fbpx
Menu
Croatia / Dining Abroad

Croatia Cuisine: A Travelers Culinary Wonder

Croatia Cuisine

“Food has power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight, and impress. It had the power to please me.”

Anthony Bourdain

With all travel comes exploring the culinary delights each destination has to offer. It is often the highlight of a trip. This, though, only happens if you leave your comfort zone and find a little bravery. To have an adventurous palate takes some guts, especially in certain cultures. It is about partaking in what is important to the region you are visiting.

Many cultures and people speak through their food. It is a sense of pride and is often steeped with tradition. Food is intricately tied to a country’s history. If we listen, that food speaks to us, and we learn. As we travel, we are not only there to see the sights but, most notably, to experience the culture and the people. Without food, we miss a vital element of who these people are. We miss part of their voice, their story, and their spirit. Croatian cuisine was precisely that and one we did not prepare for.

In our trip planning, we had not heard much about Croatian food. We had incorrectly assumed it would be lots of meat and potatoes. It was not that we heard the food was bad; we had not heard anything. In our ignorance, we did not research what to expect from the food. That was a mistake, as it was beyond anything we anticipated.

There was a hint

Croatia Cuisine

There was a story in the news just before we left. Magic Johnson, the legendary basketball player, had just returned from Croatia. He was traveling on a yacht to various cities, so a bit out of our league. Upon returning, he spoke of Croatian cuisine. “The food was fantastic, and the country was just beautiful.” He went on to share; it was some of the best meals he had ever had. I bet he has eaten at many notable places based on his wealth. This was intriguing and got dismissed as we assumed he was likely exaggerating. He wasn’t on any level; we could not agree with him more!

Croatia Cuisine, a Cultural Melting Pot

Croatia Cuisine

We were in awe from our first meal in Zagreb until our last dinner in Dubrovnik 14 days later. A diverse variety of foods and traditions come from the many surrounding countries and are infused into Croatia’s style. Croatia has been around since ancient times, and the roots also travel back there. It was at a crossroads of many aggressors and was on a major merchant route that brought many spices and exposure to different cultures. There is early Slavic, along with a hint of Turkish, Hungarian, and Austrian, throughout the country. The various coastal regions have strong influences from the Venetians, Romans, and Greeks. This is obvious in every coastal city and small town.

With many other influences mixed in, you will consistently find something new. Croatia’s flavors never disappoint, and there is plenty to try. You will have no trouble finding something from simple snacks to decadent dinners. With excellent wine regions and many homegrown breweries, great beverages will accompany those meals. You will almost feel guilty eating and drinking so much until you remember how little you have spent. Don’t worry; it’s vacation anyway. You can splurge in Croatia, and it will barely make a dent in your wallet except in Dubrovnik.       

Two Distinct Regions

Dining Abroad in Croatia Cuisine
Croatia

Though some describe many subregions of cuisine, it can be broken down into two distinct zones, the north and the coast of Croatia. The coast’s food encompasses lots of seafood, fish, and mussels, along with fresh seasonal vegetables. That said, a lot of meat, including beef, lamb, and pork, is found on the menu. The north region, predominantly the Istria region, has deep Italian roots.

Istria was part of Italy until after WW2, when under the Allies Treaty of Peace with Italy, Istria and Dalmatia were given to the Nation of Yugoslavia. This caused a mass exodus in 1943, but the Italian influence is still very present. You will find lots of pasta, meat, charcuteries, olive oil, truffles, and of course, seafood if you are near the coast in this region.

When we speak of haute cuisine, we all know those can come at a hefty price, and for the majority of us, budgeting is the name of the game while traveling. So how do you go about getting the whole culinary experience in Croatia if you have to watch every penny you spend? The answer is that you don’t. You will learn quickly that everything in Croatia is inexpensive, especially food and drinks. Because of this, you will have no issues splurging at times to experience all the foods you wish to try. From traditional, exotic, or simple treats, you only have to worry about what to try first with the incredible choices you see on the menu.

Tip – each person in your party chose separate dishes so that you can try as many different options as possible.

Our Experience with Croatian Food

Dining Abroad Croatia Cuisine

Over our years of travel, some of the best interactions with the locals are around food. It is always amazing how locals light up when you ask what they suggest. What is traditional? What is your favorite? A dower waiter, all of a sudden, becomes engaged. This was the case at our first meal in Croatia.

