If you’re planning a trip to Croatia and enjoy trying new foods, you’re in for a treat. Delicious seafood to refined charcuterie, sweet Croatian desserts to hearty meat stews, gourmet restaurant cuisine to tasty Croatian street food. This southeast European nation has so much to offer.
It’s a country with amazing variety – nearly 2000 km / 1242 miles of coast, over 1000 islands, lowland plains, alpine peaks, deep caves, and spectacular waterfalls. But it’s not just the Croatian landscape that’s varied. The many traditional foods of Croatia are wide-ranging and diverse.
So what is Croatian food actually like? Well, it often depends on whereabouts you are visiting in the country. The food in Croatia is very regional and there are popular Croatian dishes usually made in one region that won’t traditionally be found in another.
Traditional Croatian foods
Much of the diversity in Croatian cuisine stems from historic influences. The mainland regions of Croatia, for example, are quite similar to Turkish and Hungarian foods. The coastal areas, on the other hand, are more influenced by the Mediterranean cuisine of Italy and Greece.
The ways of cooking the food in Croatia vary too. In Zagreb and the northeast of the country, meat stews are popular. You’ll find hearty meat like lamb and pork either spit-roasted on an open fire or slow-cooked under a traditional Croatian baking dome.
Further east, in Slavonia, the menu is full of spicy foods and paprika is hugely popular, along with fish stew or one delicacy called “šaran u rašljama” which translates as “carp on a forked branch” – otherwise known as grilled fish!
Head to Croatia’s coast and areas like Istria are proud of their Istrian ham and cheese, Croatian prosciutto, and other types of dry-cured meat. Istrian olive oil is also world-famous – you can even take an olive oil tour and visit groves and taste the olive oil when it’s super-fresh.
Further down, on the beautiful Dalmatian coast, and you’ll encounter more Mediterranean-style Croatian food. Think fresh green vegetables, garlic, herbs, seafood, gnocchi, pasta, tomato sauce, and plenty of olive oil.
Here’s just a small selection of the most famous Croatian food.
1. Black risotto
This might look like a creation from outer space, but believe it or not, black risotto is a really popular Croatian food – and it’s absolutely delicious. Its local name is “crni rizot”, and it’s a regular feature on menus in restaurants along Croatia’s vast coastline. It can also be found inland.
The thing that gives it such a dark color is squid ink, which is added at the last minute to stain the black risotto. It’s normally made with either cuttlefish or squid as the star of the show, and although it’s a rich dish, the flavor isn’t too overpowering. Black risotto is a simple but effective dish, made with garlic, olive oil, red wine, and fish.
Beware though – this Croatian dish makes your tongue and teeth stain slightly black! Maybe not one to try on a first date.
Also called “Brodetto” or “Brodet”, Brudet is a traditional Croatian food popular along the coast of Croatia. It’s basically a fish stew made with a variety of fish and crustaceans, all cooked together in a tasty oniony tomato sauce. It’s usually served with polenta which soaks up all the juices.
This dish is really rich because of the mix of seafood it contains – the fishermen traditionally use whatever haul they catch that day, so ingredients vary wildly, from tuna and grouper to clams and langoustines. It’s served all year round with different ingredients depending on the time of year.
Here’s something for those with a sweet tooth! Fritule is a Croatian national dish that’s served for dessert. It’s made up of little fried balls of pastry, much like doughnuts, and filled with rum and raisins.
They’re a big part of Christmas in Croatia, powdered with icing sugar, often served with orange peel and lemon zest, or even chocolate sauce.
You can find this dish on menus and at street stalls throughout Croatia, but they originate in Dalmatia. There’s nothing grabbing some of these moreish Croatian snacks from a market stall and wandering around one of the country’s beautiful harbors.
In Croatia, food is not the only gastronomical treat worth sampling. The Croatians have a long history of wine production, dating back 4,000 years. The country might not be globally famous for its wine but Croatia is home to over 130 different native grape varieties and its wine scene is becoming increasingly respected.
There are a few key types of wine to know about before you travel. Malvazija is an indigenous white wine from Istria that is always a good bet if you’re stuck for choices at a restaurant.
Teran is a traditional Croatian red wine also from Istria that is popular with meat and pasta dishes – but can verge on the acidic end of the spectrum.
There’s also Plavac Mali (red), and Pošip (white) which are both from Dalmatia, and the popular Graševina – an easy-drinking white wine from Slavonia.
One of the most popular Croatian drinks, particularly in the hot summer months, is “gemišt”, a cocktail of white wine with mineral water. There’s also a red wine version of this drink down south, called “bevanda”.
Peka is an example of traditional Croatian cuisine that can be found on most menus, but you do normally need to order it ahead if you know it’s something you’d like to try, as it takes a while to make.
Despite often being considered the best Croatian food, it’s a rather simple dish. Peka is made by cooking meat, vegetables, or seafood with potatoes, spices, salt, and oil beneath a terracotta dome-shaped lid. This is then covered in embers in a fireplace and left for a couple of hours to slowly bake.
The end result is a dish that is incredibly tender and flavorful.
It can be made with any meat (lamb, chicken, and veal are common), or seafood. Octopus is a great variation of this dish as it becomes really succulent under the lid. It’s often served with some Croatian bread to mop up the delicious sauce.
Pasticada has to be near the top of the list of Croatian food you should definitely try if you get the chance. It’s a marinated beef stew that comes from Dalmatia, often made with prunes or figs, bacon, nutmeg, and red wine, and usually served with gnocchi.
