Croatia has for centuries been an intersection of different cultures and influence of culinary heritage from all over the world has left its mark on gastronomy.
Situated at the southeast of Europe, Croatia shares its Adriatic sea border with Italy, its north border with Slovenia and Hungary, east with Serbia and with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Diversity of its 56 610 km2 size territory includes rich plains and fields, picturesque hills and amazing mountains and the beautiful Adriatic sea with indented coast and 1185 islands.
Croatian coastal cousine is Mediterranean, and is based on fish and sea food, grapes and wine, olive oil, wild growing herbs and aromatic spices.
Croatia's inland has a moderate continental climate (hot summers and cold winters), mountainous Croatia has mountainous climate, Mediterranean climate on the coast (with dry and hot summers and humid and mild winters), sub-Mediterranean in the hinterland (with somewhat cooler winters and warmer summers). Croatia has a population of cca 4,5 million, and Zagreb is the capital.
Historical influence on cuisine
Croatia has for centuries been an intersection of different cultures,
influence of culinary heritage deriving from all over the world has
left its mark on gastronomy.
Unlike the light Mediterranean cuisine at the south of Croatia, mostly influenced by the Italian cuisine, traditional cuisine of continental Croatia is from the west influenced by the Hungarian and central European cuisine, and from the east by the Turkish and Arabic cuisine.
coastal and Dalmatian, the seasonal influences are more apparent in the
cuisine of continental Croatia, as is a more complex preparation of
food but also apparent are the parallel traditions, from simple, folk's
through civic to rich nobleman's cuisine.
However, they all share a common tendency towards nutritious, " concrete " meals and ingredients such as meat (pork, poultry, beef, fresh water fish, wild game), different kinds of vegetables (potato, beans, French cabbage, paprika, tomato, beet), fruits (plum, apricot, apple, pear), bread grain (wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat), dairy products (from cow's milk) and eggs.
If we begin with soups, consommés are the traditional ones, especially chicken and beef soups, which are cooked slowly with root vegetables, and are served with home-made noodles, liver or oats dumplings, seasoned with pepper and parsley. During winter, thicker soups are made from potatoes, beans or cabbage, and during summer, light stewed vegetables such as cucumber and cream, seasoned with red paprika and garlic, cabbage, French beans or pumpkin.
Today, meat still prevails in shape of roasts, steaks and
smoke-dried products, which are made according to old, unchanged
recipes. In Međimurje you will be offered meat from tiblica (smoked pork prepared in fat), hashed fat and beef escalope (steaks grilled fast and then stewed with bacon and spices, and overdone in oven with vegetables). In Zagorje you will be offered veal fillet "Stubica" (pork fillet stuffed with prunes in cream and plum brandy sauce), Zagorje turkey with famous mlinci (Croatian thin bread), roasted pheasant or paprikaš (stewed meat) made from game which is traditionally also raised there. Podravina will offer jelly, buncek (smoked pork leg) and roast chicken, Turopolje and Posavina will offer geese and ducks, and Slavonia ham, kulen (paprika-flavored salami) and kulenova seka (smaller salami), roast pork, čobanac (shepherd's stew - stew made from different kinds of meat) and paprikaš. Slavonians are very proud of their thick fish soups and fiš-paprikaš made from carp. Gorski kotar will offer meals made from game (bear, boar and deer), and Lika cannot survive without lamb roast
and smoked meat products such as mutton or Prosciutto. With bigger or
smaller variations, you can find smoked-meat products such as ham, bacon, sausages, blood-sausages and češnjovke (garlic sausages) in all parts of continental Croatia.
In addition to meat, side dishes are mandatory: potatoes (mashed, sautéed, fried, roast), rice (rizi-bizi - rice with pees), žganci (hard-boiled corn mush) with milk or as a side dish to game meals, pasta (mlinci, with roasts) and sauces made from roast, mushrooms and cream.
Traditional cuisine of continental Croatia was influenced by the Hungarian and central European cuisine from the west, and by Turkish and Arabian from the east.
Lighter meals comprise of fresh salads which are made from white or red cabbage, mixed tomatoes, paprikas, onion and different kinds of green salad (Iceberg, Butter head, radicchio), all flavored with salt, vinegar and oil. Pumpkin oil gives the special flavor to beans or potato salads. Food for winter is made from both vegetables and fruits, and they are usually made from cucumbers, cabbage, paprika stuffed with cabbage, mixed vegetables, beet, aivar, marmalades and jams (plums, apricots, peaces, strawberries).
In terms of daily products, the specialties are the cottage cheese and cream, buttermilk or churn and smoked cottage cheese (podravske prge or međimurski turoš), lički škripavac and basa. The most famous cottage cheese specialties are boiled or overdone zagorski štrukli (cheese puff pastry) and Croatian pancakes, filled with sweet cheese, covered with cream and overdone.
