Istrian food highlights Croatia

Try These Traditional Croatian Foods While You Are In Croatia

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This guest post is from Ana Cerovski at Kitchen Toast. She shares what to eat in Croatia for your next visit. Personally, I can’t wait to try these traditional Croatian foods on our next visit to Croatia.

Croatia is a small Central European and Mediterranean country known not only for its breathtaking nature, beautiful views, and interesting culture and history, and its delicious and diverse cuisine.

Croatian cuisine is often described as heterogeneous because all its regions have their own unique and traditional gastronomy. In order to present you the best of each region, their gastronomy roots, and interesting flavors, we are going to travel through the country, talk about their usage of the ingredients and seasonings, and present you one classic dish which is a trademark of that specific region.

Each dish will be mentioned with its importance for the region, so let’s go on an interesting gastronomy adventure around Croatia!

Traditional Croatian Foods

colorful fruit at a market in Istria Croatia

Eat This in Slavonia and Baranja, Croatia

In the eastern part Croatia, you can find Slavonia and Baranja. These regions are characterized by traditional flavors and recipes. Slavonia is known for its beautiful and fertile Pannonian plain, and thanks to that, it always had unique agricultural potential. Its cuisine was mostly influenced by the eastern and western civilizations and cultures, so the cuisine presents a beautiful blend of Austro-Hungarian, oriental, and indigenous Croatian gastronomy with a base of local, top-quality ingredients.

Today, the cuisine of the Croatian eastern regions is based on stews made of freshwater fish or meat and dishes prepared on the spit. However, the most popular dish is actually a cold cut called kulen.

Traditional Croatian foods include dried meats like kulen
Photo: Frka, CC BY-SA 3.0

Kulen, also known as kulin and kulijen, is a Croatian dried meat product. It is made of pork intestine stuffed with cut pork meat and spicy seasonings. In the past, kulen wasn’t produced much so it was kept only for special occasions – it presented a gift for important people from whom someone needed help. Due to that, kulen was really important.

The recipe for kulen is centuries old because drying and smoking meat was an excellent process for canning and storing. Thanks to that, the meat could last for quite some time. The most important part of making kulen is not only top-quality pork meat, but also the spicy mixture. The seasonings which are used in the mixture (salt, garlic, red pepper) are great for canning and preserving the freshness of the meat.

Today, almost 450 years later, kulen is a trademark of Slavonia and Baranja. Due to its method of production and preparation, it was declared as a product of great importance for these regions, and it certainly had a great impact on their history, culture, and tradition. Because of that importance, Slavonian kulen has been listed as a protected cultural heritage of the Republic of Croatia.

Eat This in Međimurje, Croatia

The region of Međimurje is known for its specialties which were influenced by Slovenia, Hungary, and Austria. The people of this region took those influences and in the combination with their local ingredients, traditions, and culture, they created outstanding cuisine rich in flavors, aromas, and nuances. Those influences can certainly be seen in Međimurje’s cuisine which is characterized by interesting food combinations, from simple but delicious soups, pasta, and meat, to the most beautiful and delicious desserts. And one particular dessert is the trademark of that region – međimurska gibanica.

Cakovec public park, Međimurje, Croatia

Međimurska gibanica is one of those dishes you either love or hate, there is really no in-between. It is a traditional and old dessert, and it is an integral part of the national Croatian cuisine. Međimurska gibanica is a multi-layered cake with a really rich filling. It is made of pastry crust and it has four layers and fillings – fresh cow cheese, grated apples, ground walnuts, and ground poppy seeds. And sometimes, it even has raisins or cinnamon. I know, it sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But this seemingly incompatible combination of the flavors is just amazing and all those ingredients are incredible together.

This dessert is similar to the Slovenian prekmurska gibanica, but they differ in their layers and dough. Međimurska gibanica is a local recipe and it beautifully presents all the best flavors and aromas from that region. Međimurje is known for its interesting combinations of ingredients and nuances, and due to that, međimurska gibanica is certainly its delicious trademark. And a must-try!

Eat This in Zagorje, Croatia 

When it comes to the region of Zagorje, its cuisine is characterized by the usage of simple and everyday ingredients, as well as by its connection with nature. And those are the basis of their traditional cuisine. Zagorje’s cuisine is based on seasonal ingredients and simple methods of preparation in order to retain nutritional properties and flavors. There, you can find simple, poor man’s food, as well as sumptuous dishes which were prepared for the nobles. But there is one specific dish that is the trademark of the region – štrukli.

traditional Croatian food štrukli

Štrukli is a simple dish that can be prepared in numerous ways. It presents a classic poor man’s food which is rich in nutrients and that was quite important for the people who worked all day on the arable land. Due to that, housewives were preparing this simple dish in numerous different and interesting ways. Štrukli are made of homemade pulled dough. They can be cooked or baked, savory or sweet, and filled with cheese, cabbage, buckwheat, turnips, walnuts, poppy seeds, pumpkin, apples, cherries, and more. Besides that, štrukli can be served as an appetizer, main dish, and dessert.

