Croatian cuisine is an intriguing blend, seamlessly merging Mediterranean seafood favorites with Central Europe's hearty, meaty traditions. Geographically diverse, from its sun-kissed coastlines to rustic inland terrains, Croatia offers a culinary repertoire as varied as its landscape.
This article serves as your culinary roadmap, and we will look at 16 delicious Croatian foods you'll soon forget pizza was your go-to comfort food. We've covered you, from local delicacies to meals that define entire regions.
There will also be food to suit everyone's budget, which is perfect if you are a fan of frugal travel like us.
1. Black Risotto
While you'll see it gracing menus all over Croatia's coastline, it's not unheard of to find it inland. This famous Croatian food also came up everywhere when we were doing our research.
What gives this risotto its signature dark color? The secret lies in squid ink, added toward the end of cooking to give the dish its distinctive shade. Usually featuring either squid or cuttlefish as the main attraction, black risotto blends a mix of flavors without being overwhelming. Garlic, olive oil, red wine, and fish stock join forces to create this unique yet straightforward dish.
Fritule is a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth, often found gracing menus and street stalls across Croatia, especially in the Dalmatian region. These miniature doughnuts are a Croatian national dish rooted in holiday traditions; they're particularly popular during Christmas, Carnival season, and Lent. Made from fried dough balls, fritule are commonly enhanced with rum and raisins for added flavor.
Their adaptability sets them apart—while some enjoy them simply dusted with icing sugar, others opt for garnishes like orange peel, lemon zest, or even a drizzle of chocolate sauce.
Peka is a quintessential example of traditional Croatian food, commonly found on menus throughout the country but particularly beloved along the Dalmatian Coast. This slow-cooked dish is a masterpiece of simplicity and flavor, prepared in a unique way: ingredients like lamb, chicken, veal, or even octopus are mixed with potatoes and vegetables, seasoned, and then drizzled with olive oil and wine.
The mixture is placed in a cast iron or earthenware pot and covered with a dome-shaped lid, known locally as ‘ispod čripnje.' This is then put over an open fire and covered in embers, allowing it to bake slowly for hours. The result is a tender, flavorful dish that often has people declaring it the best food in Croatia.
Since it takes time to prepare, it's generally a good idea to order it in advance. Often, it's served with Croatian bread, perfect for soaking up the sumptuous sauce.
Also known as “Brodet” or “Brodetto,” this hearty fish stew is a symphony of seafood cooked in a savory tomato and onion sauce. Its richness comes from the varied catch of the day, featuring anything from tuna and grouper to clams and langoustines. The dish is highly adaptable and changes with the seasons and the fisherman's luck.
Traditionally served with polenta, it's a versatile dish found in Dalmatia, Istria, and the Kvarner Gulf. The dish is a great example of how Croatian cuisine values flavor and local ingredients.
This beef stew is different from your standard Croatian food as it's one that's often reserved for special occasions and celebrations, given the time and care it takes to prepare. The beef is marinated for at least a day, sometimes even longer, in a mix that often includes wine vinegar, prunes or figs, and a blend of spices like nutmeg. After marinating, the meat is seared and then slow-cooked in a sauce that often includes red wine and sometimes even a touch of prošek, a Croatian sweet wine.
The complexity of flavors from ingredients like bacon and root vegetables adds more layers to this rich dish. Traditionally, it's served with gnocchi and best enjoyed with a glass of red wine.
A versatile creation, Buzara can feature different kinds of shellfish—be it mussels, shrimp, or langoustines. This Croatian recipe has two styles: a white sauce that combines olive oil, white wine, garlic, and parsley and a red sauce that incorporates onions and tomatoes.
The real magic happens during cooking; as the shellfish steam, they release their natural juices, which blend with the other ingredients to form a mouth-watering sauce. Often garnished with breadcrumbs, this dish offers a delightful introduction to traditional Croatian seafood.
Manestra soup blends fresh and dried vegetables, often accompanied by short pasta. Staples like dried beans, known as romano in Croatia, are essential in any Manestra recipe. Seasonal veggies like carrots, celery, and potatoes are also thrown into the mix. To add another layer of depth, many versions incorporate meat—commonly pork ribs or chops and a chunk of ham.
However, vegetarian variations are also available for those who prefer a meat-free dish. Versatile, comforting, and filled with garden-fresh ingredients, Manestra is more than a soup; it's a warm invitation to experience the culinary richness of Istria and is a Croatian delicacy.
Gregada is a traditional fish stew originating from the island of Hvar, a topic we discussed in our previous article about the island. This dish is a testament to the age-old culinary traditions of Dalmatia, with its roots possibly tracing back to Greek settlers over two thousand years ago. Unlike its Korčula counterpart, popara, which uses tomatoes and often accompanies macaroni, Gregada has a simpler base.
It's a straightforward Croatian recipe that primarily features a variety of fish and shellfish. Other key ingredients that get added in this dish include anchovies, potatoes, capers, onions, parsley, and garlic. All these are simmered in white wine, often in a clay pot, allowing the flavors to blend into something really tasty.
The ingredients might vary based on what's available at the local market, but the dish's essence—its simplicity and reliance on fresh, local produce—remains constant.
