Once an underrated place for a summer holiday, Croatia has gained popularity over the last decade. This is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and not just for its scenery! The flavors of Croatian foods are often overshadowed by the breathtaking landscape. However, the food from Croatia is unique, fresh, and delicious, making this country a must-visit for any foodie traveler.
What’s Special About Croatian Foods
Like many coastal countries, Croatia is known for relying significantly on fresh seafood for its flavors. Encircled by the Adriatic Sea, traditional Croatian food often revolves around mussels, fish, and shellfish in warming stews and light dishes perfect for summer.
Many different nations have ruled Croatia at different periods in time, which is evident in their food. Much of Croatia’s traditional fare has influence from neighboring countries like Italy, Austria, and Hungary. You can expect Mediterranean flavors with a central European twist. Think paprika, fresh basil, tangy oils, and rich, salty cheese alongside the freshest seafood in Europe.
Cured meats also feature regularly in food from Croatia. However, the coastal winds along the Dalmatian coast and traditional smoking techniques mean that curing gives a salty tang not found in products from other countries.
Between seafood markets and high-end delicacies, food choices can be overwhelming when you first visit the country. But this is certainly one of the exciting facts about Croatia for foodies.
So here is a round-up of 15 of the best traditional Croatian foods for you to try on your trip!
Most Unique And Famous Croatian Food
Squid Ink Risotto (Crni Rizot)
As expected from a coastal country, foods in Croatia often center around seafood as the star. However, this unique dish is just one of a series of well-known Croatian foods sure to excite and delight your tastebuds. Inspired by Turkish cuisine from the Ottoman empire, black risotto contains mussels, squid and shellfish, and is the perfect treat for a warm summer’s day.
Don’t be afraid of this traditional Croatian food turning your teeth black! The ink from the squid may stain your tongue and clothes, but it’s all worth it for the delicious, salty flavor. Order the black risotto when you visit any restaurant or pub in Croatia, as it’s sure to be on the menu.
You can never go too wrong with a squid ink risotto. It is one of my favorite go-to Croatian foods when dining out.
Popular Croatian Foods In Croatia
Croatian traditional food is as rich and varied as its history and has options for anyone looking to sample the local fare. So dip your toes into Croatian cuisine and try some of these delicious traditional foods from the region!
When you visit Croatia, make sure you get your hands on some burek! This flaky pastry originated in Turkey and is common across the Dalmatian coast and Balkan region. You may have seen similar versions in Bosnia and Herzegovina stuffed with meat. However, in Croatia, there are often different varieties containing potatoes, spinach, cheese, or even apple.
Brought over to Niš in the 15th century, burek exploded in popularity across Croatia and Slovenia after World War II. Try burek sa sirom, a coil-shaped pie stuffed with feta cheese. This dish is so typical across the culture that people worldwide know it as a classic in Croatian foods.
Find this Croatian food in bakeries and pastry shops around the country, and enjoy your treat while taking in the sights of the old towns of Zagreb and the azure seas of Dubrovnik.
If you want classic Croatian street food, you can’t go past ćevapi. Get these small sausages from street vendors next to bus stops and enjoy the savory mix of spices and quality meat.
Ćevapi are served grilled, then stuffed into a pita with red onion, pepper, sour cheese, and tomato sauce. They are the ultimate hangover food, late-night snack, or any time-of-day guilty pleasure. Look for stores with a massive crowd – chances are, they’re serving ćevapi!
Traditional Croatian Foods – Main Dishes
One of the most famous foods from Croatia, Boškarin is actually the name of native Istrian cattle that are both farmed and wild. These long-horned bovine graze on grass, and their meat is a particularly delicate Croatian dish.
Boškarin fillets are thinly sliced and marinated in rich stocks and juices and are tender, sweet morsels eaten on special occasions. More commonly, Boškarin is served with handmade tube-pasta called fuzi and shaved truffles.
Look for Boškarin in restaurants around the Istrian region and Dubrovnik – be prepared to pay more for this premium cut.