We had landed late morning in Zagreb, but it was too early to get a room, and except for some airplane food, we were pretty hungry. When we inquired about a place with traditional local food at the hotel, they did not hesitate and said Sofras. It was a Bosnian restaurant to the core. Not as Croatian as we had hoped, and we commented on that. They said it is trendy and loved by the locals. They advised us that there are influences of Bosnia in Croatian cuisine. The décor and the servers were in full traditional dress. We immediately got the sense this is not a place many tourists visit.

Our server seemed less than friendly when we first sat down until we started asking him what he recommended. We basically let him pick for us as we didn’t even know what some of the menu’s English meant. The menu was huge too. He even picked out the beer. Our expectations were not high, but that was the beginning of an array of delectable experiences that lasted the next 14 days.

Bosnian/Slavic cuisine is strongly influenced by the Ottomans, which is quite prominent in mainland Croatia, and you will find certain core aspects. Flavorful colorful bell peppers, cabbage, grilled meat, especially lamb and beef, meat pies, flatbread called somun, beans, cucumbers, carrots, and onions. The flavors use a lot of paprika and garlic. They have one of the most delicious creams called pavlaka and kajmak, which they pour over their meat pies.

Sofra’s

Our First Meal at Zagreb’s Sofra Restaurant

Tomato Salad with Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Scallions, Feta Cheese

Meat Pie with Cream Sauce

Tangy Pepper Stuffed with Cabbage

Aged Ram Steak with Potato and Grilled Vegetables

Somun Bread

Our Second Night in Zagreb wanted something more reflective of mainland Croatian cuisine. We found ourselves at Vinodol in the main restaurant district of Zagreb. The hotel suggested it, and the reviews seemed to back that up. It was an extensive, diverse menu but representative of much we saw in the weeks ahead. Here are a few of the choices from the menu.

Vinodol

Menu examples from Vinodol in Zagreb

Creamy Porcini Soup with a prosciutto-stuffed breadstick

Baked Octopus tentacles on creamy Polenta

Roasted red peppers and sliced garlic

Mocha Caramel creamy coffee and mascarpone cake

Slovenian Shepards Stew with homemade egg dumplings

Veal Shank with baked potatoes and braised cabbage
Prosciutto and cheese stuffed port tenderloin roll with gorgonzola cream, homemade croquettes, and pumpkin puree.

Monkfish brodetto with shrimps, mussels, and polenta.

Oven-baked seabream with vegetables and potatoes

Onto the Istria Pennisula

Croatia Cuisine
Pasta with black truffles

Istria brought us culinary delights we never imagined we would ever experience, and it started with our very first meal. Lunch in the tiny medieval village of Boljun in this little tavern called Boljunski Konoba set this incredible region’s tone. Our first exposure to truffles was here, and one we would repeat at almost every meal over our time in this marvelous region.

Truffles from Croatia have gained enormous respect. They remained a well-kept secret for the most part until recently. With nearby nations such as Italy and France with such a reputation for truffles, Croatia stayed off the radar. Anthony Bourdain put Istria truffles on the map. It is still, luckily, a place you can find these magnificent fungus tubers on a menu at meager prices.  

Truffles, especially white ones, go for thousands of dollars a kilo and have an extremely short shelf life. They are a delicacy that few can afford. Neither of us had ever tried a real truffle, only truffled flavored oils. This was going to be a very rare and unique adventure.

Truffle Heaven

In the heart of truffle country is Motovun’s splendid medieval walled hill town. This is where trained pigs and dogs hunt in the Motovun forest for this hidden gem, the truffle. The forest is in the beautiful Mirna River Valley below the town. The climb up the steep hill is work, but the rewards are beyond worth the effort.

Croatia Cuisine
We went through most of this bowl of white truffles.

While there, we had a meal of a lifetime, a Konoba Mondo. Our decision was based solely on google reviews when it was time for lunch. The village was tranquil, with maybe four other tourists visiting. The restaurant was quite large, with two levels and a large outdoor patio dining area; it was just two additional guests and us. We wondered if it was the right choice. But then we saw a signed picture of Anthony Bourdain with the owner and some staff. It seemed a good choice at that point.

And it was! The best choice ever.

