Croatia is one of the most popular destinations in the world for multi activity family holidays in Europe and today I am going to write about one of the most important things on any vacation, the food.
When you explore a new country it’s not just the culture and history that you explore, food is also one of the most important things on the a tourists check-list.
We also appreciate when you are feeding a family of ravenous teenagers you have to make sure everyone is happy. This is no mean feat, especially when typically you also need to account for allergies, intolerances and dietry preferences.
So in this article we are going to do our best to give you a feel for typical Croatia cuisine, then I’ll be recommending some great places to eat out and advise on places in case of special dietary requirements.
How would you describe Croatia food?
So, how to describe food in Croatia? Well, that is actually quite difficult because Croatia is a very diverse country. Over the centuries the territory of Croatia has been ruled by different nations and because of that, there has been a variety of influences to Croatian cuisine.
Different areas of the country were influenced by different nations (Italian, Austrian, Hungarian or Turkish) and because of that, it is very difficult to describe the general food in Croatia.
Although the influence of other countries was quite big, that doesn´t mean that Croatia doesn’t have something original, something to be proud of. There are several different regions in Croatia and in this blog, I will share with you some of the best-kept food traditional secrets from each region.
What is Dalmatian cusine?
The Dalmatia region, found in the southeast of the country is an area best know for family adventure holidays and the origins of the black dotted Dalmatian dog. Dalmatia is blessed with 100s of dotted islands, turquise coloured coastline, deep green canyons and famous waterfalls. With the Adriatic Sea, allowing for an enormous source of fresh fish and the world acclaimed olive tree fields, Dalmatia is heavily influended by Mediterranean style cooking. Some of the best dishes to order in Dalmatia are black risotto and gnocchi.
In fact, Pasticada with gnocchi is probably the most famous dish in Dalmatia. Influenced by Italy with gnocchi as a side dish, this is truly something special. The Baby beef is marinated for days in vinegar and red wine and then the meat is cooked for hours in red wine, acetto and different herbs. Due to its long preparation, this dish is hard to find in restaurants. If you want to try it, the best thing would be to speak to your local tour leader and they can help you order it a few days in advance.
Does Croatia have its own vegetarian dishes?
Manestra is something like bean soup, prepared slowly for hours on a low fire with different ingredients. This is a highly recommended vegetarian meal, for guests wanting to sample authentic Croatian food. From prosciutto, parsley, pancetta, garlic and many others. There are many versions of Manestra and no matter which one you try you won´t regret it. Some of the best Manestra will be found in Istria.
Soparnik is a vegetarian dish of delight and something that we can call our own in Dalmatia. Prepared between the area of Split and Omiš, this dish is known as a Croatian pizza. In the old days, it was a dish that poor people prepared with ingrediants that they had. It’s a kind of savoury pie filled with Swiss chard and baked on an open fireplace, after it’s finished you cover it with garlic and olive oil and then its cut in rhombus shapes and served. Prepared like this it can be called Soparnik because this is one of the dishes protected on a national level and EU level. Some traditional restaurants in Split will serve this dish, but the best place in Dalmatia to sample Soparnik is in a village close to the Cetina canyon. After our canyoning day tours, we ask our guests if they would like to try this dish. It’s always a winner for our active families.
Istria is Croatia’s most northerly region, well known for its food traditions and truffles. In fact, it’s the only place in Croatia where you can find them. There are a lot of dishes that include truffles in Istria and you don’t have to worry when you order them in a restaurant, because they won’t be anything nearly as expensive as they can be in other European countries.
Lika is one of the least inhabited areas of Croatia, a beautifu area close to the Plitvice lakes national park. With very cold winters and mild summer temperatures this region is very famous for stews and ‘heavy’ food in general. Lika is also very famous for potatoes, one of the best quality potatoes in Europe come from here. The ‘Lika Potato’ is protected on a national level and also EU level. We would highly recommend any guest, not just vegetarians to try the Lika Potatoe soups. In Omis after our white water rafting tour the restaurant by the river side serves a very good Lika soup.
What are the traditional fish dishes to try in Croatia?
Gregada is a fish dish prepared mostly on Hvar island. In other parts of Dalmatia it is called Brujet. Every family in Dalmatia has their own recipe for Gregada and Brujet and every family will say that their own recipe is the best. Cooked with several different types of fish in white wine and many other ingredients this dish will be one of the many reasons that you will fall in love with Croatia.
If you are mad about Oysters the most famous oysters come from the bay of Ston, an area close to Dubrovnik, and over there you will try the best shellfish in Croatia. Ston has an impressive walled fortification, which is the second longest in the world after the Great Wall of China. Take our day tour to discover Dubrovnik and we can possibly stop in Ston on-route.
Oily fish is one of the most famous starters in Dalmatia and Istria. Anchovies, mackerels, sardines are marinated or salted and served simply with very good quality cheese.