Peka (Ispod čripnje)
Another winter favorite, peka, is one of the most popular foods in Croatia that warms the belly and the soul. Enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, the name means ‘under the bell’ and refers to how the dish is cooked—meat and vegetables heap on top of burning embers, covered by a terracotta pot or lid.
Peka is made according to personal tastes – variations can include veal, lamb, octopus, or chicken, and the spices vary from region to region. Eat peka with potatoes or polenta to soak up the juices from the meat.
Zagrebački Odrezak (Zagreb Steak)
Zagrebački odrezak, colloquially known as Zagreb steak, is a renowned meat dish that transcended the boundaries of Croatia’s capital to become a favorite across Northern Croatia. Its roots trace back to the famed Wiener Schnitzel (Vienna Steak), yet it distinguishes itself by boasting a savory filling of ham and easily melting cheese. If you are a fan of cheese or cordon bleu, you will love this version.
Primarily made with veal, the meat is pounded into cutlets, and then filled with the selected ham and cheese. The preparation includes rolling, breading, and frying the meat until it reaches a golden and crispy perfection. There are variations of the dish that uses of pork, chicken, or turkey, demonstrating its adaptability to different tastes and preferences.
You can get it in restaurants, typically served along with sides of lemon wedges, rice and peas, potatoes, or green salads, Zagrebački odrezak is not just a dish but an experience, epitomizing Croatian culinary culture. Its popularity and widespread appeal reinforces its status as a timeless classic that showcases the essence of Croatian culinary artistry.
Pasticada With Gnocchi
If you only try one Croatian dish on your trip, pasticada would be a great choice. This exceptional occasion food melts in the mouth and is usually saved for Christmas or weddings.
Pasticada is made of rump steak, marinated in vinegar, garlic, and cloves overnight. Thrown into the oven with onions, bacon, nutmeg, and prunes, the result is a lump of mouth-watering sweet meat that falls apart with every forkful. Once the meat is finished, the vegetables are blended and served as a sauce with gnocchi.
This traditional Croatian food has a surprisingly sweet, tangy flavor from the combination of vinegar, prunes, and sickly Dalmatian dessert wine. If you cook it right, pasticada can be cut with a spoon – the perfect accompaniment to the light, fluffy gnocchi.
Named after the town of Skradin in Croatia, this is a traditional Croatian dish that’s steeped in both flavor and history. If you’re looking to experience authentic Croatian cuisine, this risotto dish is a must-try, as it beautifully encapsulates the culinary traditions of the region.
What makes Skradinski Rižot stand out is the labor of love that goes into it, where patience is as essential as the ingredients. It takes over 10 hours to conjure up this delicious Croatian food.
Traditionally, men huddle around a pot, armed with a “veslo” (a giant wooden cooker), tending to a concoction of goodness, which can consist of ingredients and spices like veal rump, ham, beef, root vegetables and onions for up to 13 whole hours.
As the chefs tirelessly stir this culinary masterpiece, the ingredients merge into a flavorful delight. The final touch? Grated cheese, preferably Paški sir from the nearby island of Pag. This cheese crowns the dish, adding the perfect creamy finish.
A pasta shaped like a flute or a spindle, Fuži is said to have been born from the hands of Grandma Luca from Kanfanar in the early 20th century. Her creative twist on the traditional Istrian pasutice led to the invention of the dish, and oh boy, has it become a sensation!
What’s in this twisty wonder? It’s a simple yet magical blend of flour, salt, eggs, and water. These ingredients are transformed into thin rhomboid shapes, twisted, and cooked in salted water. The result is simply pasta perfection, one that’s unique to Istria.
But Fuži isn’t just a shape; it’s a symbol of gastronomy in the region, ready to dance with various partners. Whether paired with red veal sauce, chicken goulash, or exotic truffles that the area is famed for, Fuži answers the call. From traditional beef or chicken mange to the contemporary delight of truffle sauce, this pasta has a way of adapting to the times while keeping its roots intact.
A specialty of the region, you can find this in every nook and cranny of central Istria, from rustic taverns to upscale restaurants. Fuži offers a culinary experience that encapsulates the local culture. And fortunately for us, this tradition seems here to stay as locals take pride and importance in preserving the original art of Fuži-making.