This quite a versatile dish rich in flavors have been protected as an intangible asset.

Eat This in Gorski Kotar and Lika, Croatia

These two mountain regions were influenced by a lot of different civilizations and cultures through the past, and those influences are certainly visible in their traditional cuisine. In the past, these regions were poor so the housewives used simple ingredients in order to prepare delicious dishes with rich flavors and interesting aromas.

They used frog legs, snails, freshwater fish, mushrooms, and other ingredients which could be found in the forest and on the field. Today, these regions are known for their game and lamb dishes, but besides that, one of the must-try dishes in Lika are potatoes.

Veliki Slap or the Big Waterfall in Plitvice Lakes Park

Lika potato is a Croatian product under the protection of the European Union. This potato variety has more vitamins, minerals, starch, and fiber than other varieties, and those properties bring out the most divine taste of the potatoes you can ever imagine.

Due to the poverty of this region, potatoes were quite important to its traditional cuisine and recipes. Lika potatoes are usually prepared in a most simple way – they are cut in half and then baked in the oven. Lika’s pole is a true specialty of this region and after the potato is baked, it is served with sausages, bacon, cheese, ajvar (roasted red pepper relish), garlic, and more.

Even though Lika potato can be made in a variety of ways, Lika’s pole is a traditional and amazingly delicious recipe that will certainly seduce your palate!

Eat This in Istria, Croatia

Istria is often referred to as one of the best gastronomy destinations in Croatia. Istrian cuisine is based on local ingredients, meat, and fish, as well as interesting usage of herbs, aromatic seasonings, and seasonal vegetables. This region combines its own gastronomy tradition with elements of different cuisines.

Today, Istria is the region that offers quality, delicious, and gastronomy with a nice mixture of Mediterranean and continental cuisines, and the amazing harmony of nature, flavors, and aromas. Besides that, Istria is known for its beautiful selection of homemade, local pasta.

Pasta always had an important place in Istrian food, which was mostly impacted by the hard life of the old Istrians. Their homemade pasta was made with simple and everyday ingredients such as flour, water, a pinch of salt, and perhaps a couple of eggs.

Fuži is tradtional Croatian Cuisine

From ancient times to today, Istria has developed original recipes for numerous pasta – pasutice, fidelini, ravijoli, makaruni, pljukanci, and more, while the most popular one is pasta called fuži. Fuži resembles small flutes or spindles and it is served traditionally with tomato sauce, meat, or fish.

Fuži, as well as other types of Istrian pasta, combines with different ingredients and sauces, and it certainly presents the must-try delicacies while visiting this beautiful peninsula.

Eat This in Dalmatia, Croatia

Simple, light, and fresh are the basic components of Dalmatian cuisine. This Croatian region was influenced by Illyrian, Illyrian-Celtic, ancient Romans, Avar-Slavic, Venetian, Turkish, French, and Italian cuisines, and thanks to that, you can imagine what delicious mixture Dalmatians created from those roots and basis!

Dalmatian traditional cuisine consists of vegetables, fish, and seafood, as well as classic meat like pork, lamb, and mutton. When it comes to Dalmatian desserts, they are also quite simple, but so delicious! One of the trademarks of this region is the queen of all the desserts – rožata.

Rožata is a simple traditional Dalmatian pudding with caramel dressing. It nicely combines vanilla flavor and rose liqueur with a caramel topping. Rožata is really easy to prepare by the recipe that origins from 1300. In the past, rožata was prepared in every household and because of that, it is an important part of the gastronomic heritage of medieval Dalmatia.

Try Rožata in Croatia

Nurturing such a traditional recipe is a beautiful gesture to those past times and a nice reminder of how such a simple dessert can become a part of Croatian heritage. Today, rožata is often considered the queen of all the desserts – simple classiness, elegant beauty, and delicious combination of all the ingredients, flavors, and aromas. What more could we ask for!

And this gastronomy adventure has now come to the end. We’ve traveled through all of Croatia and we’ve visited every region. Each of them is special and unique, and it has different traditions and cuisine, as well as different roots which influenced their usage of the ingredients, seasonings, and recipes.

All the mentioned dishes are unique and they certainly are the trademarks of their region. Of course, there are a lot more dishes and recipes to try, but that’s the best part – you can discover all of them by yourself!

Ana Cerovski is an experienced writer for restaurants and wineries at KitchenToast. She loves to photograph and travel, especially to Korčula which is her second home and the best inspiration for new recipes and flavors.

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