The most important tip I can give you on Croatia local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Croatia, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Croatia
Croatian cuisine is quite diverse so it is hard to say what meal is most typically Croatian. In the eastern continental regions (Slavonija and Baranja) spicy sausage such as kulen or kulenova seka is a must-try. ?obanac (“shepherd’s stew”) is a mixture of several different kinds of meat with a lot of red spicy paprika. In Hrvatsko Zagorje and Central Croatia pasta filled with cheese called trukli is a famous delicacy (it is said that the best trukli in Croatia is served in the Esplanade Hotel restaurant in Zagreb), as is purica s mlincima (baked turkey with a special kind of pastry). Sir i vrhnje (sour cream with cottage cheese) can be bought fresh on the Zagreb main market Dolac. Croats love a bit of oil and you will find plenty of it in piroka.
In mountainous regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar meals made of mushrooms, wild berries and wild meat are very popular. One of typical dishes in Lika is police (oven-baked potatoes covered with bacon) and several kinds of cheese (smoked cheese and kripavac). The coastal region is well known for truffle delicacies and soup manetra od bobi? (Istria), Dalmatian prut (dry-cured ham) and paki sir (Pag-island cheese). Dishes made of fresh fish and other products of the sea (calamari, octopus, crabs, scampi) shouldn’t be given a miss! Many places serve fish delivered from the local fisherman the night before – find out which ones! Croatian cuisine has yet to come up with a Croatian fast food representative. The market is dominated by globally ubiquitous hamburgers and pizzas but you will also find “burek” and “?evap?i?i” imported from the medieval Ottoman empire which stretched from Turkey to neighboring Bosnia.
The latter two dishes are widely popular in the entire South and Eastern Europe. Burek is a type of cheese-pastry whereas ?evap?i?i are seasoned minced meat shaped in finger-size portions served in bread and often covered with onions. Although definitely not a fast meal (takes several hours to prepare) also foreign in origin is the so-called sarma or sauerkraut rolls filled with minced meat and rice. For those coming back from nightclubs at 4 or 5AM as is common in Croatia, it is popular to go to the local bakery and get fresh bread, burek or krafne (Croatian chocolate filled donuts) straight out of the oven. Delicious! As far as fast food goes, who needs it when you can buy delicious prsut during the day and warm bread at night to compliment it. Most Croatians generally look down at fast food. Desserts: What it lacks in the fast food department Croatia makes up with a myriad of desserts.
Probably the most famous is its delicious creamy cake called kremnite but different kinds of gibanica, trudla and pita (similar to strudel and pie) such as orehnja?a (walnut), makovnja?a (poppy) or bu?nica (pumpkin and cheese) are also highly recommended. Dubrova?ka torta od skorupa is delicious but hard to find. Paprenjaci (pepper cookies) are said to reflect the Croatian tumultuous history because they combine the harshness of the war periods (pepper) with the natural beauties (honey). They can be bought in most souvenir shops though fresh-made are always a better choice. Rapska torta (The Rab island cake) is made with almonds and locally famous cherry liquor Maraschino. It should be noted that this is hardly an exhaustive list and even a casual glimpse in any Croatian cookbook is likely to be worth the effort.
Chocolate candy “Bajadera” is available throughout shops in the country and along with “Griotte” is one of the most famous products of the Croatian chocolate industry. An unavoidable ingredient in many meals prepared in Croatia is “Vegeta”. It is a spice produced by “Podravka”. Olives: a lot of people claim that Croatian olives and their olive oil are the best in the world, which is not even well known in Croatia and less worldwide. Many brands exist and some of them have several world awards.
Try to buy olive oil from Istra (although oil from Dalmatia is also excellent) and choose only Croatian brands for olives (most notable sms, few times awarded as the world’s best!). Try to read the declaration before buying to ensure you are buying Croatian olives and oil, since there are a lot of imports (usually cheap products from Greece). All of this can be found in most of the supermarkets, but you should be really aware of the imports, most of the Croatian people aren’t experts and prefer cheaper products, so they dominate. The olive oil is a irreaplaceable “ingredient” in the coastal cuisine, but you should be aware of the use of cheaper, not Croatian, oil in restaurants because most of the tourists don’t notice the difference so the restaurants don’t find it profitable to use excellent oil; they rather use cheaper Spanish or Greek. Usually, asking the waiter for a better oil (and looking like an expert) helps, and soon he gets you a first-class oil from a hidden place.
What to Drink in Croatia
Alcoholic: Try many different kinds of wines. Also worth trying is rakija, a type of brandy which can be made of plum (ljivovica), grapes (loza), figs (smokova?a) and many other types of fruit and aromatic herbs. Pelinkovac is a bitter herbal liquor popular in Central Croatia, but is said to resemble cough-medicine in flavor. Famous Maraschino, a liquer flavored with Marasca cherries, which are grown around Zadar, Dalmatia. Non-alcoholic: Sometimes although very rarely you may find “sok od bazge” (elderflower juice) in the continental region. Worth trying! Also, in Istria there is a drink called “paareta” and it is a sparkling red drink with herbal extracts.Very sweet and refreshing! In some parts of Istria (especially south) in local basements, you can try ‘smrikva’ – a non alcoholic refreshing drink made out of berries which grow on one sort of pine tree.
The taste is a bit sour but very refreshing. On a more general note, Croatia produces a broad palette of high quality wines (up to 700 wines with protected geographic origin) and brandies, fruit juices, beers and mineral water. On the coast people usually serve “bevanda” with meals. Bevanda is heavy, richly flavored red wine mixed with plain water. Its counter-part in northern parts of Croatia is “gemisht”. This term designates dry, flavored wines mixed with mineral water. Two most popular beers are “Karlova?ko” and “Oujsko”, but “Velebitsko” and “Tomislav pivo” have received a semi-cult status in the recent years. It is served only in some places in Zagreb and Croatia. Officially, alcoholic drinks can’t be sold or served to anyone under 18. However, this rule is almost never enforced.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.