Rich and varied, Croatian food is one of the must-try cuisines for those who are planning a trip to the Balkans and during your trip, you’ll find yourself filling your itinerary with famed eateries where you’ll be able to sample the most delicious flavors of the country. But, before your trip, learn about the best Croatian dishes you must try.
Peka is an example of traditional Croatian cuisine you’ll find on most menus, but you do normally need to order it ahead if you know it’s something you’d like to try, as it takes a while to make.
Despite often being considered the best Croatian food, it’s a rather simple dish. Peka is made by cooking meat, vegetables, or seafood with potatoes, spices, salt, and oil beneath a terracotta dome-shaped lid. This is then covered in embers in a fireplace and left for a couple of hours to slowly bake.
The end result is a dish that is incredibly tender and flavorful.
Pašticada is the holy grail of Dalmatian Croatian cooking.
In Dalmatia, this stewed beef dish is prepared with an awesome sauce. You may know it as Dalmatinska pašticada, Dalmatian pot roast, or even just as a beef stew. Whatever you know, it as it requires long and meticulous preparation. It consists of slow-cooked meat, which is previously stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot, and some bacon for extra flavor.
The meat is salted and marinated in vinegar overnight, and it’s then roasted and cooked in a rich red sauce for 4 to 6 hours. The traditional Dalmatian pašticada is served with gnocchi or homemade pasta. An excellent Croatian wine to go with this is plavac mali.
No self-respecting guide on traditional Croatian food can ever be complete without brudet, the classic fish stew that’s considered by many to be a Croatian national dish.
Brudet refers to a traditional Croatian fish stew popular in the regions of Dalmatia, Istria, and Kvarner. Similar to the Italian brodetto or Greek bourdeto, it can be made with a variety of seafood and is considered a classic dish in Croatian cuisine.
Recipes for brudet vary but it’s typically made with at least three different types of fish that are cut into large chunks and left on the bone. Commonly used fish include forkbeard, conger, and monkfish in the traditional original brudet, though any type of white fish can be used.
4. Black Risotto
This might look like a creation from outer space, but believe it or not, black risotto is a really popular Croatian food – and it’s absolutely delicious. Its local name is “crni rizot”, and it’s a regular feature on menus in restaurants along Croatia’s vast coastline.
Listed on nearly every Dalmatian menu, ‘black risotto’ is far more tasty than it sounds – or looks. Squid ink provides the distinctive colouring and satisfying flavour, squid and other seafood the meaty ingredients.
Beware though – this Croatian dish makes your tongue and teeth stain slightly black! Maybe not one to try on a first date.
If you’re like most people and love pizza, then you’ll surely enjoy soparnik, a traditional pie-like Croatian dish hailing from the Pojica area in southern Dalmatia. People in the region believe that soparnik was brought to Italy by the Romans and served as the inspiration for pizza.
Soparnik is made with a filling of Swiss chard, spring onions, parsley, salt, and olive oil sandwiched between two sheets of thinly rolled dough. The upper layer is pricked several times with a fork to release steam before the pie is baked on an open hearth called a komin.
In 2016, the European Commission listed soparnik as a non-material, national heritage dish of Croatia and gave it geographical protection status (GPI). What that means is that only versions made with ingredients from the Poljica area and following a specific recipe can be called soparnik.
This thick and hearty stew from Istria is the Croatian take on Italian minestrone. It exists in many variations though it’s typically made with dried meat, beans, and corn seasoned with bay leaves, black pepper, parsley, and olive oil.
When made with just vegetables like carrots, onions, celery, and tomatoes, maneštra is typically served as a starter. But when it contains more substantial ingredients like meat, it can be enjoyed as a main course with a side of crusty Croatian bread.
The Croatian region of Istria is known for its pasta. Pljukanci, ravioli, lazanje, and pasutice are among the most common though the best known is fuži.
Fuži refers to a type of traditional Istrian pasta shaped like a tube. It’s made with thin, diamond-shaped sheets of pasta dough that are folded and pinched together to resemble small flutes or spindles. The name fuži is derived from fusus, which is Latin for “spindle”.
Fuži are served with many Croatian dishes. It’s often paired with a mild red veal sauce or chicken goulash though it can be served with any type of sauce or Croatian stew. Both are delicacies of the Istrian region.
8. Zagorski Štrukli
No self-respecting Croatian food guide can ever be complete without mentioning Zagorski štrukli, a traditional pastry dish that people widely consume in the Zagreb and Hrvatsko Zagorje regions of northern Croatia. It’s a simple dish that can be salty or sweet and enjoyed as an appetizer, snack, main dish, or dessert.
Zagorski štrukli (or Zagorje štrukli) is made with a dough that’s rolled out thinly and filled with cottage cheese, butter, eggs, and sour cream. When made as a dessert, sugar is added. The stuffed dough is then rolled and cut into rectangles before being baked or boiled in salted water. When baked, štrukli is typically poured over with cream while boiled versions are often sprinkled with breadcrumbs and served in Croatian soups.
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