The meat is usually left to marinate for at least a day (sometimes several days) ahead. It’s one of the Croatian dishes that is often served at special celebrations or occasions – and with the amount of time, effort, and ingredients that go into it, it’s not hard to see why.
If you’re planning to spend any time by the sea in Croatia, you just have to try some of the local fish and seafood. Buzara is a great dish to start off with. It loosely means stew or broth, and it’s a simple but effective way of cooking shellfish.
Buzara can come in many forms – from the mussels-based dish that is similar to moules marinieres, to langoustine, shrimp, clams, or scampi. The base of this popular dish is white wine, parsley, and garlic. Breadcrumbs are often sprinkled on top as a garnish.
Fuzi is a recognizable Croatian pasta that is easily prepared and is a staple in Croatian households. It’s made by rolling little squares of pasta around the end of a pencil or wooden spoon into a quill shape.
Fuzi is normally served as a hearty stew of wild game or other meat, or a cream sauce with truffles. It’s an example of typical Croatian food that you’ll find throughout the country.
Vegetarians might find eating out in Croatia a bit tricky as much of Croatian traditional food has meat in – and even the vegetable-centered options tend to come with bacon or pancetta. However, Manestra is a popular vegetable soup to keep an eye out for as it is often on menus around Croatia.
It’s still a good idea to double-check that it doesn’t have meat in, however, as sometimes pancetta is ground up into the paste that forms the base of this dish.
Manestra varies from place to place – sometimes it is a bean soup, sometimes it has other vegetables at its core. It’s the type of dish that locals will be eating for their lunch, often prepared for hours beforehand, simmering over low heat.
Hvar is one of the most populated of Croatia’s many islands, a gorgeous resort destination in the Adriatic Sea. But it’s also the heartland of one of the best Croatian dishes – Gregada.
Gregada is a fish stew made with potatoes, white wine, garlic, capers, and salted anchovies, along with a variety of white fish such as grouper or scorpionfish (generally whatever has been caught fresh that day).
True to the slow, laidback pace of life on the Dalmatian islands, this delicious food is slow-cooked in a pot for several hours. The main rule here is that it should not be stirred – but shaken only, so as not to break up the chunks of fish.
Not many types of food can claim the protection of the EU. But that’s exactly what Soparnik (a flat savory pie made with swiss chard) was awarded recently by the Croatian Ministry of Culture.
Soparnik comes from the region of Poljica on the Dalmation coast near the town of Split. It is a traditional flat pizza-like pie filled with swiss chard that is a staple of Croatia’s traditional cuisine.
There is even a festival for this special meal at the end of July where families try to win the award for the best Soparnik. It’s a great chance to taste a load of different types.
Swiss chard (also known as “blitva”) is what people from this area are known for, and locals are even nicknamed “blitvari” (people who eat swiss chard).
12. Olive oil
An important part of most Croatian food recipes is olive oil, and it’s renowned for its quality worldwide. Istria is the home of the majority of olive oil producers – most of which are small-scale family-owned farms, who produce small batches of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Olive oil has a similar history to Croatian wine, in that its cultivation has been taking place there since the time of the Romans. The oldest living olive tree in Croatia is allegedly 1600 years old – and still bears fruit.
13. Pag cheese
Something to keep your eye out for if you’re a cheese fan is Pag cheese – the most famous of Croatia’s cheeses. It’s produced by sheep on the island of Pag in the Adriatic Sea, which has a unique combination of geographical factors that makes the cheese taste so good.
Apparently, this island is the most indented island in Croatia, and it gives the right conditions for a cold wind called the Bora. This blows sea salt up onto the land, which infuses the plants that the sheep graze.
The Pag sheep are left to only feed on the aromatic shrubs and vegetation they find, so the milk they produce is uniquely flavored. The cheese is then left to mature for 18 months until it’s a similar consistency and texture to parmesan.
It’s frequently served as an appetizer with ham at restaurants in Croatia, or sold in the wheel at markets. It makes a great souvenir or holiday gift!
Just make sure it’s the true Pag cheese, as it is a protected food in Croatia and there are often sneaky labels that make fake Pag cheese.
14. Octopus salad
There’s nothing quite as refreshing as an octopus salad. When cooked properly, the octopus will be tender and not chewy, and served cold, chopped up into bitesize pieces in a vinegar and olive oil dressing along with onions, capers, and parsley. This is one of the most typical Croatian dishes you’ll find and if you’re into your seafood, it’s definitely worth trying.
The seafood in Croatia deserves its own section because there is so much to try that it’s impossible to mention it all. By the coast, you’ll find that different kinds of seafood are often on the menu just as a simple starter or appetizer.
Grilled fish is a popular choice – often sardines, mackerel, hake, or even sea bream and bass. This will normally just be served with a bit of lemon, oil, and seasoning.
The sardines in Croatia are fantastic and are not at all like the canned ones you might be used to. Instead, they’re plump and flavorful and make a great sharing plate when dining out.
Oysters are famous in Croatia for having a much stronger flavored meat than those farmed in the Atlantic. The most well-known oysters are from the town of Ston near Dubrovnik, where you can see the oyster beds along the coast, and buy them fresh from the morning fish market.
Croatia is a culinary hotspot and home to a great variety of food. One of the best things about the country is that so many of its ancient traditions have been continued and passed down, and you can find authentic food at restaurants and markets throughout the whole of Croatia.
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