Best Croatian Food and Dishes You Need to Try
When in Croatia, eat like a Croatian…and we promise you’ll be richly rewarded!
Croatia is a gourmand’s dream, with one of the best – and most underrated – cuisines in Europe. With its many miles of coastline, seafood is an obvious highlight, but you’ll also find succulent meats and hearty stews across inland destinations. A Mediterranean climate sees Croatia produce high-quality ingredients, with wine, olive oil, and truffles all noted highlights.
Here is our run-down of the very best traditional Croatian food you’ll find during your luxury tour or small ship cruise.
As the ultimate Croatian comfort food, it’s no surprise that strukli is a signature northern dish, widely consumed in the Zagreb and Hrvatsko Zagorje regions. Inducted into the list of the country’s intangible cultural heritage, it’s the perfect choice for a cold, winter day but enjoyable anytime. In Zagreb, nearly every restaurant has it on the menu. La Struk, less than a 5-minute walk from Zagreb Cathedral, serves only this dish, offering traditional strukli and creative modern interpretations like sweet variations with blueberries and cheese, or with truffles. A 5-minute walk from Park Gric will bring you to Stari Fljaker, another favorite, evoking memories of old fairytales where you’ll feel as if you’ve been welcomed to a family table during a feast. While you’re in the capital city, enjoy the mix of old and new that includes the thousand-year-old Upper Town, home to iconic St. Mark’s Church.
While black risotto can be enjoyed throughout Croatia, particularly in the coastal regions, the dish is best sampled in the small town of Ston on the Peljesac Peninsula. The most unique local dish to try here, it has a well-deserved reputation for the highest quality seafood in Dalmatia and perhaps beyond, resulting in the tastiest black risotto you’re likely to try in the country. While you’re here, don’t miss the fresh oysters and mussels. The high concentration of salt and minerals in the water is said to be at least in part responsible for the delicious taste. An oyster-tasting experience will bring you into unspoiled Mali Ston Bay where you’ll be surrounded by striking natural beauty while sailing around the islets where the oysters are grown. You’ll learn about the process of cultivation and how they’re gathered, then open them up in the middle of the oyster farm, sampling straight from the sea.
With northern Croatia most significantly influenced by Italy, this is where you’ll want to try brodetto which draws its origins from Venice, likely appearing sometime between the 14th and early 16th century, invented by fishermen who would use the leftover fish that was damaged or had no commercial value otherwise to make a stew. It’s a favorite among local Istrians, which is the northern coastal area shared with Italy and Slovenia, as well as the Kvarner Gulf that lies between the two. Venetian influences are strongly felt in Rijeka, a port city on Kvarner Bay in the northern Adriatic, a gateway to the Croatian islands. That includes architecture, culture, the language, and the cuisine. In fact, annually in the summer, the city hosts the Brudetijada which brings cultural teams who cook up huge pots of it right on the beach, served with polenta and wine, to raise money for charity.
The key to this typical Dalmatian dish is the mussels, which must be fresh. Of course, with Mali Ston Bay offering the freshest and tastiest around, this is the area you’ll want to try it. Hodilje village in the municipality of Ston is worth venturing out to. It’s just a couple of miles from the town of Ston and an hour’s drive north of Dubrovnik. Locals flock to Seosko Domacinstvo Ficovic restaurant just for its superb version using the freshest mussels straight from the sea. It’s also a gorgeous eatery right along the crystal-clear blue waters for the ultimate dining experience. Don’t miss a visit to the Walls of Ston while you’re in the area. The series of defensive walls were originally nearly 4.5 miles long, protecting the town as part of the Republic of Ragusa with their construction starting in 1358.
You’ll find grilled fish on most menus throughout the country, particularly in coastal towns and throughout the islands. It’s prepared using a technique referred to as gradele, which is also the name of the special metal grill that’s used. The open-fire grill is often used for preparing sea bass, grouper, and bream, seasoned with garlic, parsley, and homemade olive oil. The smell of grilling fish is a fabulous aroma in Dalmatia and while it’s hard to go wrong anywhere here, we suggested Old Town Dubrovnik with many traditional konobas and other eateries to dine with a sea and mountain view. That stunning view can also be enjoyed by riding the cable car up Mount Srd and walking atop the walls that encircle the historic center.
Delicious peka can be found throughout Croatia, but this specialty is particularly memorable in the Konavle Valley. About a half-hour drive from Dubrovnik, the landscapes are spectacular with fertile valleys, mountains, and waterfalls stretching from Cavtat to the Montenegro border. It can be enjoyed at several restaurants with picturesque views as well as part of a food and wine tour for the total experience. You might even join a local family at their farm in a traditional village here, learning how to prepare an authentic peka meal yourself to immerse yourself in Croatian culture while enjoying warm hospitality. Of course, you’ll get to sit down to enjoy your efforts alongside local wine too.
