Traditional Croatian food is both distinctive and diverse. Croatia’s cultural and geographic mix has resulted in a cuisine that’s full of variety. Each region has its own traditional dishes and staple ingredients, from Mediterranean-inspired seafood recipes to meaty dishes originating from Central Europe. In Dalmatia, for example, the food is characterized by freshness and simplicity. Whereas in Slavonia and Baranja, the typical cuisine tends to be rich and seasoned with plenty of paprika.
So, depending on which regions you visit, you’ll experience a variety of flavors in Croatia. Food is a very important part of Croatian culture and it’s worth sampling as much of it as you can. To help you narrow down your choices, we’ve put together a list of eight traditional dishes to try:
1. Crni Rižot
Crni rižot, or black risotto, consists of cuttlefish or squid, olive oil, garlic, red wine, and squid ink. The squid ink gives this dish its strong seafood flavor and black color. It’s particularly popular in the Dalmatian region, so you’ll see it on plenty of menus. Just don’t be surprised when it turns your teeth black!
Another example of Dalmatian cuisine is Pašticada – a stewed beef dish. The preparation is slow and careful and the process starts with marinating the meat overnight in vinegar. Next, the meat is roasted and cooked with bacon, onions, nutmeg, prunes, and vegetables for up to five hours. Once cooked, the vegetables are blended into a sauce.
3. Octopus Salad
Octopus salad is typically served as a starter. A popular dish in Croatia, it’s relatively simple to prepare. Recipes vary throughout the country, but it generally consists of minced octopus, chopped onion, and garlic.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love krafne (Croatian doughnuts). These traditional Croatian carnival treats were supposedly named after Mrs. Cecilia Kraff, who worked as the Emperor’s pastry chef.
Despite the fact that Burek didn’t originate in Croatia, this popular pastry is considered the national street food. Made of thin, flaky dough, burek pastries have various savory fillings. Su böreğ, or water borek, is the most popular. It’s a mixture of feta cheese, parsley, and olive oil, which is stuffed between the layers of pastry before baking. You’ll find it in most bakeries in Croatian cities and towns, but Burek in Zagreb’s Dolac Markets is one of the best places to get it.
You might see brodeto referred to as brodet or brudet, depending on where you are in Croatia. It’s a hearty fisherman’s stew that consists of a tomato base and a mix of fresh seafood. Brodeto originated in the Marche region of Italy and it’s now popular in Dalmatia, Kvarner, and Istria.
Treat yourself to truffles in Croatia – they’re in plentiful supply and are much less expensive than Italian truffles. The Motovun forests in Istria have some of the highest concentrations of truffles in the world. And although they’re not as well-known as Italian truffles, they’re appreciated for their strong scent.
Fuži is homemade pasta, cut into a quill shape. It’s typically served with a truffle cream sauce, but you’ll also find it with red sauces and meat dishes. It’s a popular accompaniment to beef, chicken, wild game, and boškarin meat.
Over the past decade or so, innovate chefs have made a big difference to the Croatian dining scene. This is particularly true in the cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. You’ll find fusion restaurants offering dishes that combine flavors of traditional Croatian dishes with ethnic influences.
It’s also worth noting that lunch is the most important meal of the day in Croatia. Lots of restaurants cater to tourists and offer hearty dinners. But if you want to dine like a local, have your main meal in the middle of the day and a lighter dish in the evening.