Take a bite out of Croatia and Slovenia’s cuisine

Food is woven into the very fabric of Croatian and Slovenian life. Here’s how you can take a bite into the delicious heritage and cuisine of these two countries…

Team Wanderlust
02 June 2023
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Discover Croatia And Slovenia

Main image: Zinfandel grapevines in Croatia (Mario Alajbeg/TZG Kaštela)

If you’ve not heard about Slovenian and Croatian gastronomy yet you’re in for the foodie surprise of your life. Influences from across this region of Europe fuse into two simultaneously unique cuisines that you can delve directly into. Savour boat-fresh seafood simply grilled on the harbourside, tuck into unique dishes you’ll only savour here and treat yourself at one of almost two dozen Michelin-starred restaurants. Here are five ways to experience their culinary charms…

1. Try fine wine

Pelješac vineyards (Zoran Jelača)

You can dine in a vineyard in Brda (Ciril Jazbec)

Slovenian and Croatian wines are some of the world’s most underrated, so it’s no wonder they are keeping it for themselves: wine has been successfully cultivated here since Greek and Roman times and they always experiment with organic and natural wines en vogue. The bone-dry Malvasija whites in the Istria region pair brilliantly with seafood; the sun-warmed mighty reds with meat. Slovenia offers 52 vine varieties thriving from more than 2,500 producers in the three main wine regions of Podravje, Posavje and the coastal Primorska. Its wineries offer a literal look at Slovenia’s wine industry growing, as well as a taste of its vintages for yourself. Croatia meanwhile also offers many wine regions throughout the country including Dalmatia, Slavonia and Istria, among many others with the majority of production white, though the full-bodied Plavac Mali grape (Zinfandel’s ancestor) creates superb red wine. Like Slovenia, the quality of wine touring is constantly improving with the Pelješac peninsula in the Dubrovnik region ideal for exploring the Plavac Mali vineyards behind the legendary Dingač.

2. Taste olive oil

Lisjak olive oil comes from one of Slovenia’s many boutique olive groves (Mitja Kobal)

Olive groves in Croatia (Julien Duval)

Olive oil has been produced in Croatia and Slovenia since time immemorial; often using a traditional oil press to extract the nectar. Many restaurants today offer the high quality domestic olive oil; more upmarket venues showcase their oil producers. In Slovenia, the prime olive oil region is the Slovenian portion of the Istrian Peninsula (known for its delicious bitter, slightly spicy, oils), the region with the most olive groves. Other key spots where you can sample olive oil through visits to producers include the Brda Hills, the Vipava Valley and via meals in olive oil bars in and around the villages of the Karst Plateau. Superb olive oil is cultivated all along the Croatian coast and you could taste your way south from the Istria region and right down into the Dubrovnik region. The old traditions survive, like washing the olives in the sea, with the two most common varieties buža and oblica. Olives are often baked then kept in olive oil laced with Mediterranean herbs, to add to their flavour. Some of Croatia’s olive oil producers are even award-winning, earning plaudits at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, the world’s most prestigious olive oil contest.

3. Wander its markets

Perusing the stalls of Ljubljana’s Central Market (Shutterstock)

Dolac market in Zagreb (Julien Duval)

The bountiful markets in Slovenia and Croatia are the polar opposite of the multinational world of supermarket hegemony; organic produce here comes as standard. In the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, the Jože Plečnik-designed Central Market is a must see with its smorgasbord of stands selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as delicious honey and olive oils. The tourist office can arrange guided morning tours. Or visit on a Friday afternoon when the ‘Open Kitchen’ attracts a plethora of chefs who cook up a street food storm. You’ll find markets dotted around Slovenia’s other cities and towns, too. In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Dolac market may be right in the tourist heart of the city, but it’s still a genuine market where you can sample and buy fresh produce from the hinterland all around the city. Charcuterie, cheese, corn bread cooked that morning and honey from small-scale hives tempt, alongside the delicious fruit and vegetables that all too many people just cannot find available easily at home. Other food and drink markets dot neighbourhoods across Zagreb, with more markets waiting in Croatia’s other towns and cities like Pazar market in Split and the city market in Rijeka.

4. Savour their speciality dishes

Kulen is a traditional cured sausage in Croatia (Maja Danica Pečanić)

Bled’s beloved cream cake is a beloved dessert (Tomo Jeseničnik)

Drawing culinary inspiration from neighbours like Italy, Austria and Hungary, the cuisines of Slovenia and Croatia were always going to be eclectic. But they are also defiantly distinctive, making new takes on other cuisines; creating unique dishes. In Slovenia savour the ubiquitous rolled dough štruklji (sweet or savoury); sublime pasta dish Idrija žlikrofi; out east in Prekmurje there’s spicy goulash; superb simply grilled seafood on the coast. And few can resist Bled’s famous cream cake kremsnita, the sumptuous layer cake gibanica or traditional sweet favourite potica. Croatians also create their own štrukli, love slow cooking under a peka (lid) and grilling the fresh Adriatic catch of the day. The scampi from the Kvarner region is excellent, as is the coast’s black cuttlefish risotto that could scarcely taste more of the sea. Out east, the Slavonia region likes to add spice to its dishes like the fiery Kulen sausage and the delicious freshwater fish soup, fiš paprikaš. The dry-cured ham pršut is a delicious dry-cured ham that needs to be tried, too. Croatia has its own lip-smacking cream cakes from Samobor, Gibanica too, plus Dubrovnik’s Rozata – a crème caramel dessert.

5. Enjoy unique culinary experiences

Slovenia has some fine coastal dining spots (Ciril Jazbec)

Oysters are a popular delicacy in Croatia (Maja Danica Pečanić)

In Slovenia and Croatia these days you can enjoy a host of unique culinary experiences, from simply grilled fish served by the sea, or a charcuterie platter on a vineyard, though to Michelin-starred cuisine in fine dining gastronomic temples. Slovenia is home to Ana Roš, one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, at the helm of two Michelin-starred Hiša Franko. Eight further Michelin-starred restaurants dot the country. Croatia boasts ten Michelin-starred restaurants, making these must visit destinations for gastronomes. Slovenia also offers dining in a cable car at Krvavec Ski Resort, helicopter rides to mountain picnics, the chance to dine like royalty in a castle, the ‘Wine Train’ in the Vipava Valley and the Slovenia Green Gourmet Route, a foodie cycle route. In Croatia join the truffle dogs hunting for your exquisite dinner in Istria (come back for the autumn truffle festival, too), or head out in a boat to savour oysters and mussels plucked straight from their beds at Ston, a a popular escape for honeymooning Croats. Europe’s oldest active salt pans can also be found in Ston, with Nin and Pag island home to their own dazzlingly white salt pans, too.

Feeling inspired?

For more inspiration, head over to the official Croatian and Slovenia tourist board websites.

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