Typical Croatian Food To Try

Continuing our series on the best dishes in Europe’s most popular destinations, our Croatia expert offers a guide for foodies. Whoever says that they are not interested in the food of a country they are going to travel are liars and I am very fond of eating, I have become interested in death. So, I am going to share my impressions with your simple souls. Whenever someone thinks about Croatian foods they imagine greasy meat fillets accompanied by potatoes and meat presented in a strange way, well you are very wrong. While it has strong Eastern European roots and satisfies the palatial Balkan carnivores, Croatian food is a delicious mix of flavours that reflect the variety of cultures that have influenced this country throughout history. There is a clear distinction between the Italian cooking style on the coast and tastes of the Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish of the continental zones. From grilled sea bass in olive oil from Dalmatia to a consistent meat stew with paprika (spicy) in Slavonia, every pallet can find something to their taste. Every zone proudly offers their own specialities, although the food is usually surprisingly good and elaborated everywhere, with fresh, seasonal ingredients

 

1. Pag cheese and Croatian cured ham

What makes it great

An oval platter combining pieces of Paški sir (sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag) and thinly sliced pršut (cured ham, similar to Italian prosciutto) is a classic appetiser, served everywhere from smart restaurants to rustic konobe (taverns), throughout Croatia. With a handful of black olives for garnish.

Where to try it

The rocky arid island of Pag is famed for its hardy sheep, which graze wild herbs such as rosemary. The ewes’ milk is used to make Paški sir, which gets harder, dryer and saltier with age, similar to Italian pecorino. Visit the Gligora dairy on Pag for tours and tasting.

 

2. Octopus salad

What makes it great

Making a sublime light lunch on a hot summer day, or a tasty starter for dinner, salata od hobotnica (octopus salad) combines hunks of succulent boiled octopus, chopped onion, parsley, olive oil and vinegar. This is the base, but some people add extra ingredients.

Where to try it

At Konoba Lambik in Milna on Hvar they add potato and capers. At smart Filippi on Korčula they do a grilled octopus salad with cherry tomatoes and courgette.

Octopus Salad • Welcome to Croatia

3. Black risotto

What makes it great

Made from rice, cuttlefish, cuttlefish ink, onion, garlic, red wine and olive oil, this delicious rižot (risotto) is coloured jet black by the cuttlefish ink. You’ll find it on seafood menus the length of the coast.

Where to try it

Everyone has their own favourite place and version of this dish, but one that stands out is Orsan Gverović with a waterside terrace in Zaton, just outside Dubrovnik, where they add shrimps and shellfish, to make it extra special.

 

4. Pasta with truffles

What makes it great

Found in the oak woods of the Mirna Valley in inland Istria, pungent truffles (both black and white) are a gourmet’s delight, either grated on pasta or steak, or made into rich creamy sauce. A local speciality is truffles with fuži (handmade Istrian pasta).

Where to try it

The Zigante restaurant in Livada in the Mirna Valley serves a selection of truffle-based dishes a la carte, as well as a choice of six degustation menus, plus their own wine. For something more rustic, visit a family-run agrotourism – locals recommend Tončić near Oprtalj.

 

5. Brudet

What makes it

Brudet (aka brodet or brujet, depending where you are) is a slow-cooked fish casserole, combining mixed fish, onion, tomato, wine and herbs, served with polenta. On the island of Hvar, they have their own version, gregada, which uses fish, potato, onion and white wine.

Where to try them

Palmižana on the tiny island of Sv Klement, opposite Hvar, do a sumptuous brodet with monkfish and lobster. Pojoda in Vis Town on Vis add beans to theirs too. At Hotel Lone in Rovinj, the ResoLution Signature Restaurant does a contemporary take on classic brodet, using grouper fillet, scallops and prawns.

Damirin brudet od jegulje — Coolinarika

6. Shrimps na buzaru

What makes it great

Fresh whole shrimps flashed in a frying pan with olive oil and garlic, followed by chopped tomato and a dash of wine, cooked for 10-15 minutes. This is the “buzaru” method, and it’s delicious – mop up the sauce with hunks of fresh bread.

Where to try it

Informal Konoba Fičović in Hodilje, near Ston on Pelješac, serves divine škampi na buzaru on a waterside terrace. Everything comes straight from the sea, fresh that day, and there’s a small pebble beach, so you can have a swim before lunch.

7. Fresh fish

What makes it great

In a typical konoba (tavern), you choose from a platter of whole fish (generally sea bream, sea bass and John Dory). Your fish will then be weighed (they’re priced per kilo), simply grilled, and served with a drizzle of olive oil and a chunk of lemon. The classical Dalmatian side dish is blitva sa krumpirom (Swiss chard and potato).

Where to try it

Fresh fish is expensive and in heavy demand in summer tourist destinations. So it makes perfect sense to skip the middleman and go to a restaurant where the owner-cook is also a fisherman. You’ll find a dozen or so such eateries on the Kornati islands, in Kornati national park, where customers arrive by private yacht. Konoba Strižnja on Kornat is one of the best – you can even arrange to go fishing with the owner, Darko.

8. Sarma

What makes it great

In contrast to the Venetian-inspired seafood dishes of the Adriatic coast, sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice) is of Turkish origin, and harks back to the time when the Ottoman empire was present on the Balkan peninsular. In Croatian they use kiseli kupus (saukraut) instead of fresh cabbage.

Where to try it

You’ll find sarma on menus at most inland restaurants, especially in winter. At old-fashioned Stari Fijaker in Zagreb they do them all year – portions are generous, and they come with mashed potato.

Serbian Sarma – Masalove

9. Roast lamb

What makes it great

Janjetina (lamb) roast whole on a spit is a favourite throughout the countries of former-Yugoslavia. As you travel around Croatia, you’ll see roadside restaurants with whole lamb cooking outside.

Where to try it

The islands of Brač, Cres and Pag are known for their excellent lamb. Some of the best places to eat simple roast lamb include Konoba Kopačina in Donji Humac in Brač, and Konoba Bukaleta (Tel: (051) 571 606) in Loznati on Cres. For more refined lamb-based dishes on Pag, try the sophisticated hotel-restaurant Boškinac in Novalja.

10. Peka

What makes it great

A peka is a domed iron lid or “bell”, used to cover a casserole pot, which is then buried under glowing embers to create a slow-cooking micro-oven. It’s mostly used for cooking either lamb or octopus, along with potatoes and other vegetables, with wine and olive oil. Note that you need to order peka dishes one day in advance.

Where to try it

If you’re staying in Dubrovnik, you can try peka dishes at the lovely rustic Konoba Dubrava on Mt Srđ, above the city. Nearby in rural Konavle, farmhouse-style Koračeva Kuća in Gruda is also a fine choice (summer-only).