Croatian food is awesome! Traditional Croatian cuisine is wide and varied, yet it's hard to distinguish dishes that are exclusive to Croatia. Because, Croatian food has been influenced by tastes and traditions from neighboring countries, and different nations that ruled territory of Croatia throughout history.
Traditional Croatian food have some similarity with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish food. Yet, Croatian dishes have their own distinct interpretation, and taste.
Contents For Croatian food: must-try Croatian dishes
- 1 Croatian cuisine: regional food in Croatia
- 2 Typical Croatian food
- 3 Recommended travel guides & cookbooks
- 4 Further reading from our Croatia travel guide:
Croatian cuisine: regional food in Croatia
Croatian traditional food varies a lot from one to another Croatian region. And while there are some dishes you'll find throughout Croatia (Hello sarma!), many dishes found in one Croatian region aren't probably even known in another region.
Dalmatian food, found along Dalmatian coast, and on the islands, is based heavily on fish, greens, olive oil, and seasonings like garlic, rosemary, parsley, etc.. Dalmatian cuisine is typical Mediterranean cuisine.
Zagreb food, on the other hand, has many similarity with central European countries. Typical Zagreb food includes meat dishes, while side dishes usually comprise of potatoes, other root veggies, and cabbage.
While Istrian cuisine reminds in many ways of Dalmatian cuisine, Istria has some of its own typical dishes, and cooking techniques. These include manestra, a bean soup prepared only in Istria, or fuzi, a hand-rolled pasta typical for Istria.
Slavonians love their pork, and many dishes in Slavonia are simply based on pork meat. Red paprika is the main condiment in Slavonia. While present also in other Croatian regional cuisines, it's not nearly as popular as in Slavonia.
Croatians have always believed in three meals a day, with lunch being the main daily meal. This, unfortunately, has changed in last years, as many people work from 9-5, and simply aren't home for lunchtime. However, lunches are still big family affair on weekends.
Typical Croatian food
Below we introduce typical Croatian food. We tried to include a variety of dishes to give you a taste of different regional cuisines you can find in Croatia. We are not big meat eaters, so obviously, Istrian and Dalmatian food suits us the best.
Every seafood restaurant in Croatia have a crni rizot (black risotto) on its menu. Crni rizot is basically a squid risotto. Squid ink colors the rice black. Besides squids, this risotto often contains other seafood, particularly mussels, clams and other shellfish. Crni rizot is simply a must-try Croatian food.
Foodie's words of wisdom: watch your smile as your lips and teeth will turn black when eating this delicious Croatian food.
This delicious pastry, filled with cottage cheese and sour cream, originated in Slovenia. However, today it's a popular Zagreb food, as well as in Hrvatsko Zagorje region.
Strukli are prepared in two ways: boiled in water or baked in an oven . There is even a restaurant in Zagreb, La Struk, serving only strukli.
La Struk serves traditional strukli, but also modern interpretations of this traditional dish (with truffles, or sweet variations with cheese and blueberries). If you visit Zagreb, don't forget to taste strukli.
Pasticada s njokima
Called a “Queen of Dalmatian cuisine”, Pasticada is perhaps the most popular Dalmatian food. Every house, every family has its own recipe for pasticada. So what really is this delicacy?
Baby beef's fake fillet is marinated in a wine vinegar for days, and then braised for hours, first in its own juice, and later with red wine, and served with home made gnocchi.
This is my favorite Dalmatian dish. And I don't even like meat that much. Trust me, you'll dream about this dish long after tasting it.
Unfortunately, due to its long cooking process, and relatively expensive ingredients, it's hard to find a quality pasticada in a restaurant. If you've got a chance to eat it at people's house while in Dalmatia, that would be perfect. Otherwise, try it in a restaurant, at least to get the idea of a dish. We've eaten a good pasticada in the Vinica Monkovic restaurant, Buffet Fife in Split, and in Adria restaurant in Metkovic.
Hobotnica ispod peke
Baking meat, seafood and veggies under a a bell-like lid covered in embers, is to my knowledge, a unique cooking method found in Croatia and its neighboring countries (like Bosnia, Montenegro, etc.).
