Eat like a local: 7 gastronomic experiences across Croatia

Croatia’s natural larder brims with world-class food and wine – here are seven gastronomic experiences you simply must try…

Robin McKelvie
01 March 2022
Promoted by
Croatia Travel

Croatia is a gastronomic dream painted in vivid colours that you can taste and slowly savour. A dream inspired by the best of its neighbours: Italian, Hungarian and Austrian cuisines swirl into a delicious smorgasbord that also touches on Turkish and Greek influences. Croatia’s natural larder brims with world-class food and wine – here are seven gastronomic experiences you simply must try.

1. Follow a wine route

Discover Croatian wine (Matija Sculac/CNTB)

Croatian wine boasts serious heritage, with vines grown here by the Greeks and the Romans. Today there are more than 300 geographically defined wine regions, spread from the wide plains of Slavonia in the north right down to the Adriatic coast, and myriad wine routes to explore them on. In Dalmatia, the Peljesac Wine Trail swirls around the dramatically rugged eponymous peninsula with the star of the show the mighty red grape plavac mali. Istria is prime wine touring country too – it’s a joy easing between the hilltop villages exploring the welcoming vineyards. There are even wine roads snaking around the capital of Zagreb’s hinterland. Look out for life-affirming festivals dedicated to wine. Vincekovo marks the start of the wine growing year, as well as Osijek’s WineOS in the Slavonia region, then it’s on to Zadar Wine Festival in April and Festa Vina on the island of Brac in August, and a spirit-soaring celebration of wine in autumn with the Wine Bor Marathon in Zmajevac.

2. Learn about olive oil

Olive trees (Ivo Biocina/CNTB)

Olive oil production in Croatia goes back for millennia, its coastal regions of Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia ripe for cultivation. Istria produces some of the world’s best olive oil, beguiling with its intense taste, fragrance, and colour. Dalmatia incredibly has over four and a half million olive trees – more than Croatia’s human population! Dubrovnik and the surrounding region also conjure up award-winning olive oil, with the island of Sipan listed by Guinness World Records as having the most olive trees per capita on the planet. You can savour olive oil with bread, as part of a meal, or experience picking it first hand as you learn the remarkable story of the Croatian olive and its integral role in the country’s gastronomy.

3. For the carnivores

Pršut (Maja Danica Pecanic/CNTB)

Croatia is a carnivore’s dream. Few can resist the smoky smell of a traditional grill and those irresistible little cevapcici meatballs, even better with a dash of spicy ajvar sauce on the side. It’s the smell of a Croatian summer. Croatians are experts at grilling meat and bringing out the best of its flavours. Inland look out for suckling pig or lamb spit-roasted by the roadside. Zagreb also has its very own schnitzel – veal stuffed with ham and cheese fried in breadcrumbs. Look out in the east for paprika-spiced goulash-style stews. Paprika is at the heart of Slavonia’s famous kulen sausage too. Then, of course, there is pršut. No, it’s not Croatia’s version of prosciutto or jamon serrano – it’s distinctive Dalmatian pršut. This dry-cured ham is served in thin slices, often alongside bread and cheese; it’s irresistible. From the isles there is no lamb anywhere as good as Pag lamb. Best slow cooked peka-style.

4. Seafood by the sea

Fresh seafood (Boris Kacan/CNTB)

Croatia is paradise for seafood lovers: you can savour boat-fresh seafood everywhere from simple quayside restaurants overlooking the fishing boats, through to Michelin star gastronomic temples. A quintessential Croatian foodie experience is sharing a heaving platter of grilled fresh white fish, squid, langoustines and oysters anywhere on the coast from Dalmatia, through Kvarner, into Istria, and on the isles. If you love oysters you may never leave Ston, a waterfront village where you savour these fleshy delights overlooking their beds and can take a boat trip to view them. Love lobster? You’ll feel the same devotion to the island of Vis. Skampi buzara meanwhile is a stellar dish – langoustines in a delicious tomato, garlic and breadcrumb sauce. Brodet is a hearty seafood broth; Gregada a fantastic seafood stew. Both are tastebud tingling – Croatia knows exactly what to do with its world-class seafood. Famous fish dishes awaits inland too, like the spicy fis paprikas from Slavonia.

5. Hearty meals

Pašticada (Maja Danica Pecanic/CNTB)

Croatians love nothing better than a warming, hearty dish that really comforts. For hearty, creamy meat dishes the heartlands around Zagreb and Zagorje await, with various parts of the pig carved into delicious dishes – you will never leave a restaurant hungry or unsatisfied in this part of the world. In Dalmatia the soul-soothing pašticada, beef slow cooked in wine, is gorgeous with gnocchi. In Slavonia the hearty meat stews take on a spicy edge with the addition of paprika. In the Zagorje region štrukli is a comforting star – winningly doughy, cheesy and utterly delicious. On the coast in Dalmatia, Kvarner and Istria risottos celebrate Croatia’s Italian links, with tomato-based risottos served with langoustines or mussels. Squid ink or cuttlefish provides the richness, colour and flavour in the black risottos, a soaringly comforting and hearty dish, best enjoyed on a long Croatia evening with a glass of local wine.

6. For the cheese lovers

Croatian cheese (Maja Danica Pecanic/CNTB)

Croatian cheese is – in a word – superb. The big star is paški sir a salty, tangy delight from the Dalmatian island of Pag. Its distinctive taste comes from the sheep who wander the salt-kissed island munching on wild herbs. Sir iz mišine is another traditional sheep’s cheese conjured up in the mountains of Dalmatia that is aged in lambskin sacks, with a lingering, intense flavour. Škripavac is a full-fat soft cheese wonder that hails from the Lika region and the Velebit; the Gorski Kotar and Kordun regions too. The cow’s milk version is delicious, the sheep cheese even more flavoursome. The name comes from the squeak the young cheese makes when you bite in. In the Croatian hinterland you cannot miss prgica cow’s cheese with its conical shape and paprika spiciness. Creamy cottage cheese is enjoyed across Croatia, but especially in and around Zagreb and the Zagorje. Join the locals heading to snare some at a local market.

7. Something sweet

Salenjaci (Maja Danica Pecanic/CNTB)

Sweet-toothed? Welcome to heaven! Croatia boasts bountiful sweet treats. Salenjaci are a sweet puff pastry filled with apricot or plum jam, best served dusted with icing sugar. Gibanica from Medimurje is a sheer joy, a comforting layer cake alive with a collage of walnuts, poppy seeds, apples and cheese, while from Samobor, kremšnite is a delightful cream, custard and filo pastry delicacy sprinkled with icing sugar, these days available throughout Croatia. Another national icon is štrukli from the Zagorje region. The layered dough is laced with cottage cheese and is lip-smacking as a dessert and unusually has a twin role – it can be re-appear in savoury dishes.

Feeling inspired?

For more information and inspiration about this incredible country, head over to the official Croatia website.

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