There are black and white truffles. Though still delicious, black truffles have a much longer season, have a better shelf life, and are not coveted comparatively. Black truffles are both cooked and used as a garnish. White truffles are unique and a rare treat with an abridged season and short shelf life. They are only used as a garnish. These rotten-looking fungi are incredibly pungent (that is how the dogs and pigs find them) musky, earthy aroma with a slight garlicky taste.

Motovun Wonder

Following how magical our trip was, it turned out White truffle season started that week. The restaurant had a special white truffle-only menu for the occasion. Every course had white truffles freshly shaved onto the dish. Maybe because it was so quiet, or their shelf life was ending, the white truffles kept coming. We were in awe. They were absolutely delicious!

Our meal, which lasted a couple of hours, included craft beers, two appetizers covered in white truffles, two main courses covered in white truffles, two glasses of local wine, and a chocolate dessert covered in white truffles topped off with an espresso. No, the coffee was not covered in truffles and was compliments of the house. It was heaven, the meal, the drinks, the ambiance, and the service. What would that cost in the states? Probably three or four hundred dollars or even more, based on the volume of truffles we received. Our total was around $130. One of the most highly sought-after and coveted food items globally, and we could fully experience and afford it too! Not only did we experience them in many dishes, but we had loads of them for a fraction of the price.

Konoba Mondo

Mondo Konoba White Truffle Menu Examples

Poached Eggs on Rucola with White Truffles

Souffle of Egg and Parmesan Cheese with White Truffles

Homemade Cream of Potato Soup with White Truffle

Risotto with Eggplant, Olive Oil, and White Truffles

Risotto with Radicchio and White Truffles in Teran Wine

Creamy Polenta with White Truffles and Parmesan Cheese

Tagliatelle in White Truffle Sauce

Homemade Gnocchi with Shrimps and White Truffles

Homemade Fuzi all Istriana with White Truffles

Pate with White Truffles

Istrian Cod Pate with White Truffle

Istrian Prosciutto Rolls Stuffed with white Truffle Tapenade and Cottage Cheese with White Truffles

Tagliata with White Truffles

Beefsteak with White Truffles

Panna Cotta with White Truffles

Chocolate Flan with White Truffles

Truffles Joined Us on the Rest of our Journey

After we left Istria, we never saw truffles on the menu again as we went down the southern coast. In those few days in Istria, we had truffles at breakfast on eggs, at lunch on pasta, and at dinner on everything! Their smell will always be associated with incredible memories.

But the smell stayed with us in other ways too. Why? Joelle had purchased several black truffle salts for gifts. One of them rolled out the bag, and when Ryan closed the trunk, it sliced the salt container. That rental car smelled like truffles for nine more days until we returned the car. It was much more potent than the real things. It seemed imprinted in our nasal passages long after we returned to the states.

Croatia Cuisine from the Sea

Croatian Cuisine

We left Istria, heading down the coast. The food made a remarkable turn, and we were surprised and fascinated. This is where you will find Croatia’s large seafood selection. Seafood is usually a higher-priced item when dining out. However, even the fanciest seafood feast will find reasonable prices.

Shrimp, mussels, and their much-loved squid dishes will give you unique takes on standard seafood meals. Black seafood risotto is very popular in this region and is blackened with squid ink. Fresh seafood is on every menu. You can find the best variety along the vast coastline in all famous cities on the water, so you don’t need to worry about missing your chance to try some. There will be plenty of local delights caught daily. Always ask, as the staff will tell you what is fresh and what is not.

No matter how simple or fancy the restaurant, the presentation was beautiful. At times a work of art. They take enormous pride in their presentation.

Our Big Splurge

We try to enjoy one higher-end meal during each trip. Joelle is drawn to Michelin Star restaurants and has been to four in her life, so it is a rare event. Ryan has been to one. We did not even look for any in Croatia, but one night in Zadar, we visited this lovely restaurant on the waterfront the hotel suggested. They had this fascinating Chef’s seven-course dinner that had us intrigued.

We went for it with some lovely wine and had a fantastic meal that clearly was our Chef’s masterpiece. The plating of each course was so spectacular you felt bad eating it. The seven courses didn’t even include dessert, but in the end, they brought us both a beautiful one as a special treat at no cost. That was our one significant expense (it was less than a meal at Ruth Criss steak house, though), but since our overall food budget was dramatically lower than we expected, we still came way under budget. It was an exceptional example of the wonder of Croatian cuisine.

