No matter where you travel to, food is always an important part of the culture. Learning about the types of food, how it’s made, and the meals eaten throughout the day adds an even deeper appreciation of the culinary customs in the country. From chatting with locals to learning from experience to taking an actual Croatian cooking class, I discovered a lot about Croatian culinary traditions. Bookmark this page so you can brush up before your next trip to Croatia!
To start the day, most Croatians will have bread or a pastry warm from the local bakery (pekara) along with a cup of coffee and maybe a glass of rakija. This strong “cure-all potion” is produced from grapes or sometimes other fruits like plum or pear and comes in a variety of flavors. Aside from drinking for pleasure, it is also used to cure an upset stomach, disinfect wounds, and destroy viruses.
There are so many delicious options when you enter the bakery, with everything from the classic croissant to one of my favorites, Burek, which can be made in a variety of different ways. Those who are fans of the larger Western-style breakfasts may not be keen on starting off the day with this small meal, but I am not one for big breakfasts so Croatian style is perfect for me!
Lunch is typically the larger and more important meal in Croatia, and dinner usually involves a thin pizza or shared starters eaten later at night. Especially along the coast, you’ll find all kinds of fish dishes being served, most commonly grilled. During the cooking class my family and I attended, we got to see the process from start to finish before the meal was brought to the table.
Croatians also love their bread. The dough is placed right onto the hot stones and is covered to bake. The end result was a steaming, glorious loaf.
Risottos are another very popular dish, due largely to the country’s close proximity to Italy. If you want some risotto with a Croatian twist you can try the black cuttlefish risotto, the black part being squid ink. Pašticada is also common, which is a beef stew traditionally served with homemade potato gnocchi.
You must try the pršut at some point if you spend any time in Croatia. It is commonly served as a snack in between meals or on a platter with cheese and olives. It is a type of dry-cured ham, and I am not a big fan of it at home in the US but I loved it in Croatia! I guess it must have something to do with bura, a cold wind from the Adriatic that passes by when the meat is hanging out to dry and helps create its distinct flavor.
One of the most distinct methods of Croatian cooking is peka, an “under the dome” cooking style. Peka is a traditional way of preparing food that involves cooking a blend of vegetables and potatoes with meat or fish in a pot or tray and covering it with a dome shaped lid that is then heated with the embers from the fire.
Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with just the right amount of herbs, this juicy and flavorful dish will leave you happy and satisfied. Many Croatian families, especially those that live in the countryside, will have a similar wood-burning oven outdoors used for cooking mouthwatering meals like these. If you are heading to a restaurant that serves peka, be sure to call at least a few hours in advance so they have time to prepare the meal.
I hope you saved room for dessert, because you’re not done eating yet! Croatians definitely have a sweet tooth. Desserts offered in restaurants typically involve ice cream, cakes, and pancakes. However, I’d suggest heading to the nearest cafe or ice cream shop for your choice of dessert.
Also be sure to keep an eye out for fritule. These bite sized balls of fried dough resemble mini doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar, and are sometimes with other toppings. Nutella anyone?! Fritule is a classic, but beware – they are highly addictive!
Finally, don’t think I forgot about the alcohol! The two most popular local beers (pivos) are Karlovacko or Ozujsko, your standard light lager.
If you’re looking for a light, refreshing drink on a hot day, opt for a Radler instead. This is basically a beer mixed with other sorts of citrus flavored sparkling drinks that is typically only around 2% alcohol. Radlers have become increasingly popular in Croatia lately, especially during those hot summer beach days!
Of course, there are also the Croatian wines. Winemaking has been a part of Croatia for centuries, and as of recently the quality of these wines has steadily been on the rise. If you are traveling through Zagreb, stop by Vinoteka Bornstien to enjoy a glass of your choice!
Keep in mind that traditional dishes vary by region and I spent most of my time in the Dalmatian region, so you may see more variety when visiting other parts of Croatia. No matter where you are, always take the time to dive into the food culture and most importantly, try the local cuisine. Živjeli!