Croatian cuisine has a strong influence of different cultures that have impacted the country over the course of its history. As the consequence, cooking in Croatia demonstrates deep diversity, which depends on which part of the country you intend to visit.
Consequently, there’s an obvious difference between the Italian-style cooking along the coast and the Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish-style gastronomy in the interior.
Each region has its own gastronomic specificity, but wherever you go you’ll be surprised by the generally good quality food, made from fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Italian cooking is one of the most interesting cuisines in the world and is generally considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines on the planet. The influence of this cuisine is deeply rooted along the coast from Istria to South Dalmatia, with some fine nuances but with obvious uniqueness of Mediterranean cuisine.
It’s obvious that during the period of different influences under different rulers, the way of cooking in Croatia has assumed different variants. For this reason, Croatia stands out by a number of regional cuisines as every part of Croatia has its own culinary tradition.
The most famous regional cuisines in Croatia are in Slavonia, Zagorje, Medjmurje (Croatian continental cuisine) and Istria, Dalmatia (Mediterranean cuisine).
While the first group, sometimes called Croatian inland cuisine has a strong influence of Austrian and German cuisine and in a part with Turkish and Hungarian cooking, the second one along the Croatian Adriatic coast has expression of the typical Mediterranean cuisine with strong Italian influence.
Continental Croatian Cuisine
Cuisine of this part of Croatia, besides the historical impact of Austrian and Hungarian cooking, is strongly influenced on the relationship between geography and gastronomy.
It’s obvious that due to continental climate with its long and cold winters, the cuisine consists of greasy dishes based on meat, savory spices and pickled vegetables.
Also on its development are historically influenced Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish cuisine of which is, among other things inherited the tradition of preparing a variety of stew and shepherd’s stew, and slow cooking foods. On this occasion, here are five dishes typical of continental Croatian cuisine:
Strukli, also known as strukle and struklji, are made of puff pastry filled with a mixture of fresh cottage cheese and eggs and covered with fresh cream.
It can be prepared as a savory or sweet dish, it can be boiled or baked, and it can be served as a soup, starter, dessert, main dish or a simple meal. It’s prepared for different occasions, as an everyday dish or as a festive delicacy. This simple food is the symbol of Zagorje region.
Many restaurants in Zagreb serve Zagorje strukli, as one of favorite local dishes. After tasting it for the first time, you will certainly try it again.
Zagorje turkey with pastry
Turkey of Zagorje is one of Croatian cuisine food product protected at EU level with geographical origin protection status.
Turkey with pastry is a traditional dish in Zagorje region. It is roasted turkey, served with a special kind of handmade dough – dumplings (called – mlinci ).
Their preparation is simple: a thin dough is made without yeast that is baked, cut into smaller pieces and finally adding it to the meat.
Kulen is a type of sausage typical for the area of Slavonia. If you don’t know where is this region, visit Croatia map page.
Kulen is remarkable not only for its taste, but also the method of preparation is particularly important. It’s prepared of pork meat but not any kind of meat.
For the best quality it’s used only meat taken from pigs which weighs at least 150 kg and the age of the pigs should be more of one, better more. It’s used only first class of meat (ham and pork chop), and in small quantities from pig’s shoulder.
Kulen is a spicy and piquant sausage made of larger minced pork meat mixed with red hot and sweet pepper. This highly quality sausage is added to the list of protected gastronomic delicacies of Croatian cuisine.
Kotlovina – eating outdoors
Kotlovina isn’t a name of a dish but it’s linked to the method of preparation. Kotlovina is a kind of a special metal container (a bowl), a shallow plate of stainless steel.
This metal container, a kind of large plate is placed directly on the fire, no matter what kind of fire you use, coal, wood or gas burner. Kotlovina is the most popular in the north-western Croatian regions and in parts of Slavonia.
But the peculiarity of this way of preparation is not only in its taste, but also the fact that is traditionally always prepared outdoor, usually at fairs or local meetings what for the local population represents a kind of collective Croatian cuisine culinary events.
What’s really Kotlovina? Is it a kind of barbecue? There is a big difference between ordinary barbecue and Kotlovina. Kotlovina is a kind of meat preparation where meat is being roasted and stewed in its fat, simultaneously.
The meat used at Kotlovina is usually pork or sausages with the addition of vegetables. This is a dish in which the meat is grilled and stewed in fat, pouring water, that gives it a special flavor.
This typical dish of Croatian cuisine is practically a version of Hungarian goulash (gulas) and literally means a cowboy or shepherd, carried out from Hungarian word for cattle.
This spicy dish should contain at least 2-3 types of meat. In addition to pork and beef, it can be preferably added venison, but you will not go wrong if you add the lamb.
Nowadays, many add to this meal also the chicken meat, but originally this kind of meat, shouldn’t be a part of this dish.
There are two basic rules in preparation of this tasty meal. It should be well seasoned with sweet or hot red pepper and must be slowly cooked in their own juices. My only recommendation is to cook it as slowly as possible and to add onion, celery leaves and parsley with tomato concentrate.
There is also another combination called paprikas (stew) which is a synonym used in Hungarian language for a fish stew. This meal called Fish Paprikas is made of river fish.
Both of these two Slavonia specialties are very spicy and hot dishes and are ideally accompanied by a glass of good white wine.
