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!
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.
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.
Croatian Foods – Snacks And Sides
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.