Know Your Food: Croatia

Image: Phil Dragash.

What do you think about when you hear Croatia? Do you think of the beautiful Adriatic coast? Or, do you think of the lush, green mountains and valleys? Many travelers, unfortunately, have avoided this area, as ghosts of the Balkan wars of the 1990s still haunt our collective memories. Luckily, though, this area has come a long way in healing from its tortured past and is a perfect place to visit, explore, and of course, devour.
On my recent, but all too short, visit to Croatia, I got hooked on the exceptionally fresh and maddeningly tasty cuisine. I realized that all you need to enjoy Croatia's food is one simple rule. Eat what's fresh. If you see the restaurant cooking a lamb over the fire, stop thinking and get lamb. If you're near the water, get some whole fish, some calamari, or whatever else the locals are eating. Stick with this rule, and you won't go wrong ( or hungry!)

burek
Image: blandm.
Burek

You know, you never can go wrong with pastry, and Burek is no exception. You can get them filled with cheese, meat or apples, and can find them in pastry shops and even some fast food joints. If you see it being served with a yogurt-like drink, get some of that too. This dish is a typical breakfast food, but is heavy and should keep you full well past lunchtime.

Image: su-lin.
Cevapcici

( pronounced Chev ap chee tse)
You can find cevapcici just about everywhere, which is a good thing because I can't get enough of these little balls of flavor. These little finger-shaped balls of meat are made of spicy beef or pork and are best served with a red pepper ajvar relish. Eat as much as you can.

Raznjici

(pronounced razh nyee chee)
If you're in the mood for meat on a stick, this is the word you should memorize.

palacinke
Image: ybidau.
Palacinke

(pronounced pala chink eh)
Palacinke equals crepes in Croatia. Try one with some nutella, or even with ice cream on the side.

Image: MrGluSniffer.
Blitva

Blitva is a common side dish that you'll find all over Croatia. It's swiss chard boiled and served with olive oil, potatoes and garlic. I think it's simply delicious, especially with some local beer and any kind of meat available. Lamb, pork, veal...whatever, it'll be awesome. Just be ready for garlic breath.

Pag Cheese

Pag cheese is a sharp, sheep's milk cheese named after the island it's made on. You'll most likely find it as an appetizer, served with olives on the side.

Janjetina

Jajetina is one of those dishes that you'd have to work hard not to try in Croatia. It's lamb, roasted whole on a spit over the fire...and you can find it all over the country. Look for signs along the road, or just follow your nose.

Jota

I love seeing how different cultures do comfort food, and Jota is the Croat version of a mother's love. A stew made of beans, sauerkraut, garlic, and bacon, Jota is perfect for those cold winter days.

Seafood
Image: rongorongo.
Fresh, Whole Fish.

If you're on the coast, find the freshest fish and eat it. Head towards the docks, find a dude grilling and chow down.

Image: oanababy.
Stuffed Squid

Not up for a whole fish, but don't want to miss out? Don't forget that squid are yum.

Learn Some Of The Language

Besides knowing some of the words for the food, you'd do well to learn a few key phrases. While many of the more touristy coastal cities will have many English speakers, once you get inland in the small towns, you might be hard pressed to find anyone who can understand you. You can get by with hand gestures and pointing, but I'd recommend learning just a few tidbits.

Want to learn more about Croatian food, markets, and cooking in general? Fresh Adriatic Fish is a great blog and resource.

Comments

My husband and I rented a car and traveled up the Dalmatian Coast from Dubrovnik for our honeymoon. Some of our best memories from our visit are from stopping at little restaurants along the coast and getting freshly grilled fish, shrimp, squid or black risotto (octopus ink risotto). When we rented an apartment on the island of Korcula, we'd go by the fish market in the morning and then grill in the evening. Divine.

Thanks for bringing back good memories and sharing this cuisine!

An interesting note...the squid shown in the photo and mentioned to via the link is actually a cuttlefish. I had that for the first time when I went to Tunis this summer. The flavor and texture was a little different than what I was used to but still quite good. There was another name in Arabic used for cuttlefish that distinguished it from regular squid but often when people ordered calamari they were requesting cuttlefish, so the name seems to be synonymous.

Not a bad intro, Austin! I'm glad you enjoyed your visit to Croatia. The dishes above are mainly Dalmatian, though cevapcici and burek are ubiquitous all over the former Yugoslavia, and there are various forms of jota in other regions of Croatia.

Khalil, cuttlefish and squid are very different, though you can use both to make risotto, and in fact we do. There is also prcic, which we call male lignja/squid - no idea why!