Croatia’s hearty version of bean soup can also be found just about anywhere in the country but as a winter favorite, the northern regions arguably do it best, ensuring a tasty way to warm up from the cold. Sitting at the northern end of the Dalmatian coast, Istria has its own unique version of the typical dish. Manestra is a bean soup that’s prepared only in this region, using fuzi which is a hand-rolled pasta, typical in Istria. It’s influenced by Italian minestrone, Balkan and Slavic cuisines and is as delicious as it is hearty. When in this region, you’ll also want to try one or more of the many truffle dishes it’s renowned for as well as the local wines. Medieval hilltop towns like Motovun and Buzet are ideal with truffles grown in the thick woods that surround them.
Octopus plays an important role in many tasty dishes in Croatia, particularly throughout Dalmatia. The cold octopus salad is especially popular to enjoy during the summer months, found on restaurant menus along the coastal mainland and the islands. It’s a must-try dish and it’s likely to be different at every eatery with ingredients varying for creative takes. All tend to bring out the best aromas and flavors of the sea. We suggest sampling several versions while visiting the Dalmatian islands if possible, such as Konoba Lambik in Milna on Hvar Island which adds capers and potatoes to the dish. In the port of Korcula along the Petar Kanavelic promenade, Filippi Restaurant does a grilled octopus salad with courgette and cherry tomatoes. Bon Appetite, or, as the locals say, “prijatno”.
Croatia produces some extremely good prosciutto – dry-cured ham, which is known locally as pršut. The production of high-quality pršut has a long tradition here as one of the most prized delicacies, although four regions have managed to go beyond by protecting it with special certifications of excellence and geographic origin, including Krk Island, Istria, Dalmatia, and Drnis. Although each version is slightly different, all are prepared using traditional techniques with high-quality meat with an artisan undertaking rather than mass production. Try it in Istria as it’s the only prosciutto that’s also been awarded the mark of authenticity, using fresh ham from locally raised animals. It’s spiced with rosemary, laurel, fresh garlic, black pepper, and sea salt. In the small town of Vodnjan near Pula, the Bursis family estate is one of the largest producers and has a tasting room and restaurant for trying pršut and other cured meals along with other traditional Istrian dishes.
Fritule is a traditional desert of the Dalmatia, Kvarner, and Istria regions. Each village has its own recipe that claims to be the original and the best. Makarska in Central Dalmatia claims that the first factory to make fritule, run by the Vukovic family, is here. While that can’t be confirmed, you can decide for yourself when you visit. Just a little over an hour from Split, it’s the main town on the beautiful Makarska Riviera which features many secluded coves and picturesque beaches for swimming in the turquoise water. Summer brings a carnival atmosphere with many unique events like donkey races and stone-throwing, along with the Makarska Cultural Summer Festival. With fritule often served at many festivals, you’re likely to find some delicious offerings here.
Croatia’s wine scene is becoming increasingly popular, although Croatian wines aren’t commonly seen outside of the country and the names may not be familiar, mostly because they can be difficult to pronounce. The primary wine regions are Kontinentalna Hrvatska, or continental Croatia, and Primorska Hrvatska, coastal Croatia, spreading northeast from the Dalmatian coast to the Danube River floodplains. It would be difficult to choose just one, with many outstanding wineries throughout, although the Tuscan-like Istrian Peninsula and the Peljesac Peninsula, home to Ston and its famously delicious oysters and other shellfish, are arguably the top two. Enjoy the bucolic scenery of Istria and a visit to Kozlovic Winery which has been run by the same family for generations and offers a spectacular view of the vineyards from the winery building. A family member provides tours while revealing the winemaking process. In Peljesac, Rizman Winery is popular, famously owned by Croatian football star Igor Stimac.
Experience Croatia by sampling Croatian cuisine and wine, where the flavors of tradition and culture intertwine. Indulge in the sweetness of Fritule, savor the rich depth of Pršut, relish the refreshing Octopus Salad, and find comfort in the hearty embrace of Bean Soup. These dishes reflect Croatia’s diverse landscapes and culinary heritage. Complementing these delights, Croatian wines present a toast to tradition, offering a range as diverse as the country itself. From the Adriatic coast to the heart of the land, Croatia’s gastronomy and wines beckon travelers and food enthusiasts alike to savor the abundant and unique offerings of this Mediterranean gem.More information on our market-leading Croatia Cruises can be found here. Contact our dedicated Croatian specialists today to begin your journey: email [email protected], or call on +1 844 637 9747 in the USA or +44 203 950 9613 in UK and Australia, to start planning your getaway now!