Traveling to Croatia and wondering which Croatian foods you should try during your visit? I’ve teamed up with Yacht Getaways to bring you this guide to some of the best typical Croatian dishes and local wines.
I recently discovered during my one-week island-hopping adventure with Yacht Getaways that exploring Croatia via a catamaran cruise is the perfect way to experience the best of Croatia’s cuisine.
Visiting a different island every day not only gives you the opportunity to try the nationally known dishes but also allows you to explore hyper-local dishes as well.
Whether you are on the road or jumping from island to island, we have got you covered!
The two main regions of the country, in terms of food that is, are the north and the coast. The dishes from the north are usually pastry or meat dishes, while the dishes from the seaside are a great representation of true Mediterranean cuisine. Fellow seafood lovers will enjoy the latter, as I couldn’t get enough of the seafood during my visit.
Intrigued? Read on to find out which foods you must try while you are in Croatia!
Visiting other destinations in the Balkan? Check out our other delicious guides:
Best Croatian Food
Let’s start with maybe my favorite Croatian dish and one of the most popular in the entire country- peka.
Peka hails from coastal regions, especially Dalmatia. This traditional dish involves slow-cooking meat (think lamb or veal) and veggies in a dome or bell-shaped cooking vessel resulting in tender, juicy goodness. And the best part? The dish is cooked over an open flame and often covered in burning embers.
I mostly saw the lamb pekas that I mentioned being prepared but during our catamaran trip with Yacht Getaways, we also tried fish and octopus pekas.
The lamb (paired with a local bottle of red wine (more on Croatian wines later) is still my favorite but the fish and octopus versions were delicious also.
Octopus Salad (Salata od Hobotnice)
Croatian octopus salad embodies the sun-kissed lifestyle and vibrant culture of Croatia’s seaside regions. This refreshing dish captures the essence of the Adriatic, showcasing the love for fresh seafood and the zest of Mediterranean flavors.
Perfectly cooked octopus is marinated in a light blend of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley. Usually served cold, this salad makes for a great appetizer or the perfect light lunch to beat the summer heat.
Pašticada is a traditional Dalmatian course, and this Croatian food is a must-try it if you’re ever in the region. Even though the dish is most popular in the seaside region, it does not include any fish or seafood, which is quite interesting.
In fact, pašticada is made with beef and potatoes and served in a very special sauce. The dish requires meticulous preparation – first, the beef is stuffed with garlic, bacon, and carrots. Then it is left to marinate overnight in vinegar. The next day it is roasted with spices and vegetables – prunes, tomato paste, onions, etc. The cooking of the meat can take up to five hours, depending on how thick the meat is.
When the meat is done, all of the vegetables that it was cooking with are blended into a thick flavorful sauce. Pašticada is usually served on a deep plate with roasted potatoes or gnocchi.
This dish is named by the region it originates from – Zagorje. It is very popular in the north of the country, and definitely something you should ever try if you’re in Zagreb or one of the nearby towns.
Zagorski štrukli is a savory pastry dish. The dough is rolled very thin (to cover an entire table), and then a mixture of eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, and salt is spread along the edges of the dough. Both sides of the dough are then rolled lengthwise until they meet in the middle.
The two rolls are then arranged in a pan, covered with clotted cream, and baked for about 45 minutes until they are golden brown at the top. Štrukli can also be cooked in boiling water, but the baked ones definitely taste better.
Sarma is an essential dish to have on the table during festive celebrations and family gatherings.
This mouthwatering dish is made up of cabbage leaves, generously stuffed with a delicious blend of ground meat (often pork or beef) and rice, perfectly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices.
Once assembled, the rolls are gently simmered in a rich tomato-based sauce, allowing the flavors to meld together, adding a rich and tangy element to the dish. The tomato sauce perfectly complements the savory and aromatic filling of ground meat and rice.
If you’re not fortunate enough to be invited to a Croatian family get-together, look for the best sarma at smaller, family-run establishments. If you see a grandma in the kitchen, you know the sarma is going to be delicious!
Mlinci are a very tasty side dish perfect for lovers of pasta and pastries. They are made from the thick dough (mlinci), and they are very easy to prepare.
You can actually buy the specific pasta for Mlinci anywhere in Croatia, but the dish tastes best when it is made from scratch. First, the basic dough is made, and then it is rolled out to be about a centimeter thick. The dough is then baked in the oven and broken into 5cm squares.
After they are broken up into smaller pieces, they are usually covered with or submerged into chicken broth or salty water, so that they can soak up the flavors. And since they absorb liquids really fast, they need to be wrought out, so that they don’t become too soft. Mlinci are traditionally served as a side dish with roasted chicken, turkey, or duck.