Mediterranean Croatian Cuisine
Croatia cuisine is typically Mediterranean. Due to its ingredients and preparation, meets all medical and nutritional recommendations for a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Traditional ingredients are various types of fish, shells, crabs, octopus, squid, olives, olive oil, vegetables, wild herbs, almonds, figs, grapes, honey, raisins and citrus fruits.
Among these three regions Dalmatian cooking has the leading role in Croatian cuisine. What makes Dalmatian food features so special and unique representative of Mediterranean cooking? In few words this cuisine highlights are the simplicity and naturalness.
Here are some of my personal examples of the best Mediterranean dishes, transmitted between generations for centuries and defended with great pride.
Prosciutto (prsut) – smoked ham
Do not be surprised if I start with prosciutto (smoked ham), but it’s quite normal to start with this delicacy. Thin slices of air-dried prsut (prosciutto) are often on the appetizer list, inevitably served with olives and cheese.
Prosciutto is the starting point of every restaurant menu, and celebrations in Croatia. It is a salted, air-dried pork loin. The best examples of local prosciutto have a close relationship with nature environment.
Prosciutto (prsut) has the status of the food prepared only during the winter, salted, coated with spices and herbs, and sometimes smoked to be naturally conserved.
In fact, in autumn and in early winter, the local dry and cold north wind is responsible for its texture and flavor. Traditionally, this delicacy is cut into long, thin slices as an appetizer served with cheese and olives. The most prized hams are the one of Drnis, a small town near Sibenik and Istria prosciutto.
The cheese is the name of the cheese from the island of Pag, the most famed cheese of Croatian cuisine. It’s produced exclusively from sheep’s milk of a unique breed of small sheep from the island.
Paski sir (Pag’s cheese) is a hard, aged cheese matured at least 4 months, even though some producers offer it at various maturation periods from the minimum to 1,5 years. It has a characteristic spicy flavor and filled with scents of the island and the sea.
Fullness of taste has been caused by several factors, in the first place a high salinity of Pag island pastures deposited by cold northern winter wind ‘bura’, micro-climate and the diversity of plants rich in essential oils.
It is a hard cheese that is traditionally cut into thick, triangular slices and served with prosciutto. It’s commonly served as a typical Croatian cuisine appetizer and tastes best when served with fresh fruits such as grapes, wildflower honey or olive oil.
Meals under the bell
Mouth-watering is inevitable at the very thought of this process of food preparation. The process of preparation is as simple as follows:
- Lamb, veal or octopus usually combined with potatoes is set in a deep bottom container covered with a heavy iron lid, which is then covered with burning ashes.
- And that’s it! No interference and occasional tasting just slowly cooking in its juices.
Under the bell food preparation, dates back to the Romans and Illyrians who were already familiar with this primordial culinary dish preparation, tied to the fireplace and the fire. In that period it was made of clay.
However, although the food preparation under the bell (ispod peke) seems very simple, it certainly requires to follow some rules. In addition to selected ingredients even the wood selection for a grill ashes is very important. The first baking bell were made of clay and later evolved into different versions of resilient materials from wrought steel, iron and cast iron.
Meals under the bell are among the top traditional Croatian cuisine specialties. It is almost impossible to write about this way of food preparation if you don’t try your own experience in the enjoyment of such dishes.
Pasticada Stewed beef
Pasticada beef stew is a kind of Dalmatian and Croatian cuisine gastronomic icon. The fact is that every Dalmatian family, that keeps up the tradition has its own recipe. How many chefs, so many different recipes and everyone claims his own as the best one.
In my family Dalmatian pasticada has always been one of the preferred festivity lunch meals. I still keep traditional Dalmatian recipe taken from my mother’s old cooking book from 1959.
It is a dish that requires almost marathon preparation. In fact, prior to cooking, which takes several hours, the meat need to marinate for 24 hours in vinegar (3:1 water – vinegar), stuffed with garlic and small slices of ham.
But one of the secrets of pasticada is addition of black dried plums that will give the final result in a thick, dark sauce full of flavor. The traditional beef stew is served with homemade potato dumplings or pasta with Parmesan cheese.
Black risotto is a highly prized and unusual dish. If you are looking for a recipe to impress seafood-loving guests, this is definitely one to try. It’s another Croatian cuisine dish that you have to taste.
It’s a typical Dalmatian dish and rather difficult to prepare due the fact that you have to be very careful while separating the small ink sac inside the squid or cuttlefish known also as a sepia.(Italian word – seppia).
Basically, it’s a squid risotto. Besides squids, this risotto contains other seafood, particularly mussels, clams and other shellfish. Crni rizot (Croatian name of Black Risotto) is simply a must-try in Split Croatia restaurants. You can find it almost everywhere.
Brodetto (Fish Stew)
Brodetto or brudet is a fish stew prepared in all parts of Dalmatian coast and islands. Much like ‘Black Risotto’, it’s a traditional meal served in most fish restaurants.
This rich fish stew is the best if prepared of different fish kinds like angler fish, grouper fish, moray, conger eel and specially large scale scorpion fish. The last one is the one which this meal can’t go without. Another important ingredient is fresh tomato!
Before you order it I recommend you to ask your waiter if a scorpion fish is in there, as without this fish it only remains a name without taste and typical density.
Brodetto is typical Croatian cuisine fish meal, best served with boiled palenta or pura (Italian polenta), rice or spaghetti (pasta).