Basically you can put any kind of meat and veggies in a tray, salt it, add spices, oil, and cover it with a bell-like lid. Placed in a fireplace, the lid is then covered with embers. It's cooked for two hours, but after about an hour or so, the lid is lifted, meat is turned, and some other spices are added, like a mix of honey and cognac with Mediterranean herbs.
Peka can be made with any kind of meat (chicken, veal, sausages, etc.), but my all time favorite peka is octopus peka. Octopus really turns tender and succulent, while the potatoes become specially sweet and tasty. Sauce is delicious, and if served with a bread baked also ispod peke (under a bell-like lid), then it's a festival for taste buds.
This dish usually needs to be ordered in advance in restaurant. Some restaurants have it on a menu all the time, but peka is the best when made on order. We've eaten an excellent octopus peka in the tavern Roki's in Vis Island.
Skampi na buzaru
Buzara is a method of cooking seafood, mainly crustaceans and shellfish, wildly used in a coastal Croatia. Scampi, shrimps, mussels or clams are shortly cooked with white wine, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs. Tomato paste is sometimes added for color. However, my mother in-law never uses tomato paste when she makes this dish.
This is the simplest, yet one of the most delicious ways to prepare shrimps or mussels. Roll your sleeves (yes, buzara is eaten with hands), and indulge in this yummy Croatian dish.
Fuzi are quill-shaped homemade pasta typical for Istria. Along with pljukanci, a spindle-shaped pasta, it's the most popular homemade and hand-rolled pasta in Istria. Pasta dough is cut in a diamond-shape, then rolled around a chopstick (often pencil) to form a quill-shaped hollow tube. Fuzi are usually served with different stews: mushrooms, truffles, chicken, or beef stew. This yummy pasta you can taste in many Istrian restaurants, but our favorite places to eat fuzi are Stari podrum in Momjan, and Tavern Toncic in Zrenj.
Another classic dish typical for the coastal Croatia, brudet (brujet, brodeto) is a fish stew. Similar to pasticada, brudet is one of the most common dishes you can find in coastal Croatia. Every family has its own way of making brudet. Fish is stewed with onions, tomato sauce, and spices. Covered in water it cooks slowly until the fish is done. Laurel and chilli pepper are added to the stew to your taste. Brudet is usually served with polenta.
The most common dish you'll find on menus in Istrian restaurants, manestra is basically a bean soup. Manestra cooks slowly for hours on low fire, with pešt and cured meats (pieces of prosciutto, or alike) that enhance a taste. Pest comprises of pancetta, garlic, and parsley all grounded together to form a paste. This paste is added to the manestra at the very beginning of cooking process. Manestra has many variations, the most common are manestra od bobići (a bean soup with corn), and jota (a bean soup with sauerkraut).
Typical Dalmatian dish, greagada is a fish stew cooked with white wine, parsley, onions, garlic, capers, salted anchovies and potatoes. This dish is very typical for the central Dalmatian islands, particularly the Hvar Island. We've tasted an excellent gregada in the restaurant Tramerka in Volosko.
Soparnik is a savory pie filled with Swiss chard. It's a traditional Dalmatian dish, typical for the Poljica region in the central Dalmatia. Croatian Ministry of Culture has declared Soparnik the intangible cultural heritage of Croatia. There is also a yearly Soparnik festival held in Dugi Rat every July for the last ten years.
Many local families compete for a title of the best Soparnik. This competition gives any visitor a chance to taste a real homemade Soparnik. If you are anywhere around at the end of July, make sure you make it to Dugi Rat to try this traditional Dalmatian dish.
I don't really know the origins of stuffed peppers recipe (punjene paprike in Croatian), but this dish is extremely popular in Croatia during the summer. Bell peppers are basically stuffed with minced meat, rice, and spices, and cooked with tomato sauce.
Stuffed peppers are consumed all over Croatia, the only thing that will differ among different regions, is the choice of minced meat used in a recipe. While in Dalmatia, the meat will mainly be baby beef, in Slavonija, minced meat will mostly contain pork meat. Stuffed peppers are usually served with mashed potatoes. We've had really tasty stuffed peppers in the restaurant Orca in Rovinj.
