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Eat Like a Real Croatian – 27 Traditional Dishes to Try on Your Next Visit

Dubrovnik, Croatia

by Ana Cerovski

Croatia is a small Central European and Mediterranean country known for its interesting historical and cultural heritage, the beauty of more than 1000 islands, and breathtaking views. But besides that, Croatia offers an amazing mix of flavors, aromas, and nuances.

Croatian gastronomy has been influenced through history by many countries, civilizations, and cultures. And what makes it so special and unique is the fact that every region of the country has its own culinary tradition, a unique blend of ingredients, and a beautiful combination of interesting aromas. Such an amazing diversity certainly offers a unique tourist offer – so in order for you to really meet Croatia, you need to enjoy its flavors with all your senses and that includes your palate and tastes buds. Due to that, we’re going to travel through every part of Croatia, talk about its culinary tradition, trademark flavors and aromas, and must-try recipes and dishes. Let’s start this gastronomy adventure!

Continental Parts

Continental parts of Croatia include main regions such as Slavonia, Baranja, Međimurje, Zagorje, and Prigorje, along with all those small sub-regions. The traditional cuisine of continental Croatia has been influenced mostly by Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish cuisines. People of these regions prepare more nutritious dishes with the usage of all kinds of meat, various types of vegetables, fruits, cereals, eggs, and dairy products.

If we look at the climate factors, these parts of Croatia have long and cold winters and due to that, people prepare more concrete dishes based on fat, meat, spicy herbs and ingredients, and sour vegetables. Also, and thanks to the mentioned influences, these regions love to prepare stews, goulash, and paprikash. Now, what are some of the trademark dishes of Croatian continental parts?

Blood Sausages

These sausages are a true specialty! They are made of pork blood and entrails, and they have a characteristic black coloring and distinctive fragrance. Blood sausages are served in the combination of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. They are spicy and they certainly do have really unique flavors and aromas which are a bit hard to describe but all you need to know is that your senses will be seduced within a few seconds!

Čvarci

Čvarci or pork rinds present small salty pieces of fried pig skin. Thanks to their crispiness, saltiness, and tastiness, they are served with every type of dried sausages, and they beautifully contribute to those classic and traditional flavors. Besides, čvarci are great with bacon, as a snack, or as a great appetizer served with local cheese!

Kulen

This delicacy is a great match for all of you who love to give a bit of spicy nuances to your palate and taste buds. Kulen is a Croatian autochthon cured meat product with really specific flavors and spicy touches. It is great when served with local cheese and homemade bread. Slavonian kulen is considered to be the most prestigious and esteemed product and due to that – you simply must indulge in its spicy flavors!

Sarma

Sarma is an old and traditional dish that is simple to make and amazing to taste! Sarma presents sauerkraut filled with minced meat, bacon, rice, onion, garlic, herbs, and seasonings, everything is nicely rolled, wrapped, and cooked. The final flavors create a beautiful harmony of ingredients with an outstanding combination of aromas. Simply delicious!

Mlinci / Photo by Ana Cerovski

Mlinci

When it comes to the unique pasta of Croatian continental parts, that we need to talk about mlinci. Mlinci are actually something between pasta and flatbread. First, they are baked and have characteristic burnt-out bubbles, and then, they are cooked and served with roasted meat. Quite an amazing side dish that perfectly contributes to the flavors of the meat!

Štrukli

Okay, this dish is a simply must-try, must-indulge. Štrukli present a pulled-out dough with sweet or savory fillings. They can be cooked or baked, as well as filled with cheese, cabbage, turnip, poppy seeds, pumpkin, cherries, apples, and more. Štrukli can also be prepared and served in a soup – their delicious filling made from cheese, sour cream, and eggs are simply amazing with homemade nuances of the dough and simply made soup.

Čobanac

This is a delicious stew and when it comes to its preparation, there is one basic recipe that is then altered and adjusted to the preferences of specific regions, households, and chefs. But to put it simply, čobanac presents a stew made with a few different types of meat, a lot of onions, pepperoni, pepper, vegetables, bay leaf, wine, and more. All the ingredients work amazing together and they certainly bring those spicy nuances to your palate!

