a strong smoky aroma and piquant flavor achieved from smoking the meat for months. They leave it to air dry for a month.
Just like with other traditional foods in the country, there are certain rules that apply to making this dish. For starters, you can only use free-range pigs in Slavonia. A good example here is the black Slavonian pig. This type of pig usually roams Slavonia and it is its diet that adds to the flavor of the meat.
Once the pigs reach a certain weight, they will be ready for slaughter. Everything is done by hand. This includes cutting the best parts of the pork. They will stuff them in natural casings then smoked them for several months. The sausages will be air-dried after. This dish is popular during Easter so you need to get a list of the best restaurants that offer this sausage to sample it.
#9 Dalmatinska Pašticada
Another example of meat dishes that you are sure to like is the Pasticada. Considered as one of the best Croatian dishes, this regional food makes use of braised beef cooked in red wine. It also contains ingredients like dried fruit, bacon, root vegetables, and tomatoes.
To make Pasticada, they pierce whole round steaks before stuffing it with bacon, cloves, garlic, and carrots. They marinate it in wine vinegar and spices. Afterward, they stew it in red wine or Prosek, tomato paste, celery root, dried figs, herbs, and spices.
This stewed beef dish takes a long time to make. You will see this dish during special occasions like weddings and baptisms. However, once you get to taste it, you will crave more. The locals pair this main dish with homemade pasta or njoki. You are lucky if you find a restaurant that serves this. Who knows? You might be a guest in one of their celebrations where they serve this dish.
# 10 Grah
If you have been paying attention to the menu in restaurants and fast food in Croatia, you will notice that beans play a role in most of them. In fact, hearty bean soups and stews are part and parcel in their daily meals like Grah.
Grah is a thick Croatian bean soup made from different types of beans, smoked meats and sausages, bay leaves, garlic, onion, and tomato puree. You can use any type of bean that you like. For example, you can use kidney, cranberry, or pinto beans.
The good news is that this meal is available all year round but it is a favorite during winter. It works best as the main course with a side dish of crusty bread to absorb all the delicious soup that comes with it.
Tasty Croatian Dishes to Add to Your List
Croatia is one of the best places to enjoy a wide variety of dishes. In fact, the ones mentioned above are just a handful that you should try. There are all kinds of food that you can try here like those from ancient times and those that have modern twists to them.
Apart from those dishes above, there are other meals that are worth adding to your list. Let’s take a look.
This Dalmatian ham is a type of dry-cured prosciutto made from pork legs. They smoke the meat for several months then air dry after. To make this dish, the pork legs get a generous rubbing of coarse and fine sea salt. Aside from that, they leave the legs out for a bit to remove any excess water and blood. Once done, they hang the legs inside a small room. This is for the smoking process which will take months.
Croatian Octopus Salad
Croatian octopus salad is an example of the best food that you will find in this country. It is a refreshing dish that you don’t want to miss when you visit. When cooked the right way, the octopus will be tender and not dry and chewy. The most common way of serving this dish is cold with the octopus cut into bite-sized chunks. It also comes with a dressing made from vinegar and olive oil. Aside from that, this dish will come with capers, onions, and parsley too.
One of the best ways to ensure that you have sampled almost all dishes in Croatia is to add Misanca to your list. This Dalmatian cuisine is quite popular because of its amazing array of aromas and flavors. A good example of this is Misanca where wild herbs are the main stars.
Fortunately, the times have changed and this dish is now served in various ways. For example, you can have it with Swiss chard or spinach or boiled in salted water. Either way, the flavors of this dish are one that you will not forget.
Meanwhile, Croatia also has something for those who have sweet tooth. One of these is Fritule which is a popular dessert in the country. In fact, it is a national dish! Fritule is this little ball of pastry filled with raisins and rum. You can see this in many Christmas feasts complete with powdered icing sugar to make them extra sweet. They dress this dessert with chocolate sauce or any citrus zest to balance the flavor.
Another dessert that will please your sweet tooth is the Makovnjaca. This is similar to the poppy seed roll that is quite popular in both Central and Eastern Europe. Aside from being available year-round, this dessert is a staple in both Easter and Christmas.
There are different ways of making this dessert. The best way, however, is by rolling out the dough on a large sheet before spreading the filling that consists of poppy seeds, sugar, and hot milk. Afterward, the dough will then be rolled into a log or long cylinder then you will brush the surface with melted butter before popping it into the oven.
You might have seen locals and tourists alike walking around with ice cream on hand. In fact, you will see most of them enjoying this treat like the way Londoners like their coffee. One of the popular ice cream brands that you will find in Croatia is Ledo, but there are other gelato shops where you can grab this delicious treat. The best part is that they come in a variety of unique flavors that you will find yourself trying out one at a time.
How to Enjoy Croatian Cuisine
There is no better way to enjoy Croatian cuisine than learning from the locals. Fortunately, there are several food tours in their cities that will lead you to sample a variety of popular dishes. These tours will not only take you to their markets but also to the best restaurants. In fact, your tour guide will explain how they make each dish and what its significance is. Among the areas where you can join food tours are Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, and more.
Aside from that, tourists can also take cooking lessons while visiting Croatia. Knowing what the country’s traditional dishes are is one thing. Learning how to cook them is a whole new experience you are sure to enjoy. There are several cooking classes that you can join when you come and visit the country. Your teachers will show you how to work with local ingredients to give you a more intimate experience with their food.
As you can see, Croatia definitely has much to offer its locals and guests from all over the world. From rich stews to sweetened pastries to ice cream, you won’t get enough of the local dishes. In fact, each region has its own traditional dish that you should order. Fortunately, the restaurants do cater to various regional menus. You only need to choose where and what to eat.