Soparnik is a unique savory pie from Poljica, located on the Dalmatian coast near Split. This special Croatian dish has garnered protection from the Croatian Ministry of Culture and the European Union.
Unlike your typical pie, Soparnik features a filling of Swiss chard, onion, and parsley enveloped in a flat, pizza-like crust. Often baked in traditional stone ovens known as “komuna,” it's a dish steeped in cultural significance. While it may have once been considered ‘poor dry food' consumed mostly by the less affluent residents of Poljica, Soparnik is now celebrated at a dedicated festival every July.
Families compete for the title of the best Soparnik, allowing everyone to savor various interpretations of this age-old recipe. Soparnik holds a special place during Lent, All Saints' Day, Christmas, and other occasions, and it's traditionally topped off with olive oil and garlic before being served.
10. Skradinski Rizot
Skradinski Rizot is a labor of love hailing from Skradin, a town in Croatia. It's not your quick-fix veal risotto; this dish is stirred for hours to reach an unbelievable creaminess, to the point where the veal melts into the rice. This ritual demands a high level of commitment: if someone has to step away, another person picks up the stirring duty right away.
This risotto is a Croatian delicacy made with ingredients like homemade broths from chicken and different cuts of beef, onions, salt, pepper, oil, hard cheese, and rice. Men of Skradin traditionally cook it using a “veslo,” a large wooden spoon, for up to 13 hours. The long cooking time and constant stirring are key to melding the flavors and achieving the dish's unique, rich taste.
11. Croatian Octopus Salad
Croatian Octopus Salad is a must-try for seafood lovers, especially those staying on the Dalmatian coast. When done right, the octopus is tender, not rubbery, and served chilled. The dish mainly features bite-sized octopus pieces tossed in a simple yet flavorful dressing made from vinegar, olive oil, onions, capers, and parsley.
Some variations of this typical Croatian food include boiled potatoes or tomatoes to bulk up the salad. What makes this dish so popular is its simplicity and letting the freshness of the seafood shine through. We think it is best enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea, paired with a glass of crisp white wine, making it not just a meal but an experience that encapsulates the Croatian coastal vibe.
Sarma is a comforting Croatian dish perfect for chilly winter days. It features a tasty filling made from minced meat, rice, and spices, which is then wrapped in sauerkraut leaves instead of the bell peppers used in other stuffed dishes.
This winter favorite in Croatia is often enjoyed during the colder months to warm up from the inside out. The sauerkraut gives the dish its distinctive tangy flavor, complementing the savory meat and rice mixture. While it's deeply rooted in Croatian cuisine, Sarma is also a staple in other Eastern European cultures, showcasing slight variations but always keeping the core comfort-food essence.
Cevapi is a grilled dish you'll often find on Croatian menus, especially in tourist spots. These small, sausage-shaped rolls of minced meat are a traditional Croatian food throughout the Balkan region. The meat usually includes a mix of beef, lamb, or pork, and the dish is traditionally served with sides like pita bread, chopped onions, and a red pepper spread known as ajvar.
Because of their simple yet flavorful profile, Cevapi makes for an easy and satisfying meal. They're the kind of food that's equally at home at a backyard BBQ or on a restaurant menu.
Fis-Paprikas is a spicy fish stew from Slavonia, a region in eastern Croatia. Originally from Hungary, this hearty dish has won over locals and is now a staple across the Pannonian plain. The main stars of the stew are freshwater fish like carp, catfish, pike, and starlet. What sets this dish apart is its use of red paprika, which ranges from mild to tongue-tingling hot, making it one of Croatia's spiciest meals.
The Croatian stew is often ladled over homemade noodles and is so beloved that it sparks cooking contests throughout the year. For those who like to crank up the heat, ground paprika is traditionally served on the side, letting each diner adjust the spiciness to their taste.
Paprenjak is a Croatian cookie with a rich history that traces back to the 16th century. Its name comes from the word “papar,” which means black pepper in Croatian. That's right, this cookie has black pepper and other tasty ingredients like honey, walnuts, hazelnuts, butter, and a blend of spices, which makes it different from other cookies. If you've ever flown with Croatia Airlines, you might've gotten a chance to try this unique treat. Traditionally, Paprenjak was a Christmas staple in Croatian homes, and its distinct flavor comes from the special blend of spices and pepper.
These days, you can find these cookies in various shapes, like stars, trees, or gingerbread men. However, you'll need special wooden molds that imprint patterns into the dough to make it the old-school way.
Arancini are not just any candied orange peels; they're a special treat from southern Croatia that are as tasty as they are memorable. These sweet bites make awesome gifts, but the homemade version takes the cake. T
The process starts by slicing orange peel into long strips. You can also use lemon or grapefruit if you want. After soaking the peels in water for two days, drain them and weigh them out. The next step is cooking them in a pan with equal sugar. Wait for the water to evaporate; once the sugar crystalizes, you know they're ready.
Croatian cuisine is special because it keeps its ancient cooking traditions alive. Whether it's a street vendor or a high-end restaurant, you're likely to find authentic dishes nationwide. So, the next time you find yourself in Croatia, try some mouth-watering dishes we've discussed.
If we left out a must-try Croatian dish, comment below. We'd love to hear what you think should make the list.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.