Zlevanka

Zlevanka, also known as bazlamača, razljevuša, and kuruznjača is a simple dish made of cornflour, sugar, milk, sour cream, and yogurt. It can be prepared to be sweet or salty, as well as filled with walnuts, carob, and poppy seeds, or coated with finely chopped walnuts. There are many variations of this dish so you can choose according to your preferences and wishes! I would recommend the classic recipe – traditional baked zlevanka coated with sweet cream. Yummy!

Istria & Kvarner

These regions are known for their interesting cuisine rich in flavors and nuances which delights even the most demanding gourmets. The cuisine has been influenced by a few cultures in the past and they left quite unique traces which can be found only in these regions. If we look closely at some of their specialties, we can see the influences of Romanesque peoples, Germany, Italy, and Slavic ancestors.

Istria and Kvarner have various delicious recipes for fish and seafood dishes, meat products such as prosciutto, homemade cheese, pasta, truffles, and more. All those food and ingredients are high-quality, and they are used to create some of the most delicious dishes – and thanks to that, Istria is known as a place perfect for foodies. But let’s talk specifics!

Pasta

When it comes to Istria, this region is known for its autochthonous pasta – pasutice, pljukanci, fuži, lazanje, gnocchi, ravijoli, and fidelini are just a few types of Istrian pasta which can be found in almost every restaurant there. Chefs combine pasta with interesting sauces, meat dishes, seafood, and truffles, and create amazing dishes rich in flavors!

Ombolo

Ombolo is a specialty that presents meat rubbed with paper, salt, and bay leaf, and left to dry for about 3 weeks. Ombolo can be served as a cold cut, it can be grilled or sautéed, and served with sauerkraut or in some other innovative and modern way. This meat is an Istrian trademark dish, and its unique flavors will certainly satisfy your taste buds.

Maneštra

This stew is an Istrian classic. It is made with various vegetables such as potatoes, beans, carrots, corn, and more. The recipe varies from one restaurant to the other, some make maneštra only with vegetables, while the others add meat too. Whichever version you try, you’ll enjoy its delicious nuances and interesting combination of ingredients.

Istrian Soup

Okay, this is a tricky one – the Istrian soup is not actually a soup. It presents a bowl called bukaleta. It contains wine mixed with sugar and olive oil. Then, homemade bread is grilled and while it is hot, it is dipped in the wine. This is a traditional dish served at Istrian festivities and it presents an excellent beginning to every gastronomy adventure!

Okay, this is a tricky one – the Istrian soup is not actually a soup. It presents a bowl called bukaleta. It contains wine mixed with sugar and olive oil. Then, homemade bread is grilled and while it is hot, it is dipped in the wine. This is a traditional dish served at Istrian festivities and it presents an excellent beginning to every gastronomy adventure!

Truffles

Truffles are surely one of the most prestigious mushrooms on the Croatian gastronomy scene and Istria is enriched with them. Truffles come with really unique flavors and strong scents, and due to their uniqueness, they can be combined and used in many modern and innovative dishes, they can even be prepared with desserts. Truffles give those specific nuances to every ingredient and dish, and due to that, they truly are an Istrian delicacy.

Lamb

Lamb, whether cooked, roasted, or prepared under peka, is a true specialty in Croatia, and no celebration or gathering is complete without sampling this tender and juicy meat. While cooking or baking lamb is a common method of preparing this meat, in Croatia, the most popular, traditional, and delectable lamb preparation is under peka. Peka is a bell-shaped iron or ceramic cup that is coated with coal and is used to cover a plate of lamb and potatoes and vegetables in order to cook them to perfection. This dish is really delectable!

Boškarin

Boškarin presets top-quality meat served only in exclusive restaurants. The meat hides amazing flavors and if prepared right, it offers unique aromas which will surely seduce all your senses. Boškarin is usually served with Istrian pasta fuži or gnocchi, and it is great in combination with a nice palette of carefully chosen vegetables. Quite interesting final flavors!

Pag Cheese

This protected cultural heritage is made of goat milk and it hides nice spicy aromas. Pag cheese is one of the most reputed cheeses in Croatia and its unique, savory flavors, crumby texture, and salty nuances are simply beautiful in the combination with olive oil, fruity jams, prosciutto, anchovies, or grapes.

