When visiting a country tasting local dishes is always a great way to connect with the essence, culture and flavour of the place. Croatia is no different and it is a country full of culinary delights. Although there are lots more, we have selected 9 dishes that you MUST try before leaving Croatia…
‘Ispod peke’, or ‘under the bell’, is something you need to try at least once when in Croatia. Usually lamb, veal or octopus is placed with vegetables inside a dish with a metal lid. The dish is then cooked in an open fireplace by the hot coals and embers which are placed over the lid. The dish is left to cook slowly in its own juices until the meat is tender. This dish is a winner.
2. Lamb on the Spit
Rarely a big occasion will go by in Croatia without lamb being cooked in this delicious way. Lamb on the spit, or ‘Janje na ražnju’ in Croatian, has according to some local experts been a favourite method of cooking in Croatia for over 8,000 years. Apart from the slow method of cooking, what makes this meal so good is the quality of lamb in Croatia – especially from the islands. Lambs from Cres and Pag are world-renowned. Best served simply with bread and spring onions.
3. Octopus Salad
Perfect for the summer months due to its light, refreshing nature. What makes this meal so good is the availability of fresh octopus in Croatia. Fresh out of the Adriatic, the octopus is boiled, chopped up into small pieces, and then tossed with a dressing (olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon) and combined with finely chopped tomatoes, onions and parsley. Finger-licking good.
These tasty grilled skinless sausages are famous in the region and definitely worth a try whilst you are in Croatia. Usually made with a combination of both pork and beef, the small finger-shaped seasoned sausages are usually served with chopped raw onions, ajvar (relish made from peppers) on flatbread.
If you are on the Dalmatian coast then you must try this dish as it originates in Dalmatia. Dalmatinska pašticada, or just pašticada, is a stewed beef dish cooked in a special sauce and served usually with gnocchi or homemade pasta. The long and meticulous preparation, and the range of fascinating ingredients such as roasted bacon, onions, parsley, nutmeg, prunes, and the sweet dessert wine prošek, helps the wonderful flavours come out.
6. Fish on the Grill
With the Adriatic sea on your doorstep it would be criminal not to leave before trying some fresh fish grilled ‘Dalmatian style’. The method is very basic – wood fire, grill, and some olive oil – but the results are anything other than basic. Best served with some garden-grown blitva (chard) and potatoes and washed down with a glass of Plavac Mali. Great Mediterranean dish and healthy to boot.
7. Pršut & Pag Cheese
These hors d’oeuvreare are so good that they could almost be a main. The home-cured ham pršut, which is perhaps Croatia’s most famous hors d’oeuvre, is a must-try. Preparation is key to a good pršut. After washing, salting and flattening under rocks, the hams are then hung out to dry. The unique taste and texture is thanks to the cold bura winds which sweep down to the coast which dry the ham. Croatia is also home to a number of award-winning cheeses and if you get a chance you need to try some Paški sir – which is cheese from the island of Pag. The cheese is made solely from milk produced by sheep which are left to graze freely on local grass, and aromatic plants and herbs.
8. Crni rižot
Another dish that is popular in the Dalmatian region is crni rižot, or black risotto. Cuttlefish and squid are the star of this risotto, which is given its unique presentation thanks to ink from the cuttlefish which is added to the dish just before it is finished. A bit of grated parmesan cheese and you are ready to go. This is a heavy meal and best washed down with a glass of red wine.
9. Zagorski Štrukli
A real true traditional Croatian dish, inducted into the list of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage, maintained by Croatia’s ministry of culture even, and for that reason you should try it. Zagorski Štrukli is a popular dish in the Hrvatsko Zagorje and Zagreb regions in the north of the country. Composed of dough and various types of filling, usually cheese, Štrukli can be either cooked or baked.
(main photo / Tim Ertl)