Croatia's cuisine has been influenced by several different cultures and as a result, each part of the country has a distinctive regional cuisine. Depending on which region of Croatia you're visiting, you're bound to come across dishes with obvious Italian, Austrian, Hungarian or Turkish influences.
In kitchens and restaurants across the country, there's a big emphasis on using fresh seasonal ingredients and on preparing meals homestyle. Expect a slow food experience that's worth the wait and a fine selection of local wines to pair with your meal, as well as high-quality extra virgin olive oils produced locally.
Here are 12 dishes you're likely to come across during your trip in Croatia.
This is a popular delicacy in coastal Croatia, especially in Dalmatia. Crni rižoto (black risotto) is a rice dish very similar to Italian risotto that's prepared with squid. The squid releases a black ink that turns the rice an intense black, hence the name. It can also be prepared with other types of seafood like cuttlefish or octopus or even shellfish like clams and mussels.
This is a traditional dish from the regions of Hrvatsko Zagorje and Zagreb in northern Croatia.
Made of a flat and thin pastry, it resembles a type of strudel that can be prepared either as a sweet or savory dish. It's filled with cheese, eggs and sour cream — sugar can be added to make the sweet version — and baked in the oven.
Burek is a popular snack food available at bakeries across Croatia. Similar to Turkish börek, this is made of a thin flaky dough filled with meat or cheese, spinach, potato or apple. Burek is available throughout the day and makes a delicious and filling breakfast or a snack that can be enjoyed at any time.
Ćevapi (or Ćevapčići)
This is another dish that's common on menus across Croatia and other countries of ex-Yugoslavia and dates back to Ottoman times. These are tube-shaped pieces of grilled minced meat made of beef, lamb, or pork and mixed with onions and spices. Ćevapi are served with ajvar, a thick sauce made with red peppers and sometimes eggplant, and flat unleavened bread called lepinja.
This is a thick vegetable soup very much like Italian minestrone, prepared with a mix of different types of beans, grains, and vegetables like corn, potatoes, cabbage and fennel. This is a traditional dish popular in the region of Istria and is almost always made with pork stock, so not suitable for vegetarians.
Peka is a traditional slow-cooking method popular in Dalmatia that's used to cook vegetables, meat or seafood over an open fire. The ingredients are placed inside a large cast-iron pan and covered with a bell-like lid before being put in the embers of an open fire. The food is slowly roasted and fresh herbs and white wine are often added for extra flavor. This is a dish that often needs to be ordered in advance at restaurants because of the time it takes to prepare.
Homemade pasta is a staple in Istria where the cuisine has a few notable Italian influences. Tube-shaped fuži are probably the most popular, but njoki (gnocchi) are also very common, or hand-rolled pljukanci. These are served with mostly meat-based sauces made of beef or game, but mushrooms, wild asparagus, or black or white truffles are other popular accompaniments.
This is an elaborate Dalmatian dish that's usually prepared for special occasions. It's made by marinating beef in vinegar, garlic, and cloves, which is then stuffed with pieces of carrots and bacon. It is then cooked in a preparation of tomatoes, parsnips, prunes, nutmeg and prošek, a sweet wine. This is another slow-cooked dish and is usually served together with homemade pasta.
This is dry-cured and salted ham that's very much like Italian prosciutto, or Parma ham, and is a speciality in Istria, the Kvarner region, and Dalmatia. It takes at least a year to cure the ham with the help of the cold bura wind that blows in the Adriatic from the north-east. Istarski pršut (Istrian pršut) and Krčki pršut (from the island of Krk) have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status at the EU level which is a guarantee that it was produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographic region. Pršut is usually served as an appetizer at the beginning of a meal, along with with cheese, bread and a glass of wine.
This typical Dalmatian seafood dish is a thick fish soup flavored with onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and spices. Also called brudet, brujet or brodeto, it's also found on menus in other coastal regions and is often served with palenta, a preparation made with cornmeal.
This is a delicious traditional flat bread from the Poljica region of central Dalmatia. It's filled with chopped Swiss chard and baked in a wood-fired oven before being topped with finely chopped garlic and olive oil, and cut into diamond-shaped pieces. This is one of the few Croatian dishes that is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Povrće na Žaru
Povrće na žaru is simply roasted vegetables like red pepper, eggplant, mushrooms and zucchini. This is a popular side dish that's found on menus across Croatia and another veg-friendly option. Another vegetable side dish you're bound to find in restaurants across the country is blitva (Swiss chard) served either plain or mixed together with mashed potatoes.