While the country as a whole boasts food that will leave you wanting to lick your plate, each region has its own unique tastes and traditions. Despite what region you decide to visit, the Croatian food will not leave you disappointed, the only thing to decide is where to begin.
Try a Taste of Italy in Istria
In northern Croatia lies the heart-shaped peninsula of Istria. The region runs down the northwestern coast of Croatia but also includes parts of Italy and Slovenia. Istria has become a booming culinary hotspot recently, leaving many to proclaim Istria to be similar to Venice but at half the price. This region is best known for its wine and olive oil, the latter prized as the best in the world. The rolling hilltops and the endless sun provide the perfect environment to create intense flavor profiles. Because of its proximity to Venice, you will find many Italian influences. Manestra is a popular bean soup, similar to Italian Minestrone. Pasta and gnocchi are also prominent on many menus as well as a plentiful selection of fresh vegetables.
Like most of Croatia, Istria has a rich selection of flavorful seafood. Octopus salad is a favorite among visitors and locals and a delicious showcase of what the area has to offer. The dish is traditionally prepared with fresh octopus, onions, and herbs and will often include potatoes. A dressing of fresh lemon juice or vinegar adds acidity and perfectly balances the flavors of the salad.
It’s hard to visit Istria without discovering truffles. These pungent mushrooms are in appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Harvested only a few months of the year, you can’t leave without tasting this delicacy. Try this treat shaved over fresh Adriatic fish or frozen in a bowl of black truffle ice cream.
If you are visiting in the fall, be sure to catch the Zigante Truffle Days International Gourmet Expo and don’t forget to visit Zigante Tartufi. The expo’s host offers a variety of dishes throughout the year with the rare white truffle featured in the fall.
Enjoy the Bounties of the Sea in Dalmatia
When it comes to great Croatian food, traveling south is the place to go. In the south you will find the Dalmatian region. Dubrovnik is a seaport village located in the Dalmatian region in Southern Croatia. It is one of Croatia’s top tourist stops and once again a great place to find amazing seafood. While you really can’t go wrong with any seafood offering, the Crni Rizot is the dish you can’t leave Croatia without trying. The first thing you will notice about the dish is its bold, black color. Crni Rizot, also known as squid ink risotto is a creamy rice dish consisting of Arborio rice, squid ink, and typically squid or cuttlefish. The squid ink is what gives this tasty entrée its unique appearance.
The strong flavors of the risotto are best balanced with a nice red wine. The Dingac wine offers an excellent pairing and has deep roots in the region. Just be warned, because of the growing conditions, this wine can have a considerably high alcohol content.
At the north end of Dalmatia sits the island of Pag. This island is known for its salty sheep’s head cheese. The sheep of this island graze on rosemary and other herbs showered with salt deposits from the sea, hence the distinct salty flavor. There is such a salty influence on the island, that you will find a taste of it in many of the local foods. Just south of Pag lies the city of Zadar. Visit Lungo Mare for dinner on the Maestral Bay and enjoy what Alfred Hitchcock revered as the most beautiful sunset in the world.
Other coastal Croatian food specialties include:
Pršut i sir: Simply ham and cheese. The pork leg is salt-dried, seasoned, and air-cured for 12-18 months.
Mali Ston oysters: The town of Mali Ston is about an hour north of Dubrovnik, and their oysters are to die for.
Ispod Peke: Translated to “under the bell,” Ispod peke is a method of cooking in which meats and potatoes are slow-cooked under a terracotta lid, typically over coals.
Meats and Traditional Flavors Provide a Hearty Feast Inland
Travel inland, and you will see a shift in Croatian food with recipes including more tastes from Turkey, Austria, and Hungary. The taste of punjene paprike will transport you to Hungary with the bold flavors of this dish. Fresh bell peppers are stuffed with mincemeat and rice and topped with a savory paprika-infused sauce. Sarma is another staple in Croatia. Though resembling traditional cabbage rolls, your nose (and your mouth) will detect a distinct difference — the cabbage is pickled.
Where coastal Croatia is known for its pršut, continental Croatia brings Kulen, a full-flavored sausage packed with intense spices and given a bold red appearance thanks to the generous infusion of paprika.
Visit the capital city of Zagreb, and you will be greeted by numerous outdoor marketplaces, with the most visited being the Dolac. Here you will find an endless selection of fresh local produce, dairy, meats, and bread. Visit with the locals and discover some of the freshest ingredients.
Zagreb is also the best place to try zagrebački odrezak, a veal schnitzel filled with melted cheese and ham. Try it at Pri Zvoncu.
Finish with Dessert
No visit to a new country is complete without sampling the desserts of the region, and Croatia has plenty to offer. Whether you are on the pebble beaches of Istria or dining in Krapina, your sweet tooth will have a cornucopia of options. The fritule is the Croatian version of a doughnut. This doughy treat, found on almost every table in Croatia during Christmas, is not often served at restaurants but can be found at local street stalls.
If you are looking for a decadent dessert, Rožata will delight. A Croatian custard, the dessert is infused with a Dubrovnik rose liqueur, giving it a sweet scent. Although it gets its name from the Dubrovnik region, Rožata is common in many restaurants throughout Croatia.
There is certainly no lack of diversity or flavor in Croatia’s food. Whether you are a seafood lover or enjoy a hearty meal of meat and potatoes, the options are limitless in this beauty by the sea.