Eating in Croatia – 8 Bites to Remember

I made a mistake. Before traveling to Croatia, I mentally lumped its cuisine in the same category of other Eastern European countries I have visited. Never mind the fact it’s not an Eastern European nation (it’s classified as Southern European) and I obviously failed to do proper research on the various cultural influences Croatia has enjoyed over the centuries. So imagine my shock when I arrived and found not the bland, boiled cuisine I expected, but one that is diverse, delicious and fun to try, including these highlights.

1. Italian Influence – This aspect of Croatian cuisine surprised me perhaps the most and yet it was the most pervasive food I saw throughout my time in the country. Croatia and Italy are separated only by the Adriatic Sea, and it’s this proximity that has brought them into close contact many times over their histories. What had perhaps the most influence was the control of the Dalmatian region of Croatia for almost 400 years by the Republic of Venice. This, along with the proximity to Italy has created a robust tradition of Italian cuisine in Croatia. Throughout my stay it was almost impossible to find a restaurant that didn’t feature at least a few dishes of Italian origin on their menus, at times feeling more like Northern Italy than Croatia. Croatians don’t just enjoy Italian food, they enjoy good Italian food and some of the meals I had rivaled those found in Milan, Venice and even Bologna. (Please don’t tell the Italians) The one Italian transplant that didn’t translate well was gelato. While you can find it everywhere, most cases it isn’t ‘real’ gelato and instead was just a fancy ice cream that lacked the creaminess of true gelato. My favorite Italian inspired meal was a delicious risotto made with Croatian Pag cheese at a restaurant in Zagreb. After enjoying that, I can’t imagine a better risotto anywhere in the world.

Pag cheese risotto
One of many excellent pizzas

2. Coastal Condiments – The attitude along coastal Croatian is what I call Mediterranean, and by that I may not be correct in the geographical term but it’s the best analogy I can find for the spirit of the regions. Not only are beaches and warm smiles everywhere to be found, but so are traditional favorites – especially olive oil and salt. Driving across many of the islands that comprise Croatia, it’s hard not to notice the huge farms of olive trees, clinging to the land as they have for thousands of years. The resulting olive oil is some of the best I’ve ever had. Flavorful without the astringent notes I’ve tasted in some other parts of Europe. It’s a treat on its own, but when paired with the proper food it explodes in flavor. Just as olive oil has been produced seemingly forever, so has salt. There are several locations around the country that in some cases have been producing salt since the Greek and Roman times, making those towns incredibly wealthy throughout most of their history. While salt may not be the precious commodity it used to be, the tradition continues and the unique flavors that each variety imbues is remarkable to experience with the perfectly selected Croatian meal.

Perfect start to every meal, fresh bread, cheese and meat, all topped with olive oil and salts.

3. Seafood – Before you say anything, I admit it’s odd I put seafood on this list given my INTENSE hatred of anything that was ever in the water. BUT, I have to recognize the fact that fish and seafood is indeed an important part of the Croatian culinary world, particularly along the coast. Although there were plenty of non-fishy options, fresh seafood was everywhere, along with what appeared to be many happy diners. Of particular note is the small town of Mali Ston near Dubrovnik that is famous, very famous it turns out, for its oysters. The hamlet is home to Malostonski Zaljev – the renowned Croatian oyster bay that produces the most sought after oysters in the country. Oysters aren’t the only briny delight here though, mussels and other shellfish appeared to be popular as well. I of course say appeared because as I’ve said, they are definitely NOT my thing.

 

4. Pag Cheese – This delicacy makes me smile every time I think of it. Before every meal, in very Mediterranean fashion, there is usually served some bread, ham and of course cheese. Amongst all the Croatian cheeses the most desired is Pag cheese, from the small island of Pag near Zadar. The clinical definition of this delicacy is that it is a hard, sheep’s milk cheese made on Pag; but that definition doesn’t come close to capturing the essence of the delicacy. The cheese is uniquely flavored thanks to the island’s aforementioned renown as a salt production center. Intense winds spread the island’s salt dust onto everything, including vegetation. This means that only the most hearty, and coincidentally aromatic, plants can survive and it’s upon this salty, nice-smelling flora that the sheep feed. That’s why the only true Pag cheese can come from sheep raised on the island and it’s also why the cheese is so very, very good.

 

5. Meat and Traditional Cuisine – Never fear, I did find regional classics and happily of me they included a lot of meat. Chicken and veal were the two most popular offerings I saw, usually paired with a gnocchi and hearty sauce. One item that is authentically Croatian and of course undeniably delicious is the nearly unpronounceable dish: Zagorski Štrukli. This is a cheese based dish made with thin pastry and layered with the local cheese, which is soft and almost like cottage cheese in texture. It’s then cooked and some additional cream and butter is added for a delicious, if not somewhat unhealthy, dish.

