Food in Croatia
Croatian cuisine is very diverse, so it is difficult to say which dish is most typically Croatian. In the eastern continental regions (Slavonija and Baranja), spicy sausages like kulen or kulenova seka are a must. Čobanac (“shepherd’s stew”) is a mixture of different meats with lots of spicy red paprika. In Hrvatsko Zagorje and central Croatia, cheese-filled pasta called štrukli is a famous delicacy (it is said that the best štrukli in Croatia are served in the restaurant of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb), as is purica s mlincima (turkey baked in the oven with a special kind of pastry). Sir i vrhnje (sour cream with cottage cheese) can be bought fresh at the main market in Zagreb, Dolac. Croats love a little oil and you will find plenty of it in piroška. In the mountainous regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar, dishes based on mushrooms, wild berries and game meat are very popular. One of the typical dishes in Lika is police (jacket potatoes covered with bacon) and various cheeses (smoked cheese and škripavac).
The coastal region is known for its truffle delicacies and maneštra od soup bobić (Istria), Dalmatian pršut and paški sir (cheese from the island of Pag). Dishes based on fresh fish and other seafood (squid, octopus, crabs, langoustines) are not to be missed! Many places serve fish delivered the day before by the local fisherman – find out which ones!
Croatian cuisine has yet to find a representative of Croatian fast food. The market is dominated by hamburgers and pizzas, which are ubiquitous around the world, but you will also find “burek” and “ćevapčići”, which were imported from the medieval Ottoman Empire that stretched from Turkey to neighbouring Bosnia. These last two dishes are very popular throughout Southern and Eastern Europe. The burek is a type of cheese dough, while the ćevapčići are seasoned finger-shaped minced meat served in bread and often covered with onions. Although not a quick meal (it takes several hours to prepare), the sauerkraut or sarma rolls filled with minced meat and rice are also foreign in origin. For those returning from the nightclubs at 4 or 5 am, it is popular, as it is in Croatia, to go to the local bakery and get fresh bread, burek or krafne (Croatian donuts with chocolate filling) straight from the oven. Delicious! As for fast food, who needs it when you can buy delicious prsut during the day and warm bread to go with it in the evening. Most Croatians generally look down on fast food.
Desserts: What the fast food section lacks, Croatia fills with a variety of desserts. The most famous is probably its delicious cream cake called kremšnite, but various types of gibanica, štrudla and pita (similar to strudel and cake) such as orehnjača (walnut), makovnjača (poppy seed) or bučnica (pumpkin and cheese) are also highly recommended. Dubrovačka torta od skorupa is delicious but hard to find. It is said that paprenjaci (pepper biscuits) reflect Croatia’s tumultuous history because they combine wartime harshness (pepper) with natural beauties (honey). They can be bought in most souvenir shops, although fresh biscuits are always a better choice. Rapska torta (cake from the island of Rab) is made with almonds and the famous Maraschino cherry liqueur. It should be noted that this list is by no means exhaustive and that a simple look in a Croatian cookbook might also be worthwhile. The chocolate sweets “Bajadera” are available in all shops in the country and, together with the “Schattenmorelle”, are among the best-known products of the Croatian chocolate industry.
An essential ingredient of many dishes prepared in Croatia is “Vegeta”. It is a spice produced by “Podravka”.
Olives: Many people claim that Croatian olives and their olive oil are the best in the world, which is not even known in Croatia and even less in the world. There are many brands and some of them have received several world awards. Try to buy olive oil from Istra (although Dalmatian oil is also excellent) and when it comes to olives, choose only Croatian brands (especially Sms, which is rarely awarded as the best in the world). Try to read the declaration before buying to make sure you are buying Croatian olives and Croatian oil, as there are many imports (mostly cheap products from Greece). All of these can be found in most supermarkets, but you really have to watch out for the imports, most Croatians are not experts and prefer cheaper products, so they dominate. Olive oil is an irreplaceable ‘ingredient’ in coastal cuisine, but you should be aware of using cheaper, non-Croatian oil in restaurants, as most tourists don’t notice the difference and restaurants don’t find it profitable to use an excellent oil; they use cheaper Spanish or Greek oil instead. It usually helps to ask the waiter for a better oil (and to look like an expert), and soon he will get you a first-class oil from a hidden place.
Drinks in Croatia
Alcoholic: Rakija, a type of brandy that can be made from plums (šljivovica), grapes (loza), figs (smokovača), honey (medica) and many other fruits and herbs, is the main distilled drink in Croatia. Pelinkovac is a bitter herbal liqueur popular in central Croatia and has a similar taste to cough medicine. The famous Maraschino, a liqueur flavoured with Marasca cherries grown around Zadar in Dalmatia.
Croatia also produces a wide range of high-quality wines (up to 700 wines with protected geographical origin), beers and mineral waters. On the coast, people generally serve “bevanda” with meals. Bevanda is a heavy, richly flavoured red wine mixed with ordinary water. Its counterpart in the northern regions of Croatia is “gemišt”. This term refers to dry and flavoured white wines mixed with mineral water.
Two popular local beers are “Karlovačko” and “Ožujsko”, but “Velebitsko” and “Tomislav pivo” have acquired a semi-cult status in recent years. It is served only in certain places in Zagreb and Croatia. Many well-known European brands (Stella Artois, Beck’s, Carling, Heineken and others) are produced under licence in Croatia.
Non-alcoholic: mineral water, fruit juice, coffee (espresso, Turkish or instant), tea, Cedevita (instant multivitamin drink) and yoghurt drink. Sok od bazge (elderflower juice) is sometimes, but very rarely, found on the mainland. It is worth a try! In Istria there is also a drink called “pašareta”, a red sparkling drink with plant extracts. Very sweet and refreshing! In some parts of Istria (especially in the south) you can try “smrikva” in local cellars – a non-alcoholic refreshing drink made from berries growing on a kind of pine tree. The taste is a little sour, but very refreshing.
Alcoholic beverages may not be sold or served to persons under the age of 18, although this rule is not strictly enforced.