Popular Snacks And Sides In Croatian Foods
Meals in Croatia typically start with platters of cured ham and salty, rich sheep’s cheese. A point of pride for nationals, Istrian ham is one of Croatia’s most well-known traditional foods. Istrian ham is made from the skinned leg of pork which has been dry salted and seasoned with rich spices like pepper, garlic, and paprika.
The main difference between meats from the southern coast of Croatia and Istrian meats is curing. Dalmatians smoke their ham with traditional methods, whereas Istrians use the Northern wind of the Bura to air-cure their meat. The result is an intense aroma and salty taste unique to the region.
Buy thinly shaved Istrian ham from small local delis across the country, and eat warm, fresh bread and cheese for an authentic Croatian experience!
Sarma is a popular dish in the Balkans and you can find it as a staple in many countries within the region; Croatia is no exception. The history of Sarma goes back to the Ottoman period, where it draws influence from Turkish cuisine. Over the centuries, Sarma became an integral part of Croatian cuisine, evolving and adapting to local tastes.
The name “Sarma” itself is derived from the Turkish word “sarma(k)”, meaning “wrap”, reflecting the method of preparation. At its core, Sarma consists of cabbage leaves expertly rolled and stuffed with a flavorful filling.
The traditional filling typically combines a mixture of ground meat, rice, onions, herbs, and spices. However, regional variations may feature alternative ingredients such as sauerkraut, grape leaves, or even vegetarian options with mushrooms or lentils. So if you are traveling around the Balkans, the Sarma can taste different, which is always exciting for a foodie!
However they typically look similar. The rolls are carefully arranged in a pot, layered with sauerkraut or fresh cabbage, and slow-cooked to perfection. That allows the flavors to meld together, resulting in a dish that is tender, succulent, and bursting with savory goodness.
Hailing from the southern Dalmatian region of Poljica, this is a pie-like delight is traditionally baked in a special oven, called Komin, that’s covered with hot coals from dried grapevines. It’s is often filled with chard, onion, and parsley; while it looks simple, it is deeply satisfying as well.
More than just a dish, Soparik is also a slice of history, a symbol of a time when food was scarce. This traditional Croatian food is often referred to as “poor dry food.” Today, this humble pie continues to be enjoyed by the people, particularly during special occasions like Lent, All Saints’ Day, and Christmas.
It represents both the heritage and culinary innovation, served in various forms across Croatia.
Every country has its sausages, and Croatia is no exception. Češnjovka is a spicy garlic sausage made from pork mince and flavored with plenty of pepper, hot paprika, and sea salt.
This piquant specialty is particularly popular in the city of Samobor, where street vendors sell it with lashings of thick homemade mustard.
Cesnjovka is also well-known throughout central and northern Croatia during the festive winter period. It is one of the most common Croatian foods you can find during Christmas. Visit a winter market in December and enjoy this meaty delicacy with sauerkraut and warm mulled wine.
Viška Pogača (or Komiška Pogača) is a savory pie reminiscent of focaccia that hails from the Croatian island of Vis. This dish is a reflection of Vis’s maritime heritage, featuring a leavened pastry filled with salted fish such as sardines or anchovies, red onions, tomatoes, and often capers.
The use of tomatoes and the shape of the pie—whether rectangular or round—remains a subject of debate, particularly between the Viška and Komiška variations. Nevertheless, the distinctive tasting filling with fried onions, chopped fish and rich red sauce is a standout. It is enveloped in pastry, moistened with olive oil, and baked to a golden brown.
You can enjoy Viška Pogača as an appetizer and a main meal, probably alongside a nice wine or beer. Its combination of salty fish and sweet-sour tomatoes encapsulates the classic Mediterranean flavors.
Dalmatinski Pršut (Dalmatia Cured Ham)
Dalmatinski pršut is a renowned Croatian ham from the Dalmatian region/ It offers a flavor profile marked by a mildly smoky aroma and slightly salty taste. This specialty is created by curing fresh pork legs with both fine and coarse sea salt, a process that includes draining any remaining blood and water.