Restaurant Kornat

Restaurant Kornat Chef Tasting Menu

Tuna Rolls with Chickpeas Cream

Prawn and Mozzarella Carpaccio with Bloody Mary sauce and spicy Ganache

Beef Carpaccio with Canellone Stuffed with Ricotta Cheese Beef with mint

Homemade Tortelli filled with Pecorino RomanoCream, Beef Tartar, and Fresh Tomato Sauce

Green Tagliatelle with Shrimp and Fresh Tomatoes

White Adriatic Fish Fillet with Vegetables Crust, Potato and Caper Cream, Tomato, and Anchovies Sauce

Beef Steak Medallion with Vegetables, Fresh Ricotta Cream, Green Olives, Capers, and Anchovies Cream

Hearty Croatia Cuisine

Croatia Cuisine

Some more popular dishes found everywhere in our travels were risotto, gnocchi, beef, and lamb. Depending on where you go and what you get, risotto and lamb are the more pricey items on menus. Those dishes were abundant across Croatia with much lower prices than we usually see. Ryan definitely made the most of that. All of those dishes are rich, hearty, and in fair to generous portions. In Pula, we ate at a popular local restaurant in a residential neighborhood. We allowed our attentive server to pick out our meal, which was a ton of meat. There was a lot left behind. We never left a meal hungry.

A fun story; as we left that place and were the only non-Croats in there, our server stopped and offered each of us a complimentary Grappa shot. Three glasses of grappa appeared, and our fun, joyful server joined us to the word Zivjeli, cheers in Croatian. These are moments that make the trip extra memorable.

Fast Food Croatia

We had noticed in our travels that there seemed to be only two kinds of “fast food” places in Croatia. It was pizza or sandwiches. You can’t turn a corner without seeing an Italian place or, at a minimum, having it on the menu at almost any location you go to eat. We didn’t give it much thought at first, but as we descended the Dalmatia coast, it was hard not to notice they were everywhere, and many locals seemed to partake.

Croatia Cuisine

At first, we were like, well, we can get pizza at home. It took us until halfway through the trip in Trogir that we decided to give this dominant dish a try. Oh my, was that a treat. Ryan will say it was hands down the best pizza he has ever had in his life, and he has been to Italy. The setting didn’t hurt, sitting on the water in an ancient medieval town, but it was incredible pizza. Italy remains very prominent in Croatian cuisine, especially along the Dalmatia coast.

Want to learn more about magnificent Croatia? Check out our
Croatia Travel Guide

Recommendations

So what should you eat or avoid during your Croatian visit? Well, personally, like always, you should try everything. Be adventurous and get out of your comfort zone. We have tried so many new things and loved almost everything. Try the fancy, the odd, the local favorite, and the super cheap dive or street food. Order different things and share them with your travel companions. If you don’t like something, you aren’t going to lose out on a lot of money.

Croatia Cuisine

Remember to look for the local treats and specialty dishes from each town you visit. Ask your hotel, the museum staff, or anyone if they aren’t busy. Strike up a conversation with where and what they recommend. If you see a line in a local bakery, pop in and see what they are buying.

Take advantage of the low prices and taste everything that Croatia’s diverse culinary palate offers. Wash everything down with the local drinks, which are also very reasonably priced. We are confident that you won’t be disappointed, and it definitely won’t break your budget.

Want to learn more about Croatian cuisine? Watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode dedicated to Croatia. You will want to be on the next plane there! We watched it the night after our visit to Motovun. We recall his statement on how clueless he was about what Croatia had to offer and called himself a “f*$@ing idiot” for not knowing better. It can be found on HBOMAX.

© 2023 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved

Learn more about how to make the most of your dining experiences when traveling abroad by checking out: Dining Abroad: A Cultural Quest

Learn more about Croatia

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

Want to learn about Wanderers Compass?

Check out our lastest blog posts

Squaremouth.com

Our favorite travel insurance site!

If you are booking a trip, don’t forget to get travel insurance within 14 days of your first booking. We could not be stronger advocates of being well insured. Not for the little stuff but the big stuff like medical emergencies. We never leave home without it. Over the years, we have used many sites but have now found our go-to place. Squaremouth.com does a fantastic job; it has a user-friendly interface, they use top-rated and reputable insurance carriers, and most policies cover Covid medical issues and cancellations. They also mediate on your behalf if you have problems with your policy.