Zagorski Štrukli

6. Wine – I sort of knew that Croatia had a robust wine industry, but I was dubious about the quality. My traveling companion, Rachelle Lucas of The Travel Bite though couldn’t stop raving about the wines, each one tried better than the one before. Reds seem to the specialty, but there’s certainly no shortage of crisp whites either. The national wine is a dessert wine that sometimes (and unfairly) gets confused with an Italian varietal. Croatian Prošek is a red fortified wine more like a port than a true dessert wine. It’s a popular and traditional drink but that’s not the end of the story. With Croatia’s recent admittance into the EU, Italy has raised concerns that the name is too similar to Prosecco, the bubbly sparkling wine that visitors to Italy have loved for generations. It’s a silly debate though because believe me, there are absolutely no similarities between the two. To experience great Croatian wines, stop by the wine bar D’Vino in Dubrovnik to sample some of the best.

 

7. Desserts – I love desserts, especially chocolate and unlike some other countries I’ve visited, Croatia never failed to disappoint. Whether it was drunken plums with a fresh and light ice cream or a traditional cake in Split, the options were varied throughout the country and almost always delicious. A favorite was the Croatian version of fried dough – fritule. Not unlike a zeppole, this small fried dough ball is made fresh and topped with your favorite add-on; I chose the Nutella of course. Enjoying these treats while walking along the seaside promenade in Split was a highlight of my trip.

8. Cafe Culture – Ok, this doesn’t count as a bite but it’s my site and I can do what I want. Croatia enjoys my favorite aspect of European life, cafe culture. There is absolutely nothing better than enjoying a coffee, meal or glass of wine outside, under a big umbrella while talking with friends. Like their Italian neighbors, Croatians aren’t in any hurry when they sit down to chat and a simple espresso can easily turn into an hour long conversation. My best evening under the stars was at small restaurant in Zadar where I enjoyed some ham, cheese and wine with friends as we laughed the night away. There truly is nothing better.

Dubrovnik cafe

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

43 Responses

  1. Katie @ Swoon Divers Travels

    I’ve heard so many great things about Croatia, and these 8 points REALLY make me want to visit much sooner than planned! Cafe culture is the absolute best. It usually takes me an hour to eat a meal anyway, so as long as everyone else at the table is content with sticking around to drink more wine, I can finish my meal without being rushed.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Hey there Katie and thanks! The foodie aspect of the trip was an unexpected highlight to be sure.

      Reply
  2. EMIL

    pag cheese :)))

    Reply
  3. the lazy travelers

    i’m kinda picky about seafood, but decided to give octopus a try in dubrovnik because our host said it was a must. i loooved it. these pictures had me drooling! and also mad i skipped the fritule in split. whamp whaamp.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      You’re braver than I am. No seafood for me 🙂

      Reply
  4. Martin Solly

    Wonderful food indeed, and nice little round up here. But can i throw in the truffles? if you get up to the Istria region they’re everywhere. And without the price tag found in other countries. Had the most gorgeous black truffle pasta in Rovinj. Definitely a great place for a truffle experience.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Great addition. I didn’t include it because 1) I didn’t visit Istria and 2) I don’t like truffles

      Reply
  5. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    OMG!!!!! This all looks way too good!

    Reply
  6. nicole

    Thanks for this. We’re heading to Croatia. We LOVE (LOVE!!!) food. I have a special affinity towards cheese, so….

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Make sure to include places like Zadar, Pag and Split on your travel itinerary

      Reply
  7. Ronan

    Croatia is actually a very nice country to visit (and yes, got to Split) and the food is awesome. I really enjoyed reading your article.

    Reply
  8. Smiljana

    Really nice article Matt, but your title should be more, “Eating in Croatian Coast”, or something like that, cause you clearly neglected mainland cuisine of Croatia, and it looks like they eat only Zagorski strukli.
    Croatian Cuisine is not only influended by Italian culture, but also by Austo-Hungarian, Turkish and Slavic.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well I found many Italian dishes in the mainland as well, and I did talk about chicken and veal. What else would you add to the list?

      Reply
      • Smiljana

        Thanks for your reply… and take is as a constructive critic, nothing personal, ok.

        Simply what you have mentioned is caracteristic for only 3 of 9 regional croatian cuisines.

