An important experience in Croatia is food and wine – this you must enjoy
In Croatia, food and wine are passion. The Croatian cuisine is diverse and known as a cuisine of different regions. The continental cuisine is typical for its early proto-Slavic roots and more recent contacts with established schools of gastronomy – Hungarian, Viennese, and Turkish. Meat products, freshwater fish and vegetables dominate.
The coastal region is characterized by the influences of the Greeks, Romans, Illyrians and later Mediterranean cuisines – Italian and French. It features many seafood specialties prepared in various ways, olive oil, prosciutto, various vegetables, Dalmatian wines such as Babić, Malvasia, Prosecco and Vrbnik Žlahtina, and various liqueurs like the famous Maraschino.
In this guide I will write about food and wine from different places in Croatia.
Dalmatia: Hvar and Vis Islands – The Capitals of Food and Wine
Hvar and Vis are often called the capitals of gastronomic in Dalmatia. Every year the diligent hands of the islands’ winemakers produce several thousand hectolitres of premium wine from hundreds of vineyards where the tastiest grapes ripen under the Mediterranean sun. Each of the vineyards can be seen if you take a wine road, which will lead you to the sunniest corners of these two islands.
Along with the wines, these islands are the origins of gourmet specialties. Many meat and fish dishes are flavoured with olive oil, and they represent the secret of health of the islanders. Visit their taverns where they will show you their culinary art, in which the simplest of ingredients can create masterpieces.
Dalmatia – Dubrovnik
Try the Ston oysters and mussels here, which are considered to be some of the tastiest and finest shell fish in the Adriatic. Asides from lamb and veal cooked in embers under an iron bell, this region’s gastronomic chapter consists of eel and frog stew from the Neretva valley. Maybe more than anywhere else on the coast, the Dubrovnik region offers special sweet pastries where the most famous are Rožata and Kotonjata as well as the Mantalata and Arancina cakes. All this should be accompanied with top quality wines such as Dingač and Postup from Pelješac, Pošip and Grk from Korčula, as well as Dubrovnik’s malvasia from Konavle.
Dalmatia – Split
In Split, try the famous “dalmatinska pašticada” (Dalmatian stew), a meat dish that takes two days to prepare. If you want some more simple tastes then there are the aromatic Viška, Forska and Komiška “pogaca”, savoury cakes which go wonderfully with a glass of wine from Vugava and Plančić from the island of Hvar. If you need extra invigoration then drink a glass of Brač or Hvar “smutice” – red wine that is mixed either with sheep or goats milk. In the regions of Cetina and Sinj, asides from the stew made out of river crabs, there are the famous “luganige” sausages as well as “arambašić” from Sinj – small cabbage rolls filled with mutton.
Dalmatia – Sibenik
Start with a morsel of cheese ripened in a lamb sack and Drniš prosciutto washed down with a glass of red wine from Primosten’s Babić. For the main dish, asides from a rich fish menu that ranges from small sardines to slices of fresh tuna on the grill, you should not miss out on the so-called “Skradinski Kumbasice” [Skradin sausages] and the famous “Soparnik”. Made from a simple pastry filled with a mixture of olives, figs and olive oil, the cooked and rolled Soparnik is served and eaten cold. For pudding asides from dry figs, jujube and cakes made from almonds, you can try some cake from Skradin.
Dalmatia – Zadar
For an aperitif, try a glass of the famous Maraschino, a desert liqueur made from the Maraska cherries. Follow this with some Pag cheese, which is the most highly prized cheese in Croatia made from the small sheep who eat the aromatic Mediterranean plants on the island of Pag. For the main dish, order “brodet” [stew] that is cooked in a thousand different ways and is made from a number of different types of fish mixed with crabs and sometimes shell fish or even fish on the grill salted with Pag and Nin salt. There is also the “Ninski šokol” made from a specially made dried part of the pork neck that is soaked in red wine.
In Istrian the order is as follows: first an aperitif of mistletoe, rue or honey schnapps, followed by cheese and prosciutto accompanied with Istrian soup, and during the spring scrambled egg made from asparagus. In terms of the main dish, you can choose from either continental or seafood dishes. If you are tempted for a taste of the Mediterranean then you can eat fish, crabs and shellfish cooked in a thousand different ways. If you prefer continental food then start with a spoon of minestrone with broad beans, then eat some pasta with truffles, sauce of game or even ordinary goulash all the way to pork loin and sausages. For desert, try the kroštule, krafi or fritule pastries.
The key gastro words of Kvarner are Vrbnička Žlahtina, Trojšćina, Kvarner scampi, lamb, “šurlice”, chestnuts and Rab cake. Vrbnička Žlahtina is a famous white wine from Vrbnik, as is Trojšćina from the island of Susak. The scampi from Kvarner are the largest and the best in the Adriatic, whilst lamb with sheep cheese is the most famous gastro product in Kvarner.’Surlice’ from the island of Krk is pasta and is eaten with all types of goulash or seafood. There are also the Lovran chestnuts and filigree Rab cake.
Lika – Karlovac
The most famous gastro item of this region is the Lika potato, which has a Protected Geographical Indication (PDI). If you want to try a proper Lika menu start with an aperitif of plum or pear schnapps or perhaps a berry liqueur, then have some škripavac cheese and slices of dried game and then go for the main dish – traditional Lika baked potatoes with lamb cooked under the embers in an iron bell. There is also the highly valued Velebit honey, and for pudding you should simply eat some of the tasty fruits of the forest of blueberries and raspberries.
The Slavonian dining table groans most of all with tasty ham, Kulen sausage and Kulen’s sis sausage whilst in the typical Slavonian pot there is “grah čobanac [shepherd’s bean stew] and “fiš paprikas” [fish stew with hot red pepper] that is washed down with the not to be missed glass of plum schnapps. There are many good quality wines on offer here such as Ilok’s Traminac, Kutjevo’s Riesling as well as Graševina. In terms of sweets, there are “saljenaci” made in a traditional way from pork fat, different types of pastries filled with apples or walnuts or one cake with a very unique name “Poderane gaće“ [ripped underpants], whose funny name is in total contrast with its fine taste.
In Zagreb you can taste an unusual blend of the Mediterranean and continental tradition. Hundreds of restaurants, wineries and beer halls offer specialties that have been passed on for generations.
It is best to start exploring the tastes of Zagreb at one of many markets, which form a constituent part of the Zagreb culture of life. Visit the central city market Dolac, the so-called “belly of Zagreb”, and you will be thrilled by the colours and the smells, but first and foremost, by the liveliness and positive atmosphere. After walking through the market you can treat yourself to a must-try cup of coffee at rush hour, and then try a Zagreb steak, and for dessert have some štrukle or one of the most famous of the city’s souvenirs, gingerbread. Then raise a toast with a draught beer, produced in one of Zagreb’s breweries, or a premium white wine made from the grapes grown on the slopes of Medvednica.
Start with cow’s cheese and cream, then have some traditional Podravina cheese called Prge together with a slice of Samobor salami and spicy Samobor mustard. Then for your main dish eat a plate of turkey and pasta tatters. In Zagorje, try “hajdina kaša” [buckwheat mash], “kukurznu zlevku” [corn cake], “vrbovečka pera” [cheese pastry] and “Varaždinske klipići” [Varaždin rolls]. The most famous sweet of this region is without a doubt the Samobor kremšnita [custard cake] that goes very well with the Samobor bermet liqueur whilst the Graševina and white Pinot wines are very good.
I hope you enjoyed my food and wine guide for Croatia. When in Croatia, be sure to enjoy all the good food and wine this beautiful country offers.