After salting, the legs are smoked with wood from beech, oak, or hornbeam trees and left to dry for at least twelve months. This lengthy maturation certainly helps to create a differentiation between Dalmatian pršut and its counterparts like Italian prosciutto.
The distinctive wood-smoking and air-drying techniques, accentuated by the influence of the cold and dry climate, contribute to its exceptional quality.
Known locally as pršut and traced back to Roman times, this delicacy is prized for its robust taste and soft texture. It pairs well with the region’s full-flavored red wines, and you can enjoy it bread, cheese, or even melon; so it’s a superb addition to charcuterie boards.
Iconic Ingredients And Foods In Croatia
Love truffles but can’t hate the price tag? Luckily you’ve come to Croatia.
The Motovun forests in Istria are home to one of the highest concentrations of truffles in the world. Croatian truffles may not be as well-known as the Italian variant, but what they lack in notoriety they make up for in taste and scent.
This luxury fungus features heavily in traditional Croatian food, and locals believe in its ability to maintain health and good luck. It is certainly one of the favorite Croatian foods among the locals.
Croatian truffles are also far less expensive than their Italian cousins. Take one look at a Croatian restaurant menu, and you’ll see tartufi on everything, from pasta to salads. The plentiful domestic supply of truffles means that these tasty tiny fungi will cost less than half of what you pay in Italy.
A Mediterranean favorite, Croatian olive oils are regular winners of international awards and revered worldwide for their quality. The majority of the olive oil in Croatia comes from Istria, which boasts the perfect climate for cultivating hardy plants.
Istrian olive oils are usually peppery and tangy, with a rich bouquet of freshly mown grass. The beauty of Croatian olive oil is that local co-ops or individual farmers produce most varieties; each has its own unique, rich flavor specific to where it comes from.
Try local olive oils drizzled on salads, soups, or dipped with warm, fresh bread.
Sheep’s cheese is a Croatian favorite, and Pag cheese is the most prized cheese of all. Cheese from the Adriatic island of Pag is renowned for its rarity and unique flavor.
On Pag, dry sea wind blows salty air through the lean scrub, and the minerals sink into the soil, absorbed by the plants. The sheep inhabiting the island eat the plants, and the salt-rich diet creates a tangy cheese reminiscent of Manchego. As a result, aged Pag cheese tastes more like Romano or Prana Gradano.
Pag cheese is a protected item under Croatian law; like champagne, Pag cheese follows strict guidelines to meet the criteria. Don’t be fooled by labels that say ‘cheese from Pag’ – often, these are made with milk from another animal, not the Pag sheep.
Croatian Foods – Soups And Stews
Continuing with seafood, brudet (sometimes called brodetto) is a Croatian seafood stew that is popular around the country. This traditional tomato-based delicacy is rich, creamy, and slightly tangy from lashings of white vinegar. Often made with prawns, mussels, and eels, every region has its own variation on this Dalmatian delight. Eat this unusual Croatian dish with polenta, warm toasted bread, or potatoes during any time of year.
Maneštra is a culinary treasure of Croatia’s Istrian region, serving as both a cultural emblem and a comforting meal. This versatile and nourishing soup, often likened to Italian minestrone, consists of fresh and dried vegetables, beans, short pasta, and sometimes dried meat.
Depending on the season and local preferences, there are different variations across the country, such as maneštra s bobići (with sweet corn). Some feature dried meat, beans, and spring corn, turning this soup into a thick, stew-like main course. Others opt for vegetables like carrots, celery, turnips, onions, and tomatoes, flavored with parsley, black pepper, olive oil, and bay leaves.
Though the Italian minestrone is more internationally recognized, Maneštra is also a dish that nourishes both the body and soul. The distinct and invigorating taste bridges generations and cultures in a bowl full of comfort and tradition.