        Sure you can find italian dishes and for sure also pizza in mainland, but this doesn’t mean that mainland is influenced by italian cuisine, too.
        If you eat a hamburger in Zagreb, would you by any chance write, “croatian cuisine has an american influence”? Clearly no…

        What would I add? Sure meat and game, and various kind of stews, soups (mushroom cream soup), and different kind of homemade “pasta”,… You have mentioned Štrukli, but there are also Žganci,etc. that are not like Italian pasta and have nothing to do with Italian influence.

        Also would be nice to mention few vegetable dishes, with or without meat… like Punjena paprika, Sarma, Djuvec or Sataraš.

        Don’t want to be hypocrit, I am born in the mediterranean part of Croatia, and even if I live now in Germany, I have lived 1/3 of my life in Croatia (Coast Part) and 1/2 in Italy, and have both passports, so anyway this article makes me real joy and I find it really nice..

        But ..Talking about Croatian cuisine and mention only one third of it, wouldn’t be correct.

        Cheers.

      • Matt Long

        No offense taken at all, I was really curious! As a blogger I can only write about what I experience first hand. It’s impossible to try every aspect of every cuisine in the world, so I can only share what I eat in any given place. When I go back I’ll definitely have to take your advice and look for some different kinds of food!

      • Vesna

        Dear Mat,
        It was nice to read your article and to see how much you enjoyed your stay in Croatia. However, I am very much confused with something. When my grandfather caught octopus in Croatian sea and cooked it why is that called Italian food? There are 3 basic ways how to cook it in whole Mediterranean including Italy. Is it because you tasted for the first time that food in Italian restaurant? I suggest next time if it is possible to use term „Mediterranean food style“ instead of „ Italian food in Croatia“ because it does not sound fair.
        Kind regards!
        Vesna

      • Vesna

        p.s. could you please insted of “a robust tradition of Italian cuisine in Croatia?” consider “mediterranean cuisine in south Croatia”? Thank you!

      • Matt Long

        I didn’t mean the octopus, I meant the pasta en brodo from Bologna and the gnocchi 🙂 If you look further down I do call i Med food 🙂

  9. Ljiljana

    Hi Matt,

    I have just discovered your blog and it’s great to read your articles about my country, but on this one let me continue on Smiljana’s note: Croatian cuisine is so much more than just Dalmatian coast with Italian influences.

    Please check all pork, veal and game delicacies from Slavonia reagion (eastern Croatia), especially “kulen” and varieties of ham and also stews, then central and northern Croatia with turkey specialties along with typical local pastry named “mlinci” and another one “žganci” …..

    Each region has great sorts of wine, different sorts and tastes along the region, and also cheese of the region – very hard to say which is better, but they always fit to nature of local cuisine.

    Not to mention sweets ….

    In any case, I hope you’ll have some more opportunities to explore other regions of Croatia as well, and admire it’s culinary specifics in it’s full (and as sea fruits are not “your cup of tea” I’m sure you would get some pounds on chicken, turkey, pork, veal or game specialties in continental Croatia :))

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thank you for the kind words, I appreciate them! As with any blog post, I can only base my posts on what I actually did. This was not meant to cover all of Croatian cuisine, only what I ate. 🙂 And I covered the meats you mentioned on this list already, so we should be good there too. Thanks again! So glad you enjoyed reading the post

      Reply
  10. Roxanne Rockett

    Well now look what you’ve done. Now I HAVE to go to Croatia next year! Seriously, GORGEOUS food photos. Intriguing historical details…this is what travelers are looking for. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Lovre

    Hi!

    Really good article. I must say I enjoyed reading it as a native Croatian/Dalmatian 🙂
    Keep up the goid work and if you would be interested in cooperation – drop me an email!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  12. matija

    Lovely article dude. Don’t worry about missing meals. You can only write about the food you tasted and so far sounds like a good list.

    Reply
  13. Laro Cazarro

    Hello to every one—will go for 10 day’s @zadar want the best food every meal help me out July 13th to July 23 rd 2014 thanks for now laro

    Reply
  14. Terry

    Hello Matt,
    I posted a comment about 10 days about a restaurant ( Veritas ) I ate at in the old walled city of Dubrovnik. Commented about the good food and the great service by Elvis, and I see that it is no longer posted on the site. I was wondering why you removed my post?

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Probably because it either contained a link or seemed otherwise spammy.