MedjetAssist

Medical transport back home from anywhere in the world

They are the premier global air medical transport. One caveat to travel insurance is that medical evacuation usually gets you to the closest facility to care for you. Medjet gets you back to the U.S. to the hospital of your choice once you are stable enough to fly. They cover Covid-related transports as well.

Medjet carries its own policies. The policy is only for transport and no other aspects of travel insurance. They have individual trip policies starting at $99 and annual policies for $295. Most of their policies limit the age to 74 and younger. Prices are not based on age below that.

Expedia.com 

Hotels, home rentals, BNBs, flights, and other transportation & tours 

Expedia is a US-based company whose mission is to power global travel for everyone and everywhere. Whether planning a family vacation, booking for business, or organizing the trip of a lifetime, they are a fantastic resource. Wanderers Compass focuses on independent travel, and using sites like Expedia makes that possible. Every aspect of travel you would need, from airfare, accommodations, rental car, and cruises, to activities to do at your destination, can be booked on Expedia.  

Booking.com

Hotels, Home rentals, BNBs, Flights, and other Transportation & Tours 

Booking.com connects millions of travelers to memorable experiences, various transportation options, and incredible places to stay – from homes to hotels and much more. It is one of the world’s largest travel marketplaces for established brands and entrepreneurs of all sizes.

We always start with Expedia to check prices, but it sometimes says it is sold out. We then try Booking.com, and we find it lists plenty of rooms. It could be they are a Europe-based company. Try both before booking accommodations.

Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO)

Are you traveling with a family or having an extended stay at your destination?

With over 2 million bookable vacation rentals, VRBO connects homeowners with families and vacationers looking for something more than a hotel for their trip. The VRBO community offers families or groups various rental property types such as condos, cabins, lake rentals, beach houses, etc.

VRBO is under the Expedia group ownership now, which many were worried about, but it hasn’t panned out to be a concern. It is a massive network that has access to all forms of lodging should issues arise. Joelle has used VRBO for many years with her family with no problems.

Tripadvisor

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers worldwide use the Tripadvisor site and App to discover where to stay, what to do, and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 1 billion reviews and opinions from nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants, and discover great places to see nearby. We use them for guidance and research on every trip; it is a valuable app for the independent traveler.

Rail Europe

Discover Europe by Train

Rail Europe sells train and bus tickets for travel across Europe. They cover 24 countries, 105 rail operations, and 20,000 stations. They are the official rail and bus operations agents in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Rail Europe continues to add coverage all the time.

It is a fast, easy and economical way to purchase European train and bus tickets. Eurail passes are also available to buy through their site.

Amazon.com

An excellent source for travel essentials and guides

Amazon is one of the most comprehensive online shopping sources in the world. On behalf of their customers, teams worldwide provide lower prices, better selection, and rapid delivery. They offer a vast inventory, and their 1.7 million small and medium businesses worldwide selling on Amazon.com provide extensive options to customers.

We buy most of our travel books, accessories, and luggage from Amazon. We have ordered up to two days before travel and get what we need.

Travelpro Luggage

Thoughtfully Designed | Meticulously Constructed | Quality Guaranteed.

We have used this luggage for years, left briefly to try others, and returned to Travelpro. Travelpro luggage is carried by crews from over 90 airlines worldwide.

Travelpro takes the time to learn what travelers want and need, then builds it. The key factor for us is that it must be lightweight upfront and resistant to rough handling. Their luggage is the best, and we could not recommend it enough. It is our go-to luggage.

iVisa

Travel documentation made more accessible

iVisa.com is dedicated to providing customers with a simple, fast, and reliable way to get travel documentation for their journey. Their online application process makes getting visas, health declarations, or passport photos a breeze, all from your home’s comfort. As a leading independent company in the travel documentation industry, they take pride in making global travel more accessible for everyone. Ultimately, it is a simple and affordable travel resource to complete the necessary entry documents for your international travel.

This section contains affiliate links. If you use these links (the ads with photos are NOT affiliate links) to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

Do you have a question for us or have a comment?

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Cinque Terre

    Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

    Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

    No spam, unsubscribe at any time, no more than one email a month