Bean Soup (Grah)
Just like sausages, every culture has a traditional soup. Grah, or ‘bean,’ is a staple of households all around Croatia. This hearty winter soup first came about in Istria in the 17th century and became the main dish for peasant families during Croatia’s often bitter winters. Made with smoked sausage, fava beans, and paprika, grah is easy, cheap to prepare, and of course, delicious!
This traditional food in Croatia is soup for the soul, and definitely something you should try. You can find grah in some cafes and restaurants, but the best is homemade with love. Look for grah in large tureens during winter festivals and enjoy with fresh bread and butter.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Sweets And Desserts In Croatian Foods
For any sweet tooth, this Croatian street food is a must-try. These miniature doughnuts are traditional along the Dalmatian coast and make a great addition to any coffee or hot chocolate. Fritule were traditionally eaten during Christmas, Carnival Season and Lent, and are favorites for birthdays and other celebrations.
Fritules have been around in Croatia for hundreds of years, and every family has their own recipe. Beignets are rumored to be inspired by a traveller who visited Dubrovnik over a century ago and brought the pastries to New Orleans!
Kroštule, an age-old Croatian pastry, is a delectable treat celebrated throughout the coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia. With roots tracing back to Europe and possibly Roman times, this dish is believe to resemble “crustulum,” a small indulgent snack for soldiers back in those days. Over time, it has evolved into a treasured dessert in Croatia, commonly enjoyed during festive seasons like Carnival, Christmas, and Easter.
These crisp and crumbly fritters are made by deep-frying a ribbon-shaped dough that consists of simple ingredients such as flour, sugar, egg yolks, oil, and milk. Kroštule recipes has been passed down through generations, so they can vary based on different families.
Some variations may use whole eggs or different types of flour, and the flavor might be enhanced with lemon zest, limoncello, or orange liqueur. Regardless of the preparation, this is a time-honored household staple adored by sweet lovers of all ages.
This cherished Croatian dessert stands out with its multi-layered appearance, and the indulgent taste certainly rivals its looks. Its name, translating to “Hungarian girl,” sparks curiosity, as the cake itself is an emblematic Croatian dish with connections to traditional Hungarian layered confections like Dobos cake and Zserbó cake.
While not the simplest cake to create, demanding time and patience, the end result is undeniably rewarding. Featuring alternating layers of moist cake dough and rich chocolate filling, Mađarica is a real treat for chocolate enthusiasts. Each layer is coated with velvety chocolate-infused cream, culminating in a sumptuous dark chocolate glaze that adorns the top.
It’s widely available across the country, including big chain bakeries like Mlinar, reinforcing its status as a beloved national sweet in Croatia.
Kremnitsa Cream Cake
Not all food from Croatia is rich in meat, garlic, and spices. Croatian desserts are also delicious and comparable to their more famous French cousins.
Kremsnita cream cake is one example of a delicious sugary treat sure to hit your sweet tooth. This dessert has layers of white custard and cream stacked between flaky pastry sheets and dusted with powdered sugar.
Cream cake originated in Slovenia in the 18th century, but ask any Croatian, and they’ll say their version is better. Kremsnita is a firm local favorite and a great addition to your morning coffee.
These classic treats are familiar in cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and seasonal markets during the festive season.
Bonus: Croatian Wine
There’s a lot to write about Croatian food, but it would be silly not to talk about the best partner for a home-cooked meal. Croatian wine production dates back to before the Roman empire, and the results are in the drop. Thousands of high-quality wines come out of Croatia every year and are snatched up by international fans.
Croatian wine differs by region, salinity, and the type of grape grown. Try a local Zinfandel from the Dalmatian coast or Grsk from Istria in the summer. The options are endless, and wine lovers won’t be disappointed.
Traditional Foods In Croatia For Every Taste
The food in Croatia is only one great reason to visit this beautiful country. From learning about its past to sampling some of the freshest seafood in Europe, there is so much to see and do on your trip.
As you visit the famous landmarks in Croatia, don’t forget about the gastronomic experiences the country has to offer as well.
Croatian food is unique, tasty, and tied to tradition and history that will delight your mind as much as your tastebuds. Visit the different regions to taste the fantastic varieties of traditional dishes that will stay with you for years to come.