      Reply
  15. Bojana

    hey, it’s very nice of you to comment croatian cuisine in such a positive way, but, as mentioned by previous posters, only small part of croatia is coastal with sea and italian predominance.
    Biggest part of Croatia is continental and we actually very rarely eat any kind of seafood.
    By far most food is based on pork (roasted or various sausages), in special occasions lamb, then my three favourite are fish paprikash(made out of river fish), burek (turkish-bosnian influence) and zagreb steak/cutlet with cheese and ham in the middle.
    When it comes to seafood we most often eat squid in various forms which is also delicious.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks but this is a blog as you know, which means it comes only from my personal experiences. I wasn’t trying to do a comprehensive review of Croatian food, merely what I saw

      Reply
  16. SC

    Croatia and Romania keep popping up on my travel list and after reading your Croatia posts, I think I’ll definitely have to pencil it in 🙂

    Reply
  17. Anna

    Thank you Matt, great article!
    I just want to add one more dish (apart those already mentioned in comments before) which seem to skip a lot of tourists. It’s called “peka”. I think the reason why it is skipped is because not all restaurants have it. It’s a dish, if made properly, will blow your mind! It’s basically veal meat with potatoes made in a special dish on a specific kind of “barbecue” and it requires skill to do it. If any of you going to Croatia are willing, try to find a restaurant that serves “peka”. Normally you have to preorder it few hours in advance because it takes around 3 hours to make it, and it’s best served while still hot.

    oh.. and for sugar junkies like myself – slavonian cakes! especially the ones homemade. u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-e!

    Reply
  18. Connie

    Hey Matt, really enjoyed reading the article because I’m travelling ti Ljubljana and Croatia in July with a friend. Am wondering if you could give me more tips on eating and traveling in Dubrovnik and Zadar. Cheers

    Reply
  19. Marcela Perillo

    Hi, Matt!

    I’m heading to Croatia in a few months and this article just left me more excited.
    I loved the Cafe Europe tip. Do you remember the name of other restaurants that you recommend?

    Thank you!

    Cheers.

    Reply
  20. Alex

    Great article! My GF and I will be spending three months there starting in August. We will be living in the region of Istria. Then of course branching out. Did you have a chance to eat in the north? We have been to Crotia before but do you any other tips about traveling around. Would love to here what you have to say.

    Reply
  21. emma

    Hi,your delicious post has been making me salivate in anticipation of my trip to Dubrovnik in 2 weeks. Thanks for all the research, it sounded enjoyable.

    Reply
  22. Julien

    What a nice article. Thanks Matt for the tips on the lowdown about what delicious food we might find in Croatia. We leave next week! Any more tips for us that maybe didn’t make it into the article? So Long Matt…and thanks for leaving all the fish!

    Reply
  23. Chili

    This is a great article. So glad I found it as I just booked my 2 week trip to Croatia! I was thinking the cuisine would be a little weirder than it actually is. Now I’m really looking forward to my trip and eating my way across this gorgeous country. Thanks Matt!!

    Reply
  24. TB Travelor

    Croatian and Slovenian food… absolutely wonderful…. best vacation we ever had. Thank you for your article. If we ate like they do there, we would have no weight problems….

    Reply
  25. Margaret

    Hi Matt: enjoyed your article on Croatian cuisine, leaving today for a river boat cruise along the Dalmation coast. Can you or your audience comment on any vegetarian dishes I should ask about?

    Reply
  26. KS

    Any restaurant recommendations for Dubrovnik, Split or Zadar?

    Reply
  27. Nikolina

    Didn’t anyone mention ‘grah’ to you in Croatia? It’s such a huge part of growing up Croatian! I used to hate it as a kid. Now I crave it almost every day… Grah literally just means beans but we make a delicious soup and/or pottage of it! It’s sooo good, you can add potatoes, meat, vegetables, etc. It’s very hearty! I guess you could say it’s the Balkan version of chicken soup (for the soul, at least it is for me!?).

    Loved this article! I’m really missing my country now…

    Reply
  28. Sharon

    Thanks for the info. About eating in Croatia. Just back from Vienna. Didn’t like the food and always felt rushed at restaurants there. Was going to rule out Croatia because of Austrian influence but now…. Will look at it more closely.

    Reply
  29. Joanne McDaniel

    This is a great reminder that anyone travel abroad should look into the types of foods they will be enjoying when vacationing because many times the choices are delicious! I love how you break this post into 8 distinct (well, 7!) bite types and add beautiful imagery to drive home the point that Croatia has tasty influences from many different cultures. I especially want to remind people that Southern Europe has had a lot of Mediterranean influences (as seen with the olive oil you tasted…and loved). Mediterranean food is not only fresh and flavorful, it is healthy too which makes your vacation food options a little less guilt ridden. But hey, you are on vacation right?! Enjoy what you can, no matter what, and bring back wonderful stories just like these. Thanks again for sharing!

    Reply

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