Dalmatian Coast & Islands

The southern parts of Croatia are known for their simple, but oh, so delicious Mediterranean diet. These parts were mostly influenced by Greek, French, and Italian cuisines. Dalmatian cuisine is characterized by the usage of accessible and everyday ingredients such as fish, vegetables, wild herbs, and olive oil. These are some of the basic ingredients which are used in order to create delicious and nutritious dishes.

Dalmatian cuisine is simple and light, and it is based on old and traditional recipes. But due to these modern times, chefs certainly put interesting and innovative twists on those classic Dalmatian dishes and create new and modern recipes with a touch of beautiful and traditional heritage. So, let’s dive in and see what flavors await you there!

Risotto Photo by Ana Cerovski

Risotto

Risotto is surely one of the most classic dishes on the Croatian coast and it is usually prepared in two ways – white risotto combines creamy rice with prawns, shrimps, or shells, while black risotto is made with cuttlefish which gives the rice that unique black coloring. Both versions of this dish offer quite delicious flavors and they will certainly bring you those tasty aromas from the sea depths.

Grilled Fish – Photo by Clint Bustrillos on Unsplash

Grilled Fish

This dish can be found in every restaurant, tavern, and household – that’s how traditional it is! Almost every type of fish can be prepared na gradele – from sea bream, groupers, and tuna to mackerel, sardine, and saithe. Grilled fish offers amazing flavors in the combination with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and lemon, while its crispy skin and juicy, soft meat will give your palate a true ecstasy of rich flavors!

Buzara

Buzara is a unique technique for preparing seafood. It presents the cooking of shrimps, lobsters, mussels, prawns, clams, and other seafood in the mixture of wine, olive oil, parsley, and garlic. Buzara requires just a couple of ingredients in order to emphasize the flavors and aromas of the seafood, so it brings to you the best nuances of the sea depths.

Brudet

This delicious fish stew combines a couple of different fishes, usually the monkfish, groups, and eel, but it can also be made with other fishes such as tuna and sea bream, as well as mussels and different shells. Brudet combines fish and seafood with garlic, parsley, and olive oil, and it creates an amazing harmony of flavors. Nutritious and delicious – what more to ask for!

Oysters – Photo by Sylvie Mazerolle on Unsplash

Oysters

Oysters are quite known in the gastronomy world and you either love them or hate them, there is no in-between. Oysters are served raw – in some taverns on the Dalmatian coast, they are taken out of the sea right in front of you and served that instant with just a touch of lemon, garlic, and olive oil. And that’s it! I know that this dish may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it truly is a delicacy that is worth trying!

Komiška Pogača

Komiška pogača (Komiža’s bread) is one of the trademark dishes of the island of Vis. It presents a delicious homemade bread filled with classic Mediterranean ingredients – salted anchovies, tomato sauce, oregano, parsley, onion, olives, and olive oil. All the ingredients are nicely combined, and they create an outstanding palette of Mediterranean flavors and aromas!

Octopus Salad

Excellent cold appetizer or a refreshing main dish – octopus salad is a perfect dish for these hot summer months. Salad harmonizes the flavors of octopus, potatoes, garlic, parsley, and olive oil. All the ingredients work amazing together in bringing you delicious nuances, perfect texture, and unique aromas which will truly be hard to forget.

Rožata

This is a simple dessert with a beautiful palette of flavors. Rožata presents a traditional Dalmatian pudding with vanilla flavoring in combination with orange peel and brandy, while its sugary caramel topping brings together all the aromas. Rožata is served cold, and it surely is that perfect summer dessert.

And these are the trademark dishes of the main Croatian regions! The dishes are traditional, delicious, and must-try – their flavors and aromas will bring you the best nuances of the Croatian beautiful culinary heritage.

Of course, there are many more dishes and interesting food combinations, but those are for you to discover – just be brave and give your palate and taste buds a true palette of new flavors, amazing aromas, and beautiful nuances. Enjoy every bite!

Courtesy of Croatian gastronomy KitchenToast

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