Cakes' making tradition is a long one. Walnut rolls, poppy seed rolls, strudel with fruits fillings, pumpkin, corn zlevka, presnac, doughnuts, dunkies, form cake, gingerbread cookies, lard rolls and bear paw cookies are only a few suggestions to complete your meal. In terms of drinks, you should try home-made plum brandy, mead (drink sweetened with honey) and some of the top wines.
Coastal and island cuisine
of Croatian coast and islands is a typical Mediterranean, and is based
on natural sea and coastal sources - fish and seafood, grapes and wine,
olives and olive oil, sheep and goats, figs, wild-growing herbs and
Fish (dog's tooth, sea bass, grooper, gilthead, grouper, mackerel, anchovy), main source of protein, are prepared in any way imaginable: boiled, great soups are made from them, fish stews, risottos, grilled, baked in oven, marinated and salted. We should not forget about seafood, fresh oysters with lemon juice, octopus baked under the bell, stewed or stuffed calamari, mussels and vongole (clams) cooked in aromatic buzara, inevitable scampi and crabs.
In terms of meat, the first thing that comes to everyone's mind is Prosciutto - Istrian or Dalmatian smoked pork leg dried on Bora. Also appreciated is lamb, but also baby beef, especially when pastizzada is concerned for which almost every family in Dalmatia has its own recipe which is passed from generation to generation.
Various vegetables make for side dishes to fish and meat meals such as chard, potatoes, tomato, artichoke, cabbage. In Istria, this area is reserved for asparagus. Although fried eggs are well known all over the world, Istrian fritaja with asparagus is a specialty since it has a story, and aromatic ingredients such as Prosciutto, bacon or truffles. In winter days, thick soups are popular - maneštre, combination of leguminous plants and grains, beans, corn, fennel, cabbage, borecole, with dry meat or pešto added. Pasta only indicates the influence of the Italian cuisine (spaghetti, gnocchi), but there are also autochthon Istrian and coastal pastas such as fuži, pasutice, šurlice, makaruni na iglu, pljukanci.
You don't go crazy with the spices. This only does not apply to olive oil or fresh but dried seasoning herbs and wild-grown herbs which the coastal areas are rich in. Bay-leaf is almost inevitable, like rosemary, basil, sage, while parsley and garlic go with fish. >Green and black olives, sour small onions and capers can be a part of every meal.
The story is pretty simple when it comes to cakes: there are no rich and kitschy cakes with thick butter based creams. Traditionally, Dalmatian cakes prefer fruit, fresh or dried (raisins, dry figs), honey (which is healthier than sugar), and they rather replace the cream with crunchy pieces of almond and walnut. We will mention a few:fritule, kroštule (fritters), sweets made from Lošinj chestnuts, rafiole, cukarine, pince, mandulat, smokvenjak, Rožata (caramel cake).
Islanders like to boast about the diversity of their cuisine and we can differentiate between Brač cuisine (specialty is vitalac: a sausage made from grilled lamb innards), Hvar (goat cheese in olive oil, pepper cakes), Korčula (a way of preparing calamari without cleaning them), Komiža and Vis (anchovy grilled on stick; komiška or viška scone with sardines), Pag cuisine (Pag cheese and Pag lamb).
It is a common knowledge that fish has to swim three times: in sea, in oil and in wine. That is why a glass of wine is welcomed by each meal, and is often used as its ingredient. Istrians will offer malvazija, merlot or teran, while Krk island will offer Vrbnička žlahtina and Troišćina. Hvarski Plavac goes well with roasts and goat cheese. Top red wine Babić is produced in Primošten, which served at room temperature, is sipped with meat, grilled fish and spicy cheese. Pelješac offers Postup, Dingač, Kneževo and Carsko vino (Tsar's wine). Grk is produced on the island of Korčula. Dry red Merlot goes well with most meals, and sweet prošek (sherry) from Šibenik goes well with desserts.
Travel tips (must do)
- To see and experience some of Croatia's natural beauties - Plitvice lakes, Brijuni islands, Kornati islands, Mljet, waterfalls of Krka, Paklenica, Kopački rit, Risnjak, Vransko lake on island of Cres or Blue cave (grotto) on Biševo.
- to see the sights in the capital Zagreb, but also in other bigger towns - Osijek, Varaždin, Pula, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Trogir and Dubrovnik.
- If you happen to be in Istria at the end of July, don't miss some of the films at the Motovun film festival, a tennis match at the ATP tournament in Umag or Hum - the smallest town in the world.
- Admirers of history and culture should definitely visit the medieval castles in Zagorje - Trakošćan, Miljana, Tabor...
- When you are in Zagorje, you should visit Krapina and Hušnjakovo hill with the richest Paleolithic finding site of the Neanderthal man in Croatia.
- For those looking for active holidays, we recommend islands Hvar and Brač, rafting on rivers Dobra and Cetina, and for the true Robinsons - accommodation in the lighthouses on the islands sv. Ivan, Dugi otok, Prišnjak....
- Which souvenir to take from Croatia? A tie, gingerbread heart, umbrella from Šestine, pen or fountain pen by Slavoljub Penkala, Vučedol Dove, Pag lace, stone replicas of Baška Plate..