As popular as stuffed peppers are in Croatia during the summer, as popular is sarma (stuffed sauerkraut) in Croatia during the winter. The stuffing is basically the same for both dishes, minced meat and rice with spices, but with sarma, stuffing is wrapped in a sauerkraut instead of bell peppers. Another yummy dish for cold winter days.
Typical dish from eastern Croatian region of Slavonija, cobanac is a spicy meat stew. This stew is cooked long time, but always on a strong fire and it often contains different meats: pork, baby beef, lamb, and pork hind feet. We're not much into meat, and as Vera's from Dalmatia, we don't really eat cobanac at home, but it's a great dish for everybody who likes meat.
Oily fish from Adriatic represent an essence of Dalmatian and Istrian diet. Sardines, mackerels, anchovies, Mediterranean sand smelt, tuna, and bonito are all equally popular. They are served in many restaurants along the coast as well as consumed a lot at Croatian homes. I absolutely love oily fish, and I am always happy to find it on the menus.
Croatians eat lots of grilled sardines, and mackerels, fried sand smelt, marinated or salted anchovies and sardines, tuna steaks (especially sliced steak), and sardines in savor. When in Croatia make sure to indulge in these taste oily fish dishes.
Kotlovina is a meat specialty popular in Zagreb and northwest Croatia. Different meats and veggies are fried in a big metal dish and then slow-cooked in its own sauce over an open fire. Meat usually includes pork meat (chops, neck, spareribs, and sausages), and chicken breasts. Kotlovina is prepared in a specially designed cauldron, and it's usually prepared outdoors. Once the meat is done, it's placed on the side of a cauldron to keep warm.
Paprenjaci are traditional Croatian cookies dating back from the 16th century. They are named after black pepper (papar in Croatian), because Paprenjaci, among other ingredients, contain a black pepper. Other ingredients are walnuts, hazelnuts, honey, butter and various spices.
Traditional sweets from the southern Croatia, arancini are candied orange peel. They make a great souvenir to bring home, too. However when they are homemade, they are simply the best. I got lucky here as my neighbor often makes them, and they are yummy. Orange (but sometimes also lemon, or grapefruit) skin is cut in long stripes, and left in water for a week. Once drained, they are weighted, and boiled in water for 30 min with an equal amount of sugar. While they are still hot, they are rolled in crystal sugar.
A custard pudding similar to flan typical for Dubrovnik region, rozata, when well-made, is one of my favorite Croatian sweets. My mother-in-law often makes rozata, and her rozata is seriously the best I've tried.
Krostule is a traditional pastry found in coastal Croatia from Istria to Dubrovnik. Long thin stripes of dough are tied in a loose knot and then deep fried in oil, and sprinkled with powder sugar before serving. Krostule is a simple dessert, but very crunchy and delicious to eat!
The most common sweets you'll find in a coastal Croatia, fritule are ball shaped dough made with flour, raisins, a touch of local schnapps and lemon zest, and then deep fried. These sweet fritters are addictive, and hard to say No to.
Recommended travel guides & cookbooks
- Fodor's Croatia Travel Guide (we are co-authors!).
- Lonely Planet Croatia Travel Guide
- Rick Steves' Croatia & Slovenia
- Croatian Desserts By Andrea Pisac
Further reading from our Croatia travel guide:
- Car Rental In Croatia
- Driving In Croatia
- Croatia Travel Guide: 26 Things To Know If Visiting Croatia
- 18 Tips For The First Time Visitors In Croatia
- Croatia Travel Guide: Things To Do In Croatia
- Ultimate Guide To Accommodation In Croatia
- Packing List For Vacation In Croatia
- How To Choose Your Destination In Croatia
- Where to go in Croatia: best places to visit in Croatia
- Cost of Travel To Croatia
- Croatia On Budget: Money-saving Tips
- Outdoor Activities in Croatia
- 49 Awesome Beaches In Croatia
- Snorkeling In Croatia
- White Water Rafting In Croatia
Have you tried any of the Croatian food listed above? What's your favorite Croatian food? Let us know in the comments below.