Fiš paprikaš is a fish stew that is prepared with different types of fish. For good fiš paprikaš, you will need fresh fish, especially big fat carp and pike (they give a strong flavour) and of course other ingredients; onions, sweet paprika, homemade tomato juice etc. This stew is always served extra hot so just make sure to prepare also a nice glass of wine to cool you down. Paprikaš is one of the most famous dishes in Slavonia and something that this region is very famous for.
Black risotto prepared with squid, rice, squid ink and many other seasonal herbs that give that special flavour. It sounds a bit scary but it is so delicious and even the most guarded teenager will admit it is simply delicious!
What is a traditional Croatian style dessert ?
We know the British like custard, so you must try Rožata. A traditional Croatian custard pudding from the Dubrovnik region, similar to flan and crème brûlée. Its name comes from rozalin (rose liqueur), which gives the dessert its unique flavor and aroma. For any desert lover this is a must try.
Štrukli is a type of a pastry, filled with sour cream and cheese. You can bake them in the oven or boil in hot water. They are delicious in either way, and this is the traditional way of preparing but there are also modern variations with blueberries, truffles and many other ingredients. After all, I am writing about traditional food so my advice, go traditional and you won’t regret.
Cheese cheese glorious cheese
Paški sir is a cheese from the Island of Pag, made from the sheep milk. This is the most famous cheese in Croatia and by the opinion of many people one of the best in Croatia but possibly also in Europe. Please do try it and see what you think! Its popular with fish.
Is there a recommended pasta dish in Croatia?
Istarski fuzi is the most famous pasta in Croatia and although pasta is Italian this type of pasta was first made here. Fuzi is a quill-shaped homemade pasta that is usually served with some sort of a stew: beef, chicken, truffle or some vegetable sauce. Its really nice!
What is an authentic Croatian meat dish to order?
Lamb under the bell is a very popular dish in Croatia. Originating from the Lika region, where people have their own farms and sheep cattle. Peka is prepared with potatoes and different vegetables and different meat. In Lika it’s lamb, but Peka can also be chicken, baby beef and veal. The meat is cooked in a pot, in the fire place and covered by a giant iron bell. The bell is then covered with ember and left to slowly bake for an hour and a half. It’s really a delicious dish that we highly recommend. During our Croatia family activity holiday in Podstranayou will have chance to experince this fabulous dish.
Čobanac is a typical Slavonian dish that is prepared with several different types of meat (beef, pork and quite often venison or boar). This meat stew is impossible to make without the most famous ingredient in Slavonia and that is paprika. Mixed with herbs, seasoning and vegetables it’s cooked for hours in a cauldron over an open fire. This is the traditional way and the most famous way how it is prepared. Again a popular option for families. If you see a restaurant offering Čobanac definitely give it a go.
Turkey with mlinci is another very Croatian dish to try. The turkey is salted inside and out, covered in herbs and left for overnight. Then it is baked in the oven and served with mlinci. Mlinci is a dish that is very typical for Central Croatia, but also found in parts of Slovenia, where it is served with poulty.
The best way how to describe mlinci would be; a thin flatbread made out of dough. Extremely delicious and something you have to try if you visit Zagreb and surrounding areas.
Potato halves are a very popular dish in Lika, a potato is split in half and wrapped with bacon and then baked in the oven or on an open fireplace under the lid. Simple but very tasty. During Zagreb’s winter celebrations, you’ll be able to try potato halves at the Christmas market stalls.
What is Croatia’s best kept food secret?
Slavonia is one of Croatia’s best kept secrets for sure. For Slavonia, we can say that this is the food maker of Croatia. A lot of fields covered with corn and wheat and also hosts lots of wineries. Slavonia is a part of Croatia that is not often in the travel guides, tourist itineraries or a place where even the locals go. But for those who come here, Slavonia is a foodie treat. Some of the most famous dishes here are influenced by Hungary, so flavours tend to be big and spicier.
One of the most famous is Kulen, a type of flavoured sausage made of minced pork and spiced with paprika. Slavonski Kulen is protected on a national level and also on EU level. During our teenager activity holiday, we try to introduce this dish to the kids as they love it.
GMO free food. Organic food matters to Croatia.
More good news for those considering an active family holiday in Croatia is that Croatia is 100% GMO free. GMO food in Croatia is forbidden so everything you eat it will be fresh and mostly locally produced.
A lot of tavernas have their own gardens and they serve most of their own grown food. Since we are an local agency that is dedicated to sustainable tourism, we do encourage people to eat local, fresh and to explore the entire process of food preparation in the country.
We can organise trips to family farms, where the farmer will show you the processes of production and their ingredients. Of course the day is ended with good food and wine.
Croatian dishes to try on holiday
I hope we have inspired you to try our Croatian national dishes. These are just some of the many famous dishes that are prepared in our home country. Food and great hospitality is just one reason of many to visit us. See you soon.