Rožata is a type of custard pudding that’s very similar to flan and creme brulee. It’s a dessert dish that originates from Dubrovnik, and you don’t want to miss out on it if you’re ever in the town. It actually has quite a few names – in Dubrovnik, it is best known as rozata, but in other parts of Croatia, it’s also called rozada or rožada.
The name of the dish comes from rose liquor (liquor rozalin) which gives the dish its specific aroma. At least, that’s what the traditional recipe calls for. Nowadays, you can find rožate with vanilla or even rum, but they are definitely not worthy of the name.
The easiest way to describe a traditional rožata is a pudding covered with liquid caramel. The pudding is rather basic, as it is made from eggs, milk, and sugar. But the liquor and the caramel add a whole new dimension to the dish and just enhance its flavor greatly. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the Croatian food you must try when you’re in Croatia.
Fritule is a pastry Croatian food popular in Dalmatia, Istria, and Kvarner. It is a dessert dish and is very similar to doughnuts.
This Croatian food is traditionally most popular during the Christmas holidays, but you can easily find it in restaurants and pastry shops any time of the year. Fritule is made by frying small balls of dough, which are traditionally served with powdered sugar.
There are lots of different versions of this Croatian dessert. Sometimes you’ll find fritule stuffed with raisins and other times you will get them covered with chocolate and vanilla, like in the photo.
Regardless of how exactly it is served, it will taste great. If you usually like pastries, you’ll love this dish. But maybe avoid it if you’re on a diet, as fritule is very high in fat but worth every bite!
Originally from Serbia, Ajvar is now a staple dish in Croatian households. In fact, when I first came to Croatia in 2015, I was on such a small budget I was living on bread, ajvar, and cheese for one of my daily meals!
Ajvar is made up of roasted red peppers, garlic, and spices. You can oftentimes find a spicy version of ajvar that is my personal favorite.
Ajvar is often added to not only bread but also goes perfectly with grilled meats.
Brudet is a dish very popular in Dalmatia and Istria. It’s a fish stew and it’s very simple to prepare because, with this style of Croatian cooking, everything is prepared in one large pot.
A proper brudet includes several types of fish, and at least one type of crab, frequently langoustine or lobster. The fish is first cleaned and then put in a large pot to cook for several hours, along with tomato paste, white wine, vinegar, and olive oil.
This is a must-try if you love seafood and Mediterranean cuisine in general. Brudet is a dish full of different flavors, and it tastes amazing when prepared properly. It is usually served with cooked or baked polenta, and with lots of sauce.
Imotski rafioli is a traditional Croatian cake that originates from the town of Imotski, hence the name. This traditional Croatian food is served at important holidays and weddings. In fact, the recipe is 150 years old! And it is made from ingredients that are always available in the Imotski area.
One cool thing about this dessert is that once made, it can sit around for days at a time, and it will still taste good. Actually, imotski rafioli tastes the best after a day or two, and not fresh out of the oven.
The pastries are made from sweet pasta dough (pasta dough with vanilla sugar) and they are shaped just like larger ravioli. The filling is made from sugar, egg whites, ground almonds, lemon zest, nutmeg, vanilla, and rum.
You can find this dish in restaurants and shops all over the country, but for the true recipe, you will have to go to Imotski.
Cevapi is a beloved dish consisting of small grilled sausages made from a mixture of minced beef and lamb. Cevapi is regarded as the national dish of Bosnia-Herzegovina but some version of cevapi can be found all over the Balkans, sometimes with the name varying slightly.
These flavorful sausages are seasoned with spices and typically served on warm bread with onions and a side of ajvar (the roasted red pepper relish mentioned earlier). Cevapi is a popular street food option and can be found in many restaurants and food stalls throughout Croatia.
Soparnik is a type of pie, traditionally filled with Swiss chard. It is kind of similar to Bosnian zeljanica, but the overall preparation of the dish differs a lot.
The traditional soparnik is actually rather simple to prepare. The top and bottom layers are thin dough, which becomes very crispy when baked in the oven. The middle layer is filled with Swiss chard, onions, and parsley.
This is baked in the oven until the top layer is golden brown, and it doesn’t hurt if it gets burnt a little. Soparnik is cut into triangles pizza-style, and it’s often served with a side salad or some sour cream.
That’s the traditional soparnik. Nowadays you can find versions of this Croatian cuisine that include sweet filling (caramel or dried fruits), and even some that are filled with nuts. But those do not represent the cultural heritage of this dish properly.
The black risotto can be a hit-or-miss dish. It mostly depends on how you feel about cuttlefish, as that is one of the main ingredients in the dish.
The risotto itself is very basic in preparation. It includes rice, parmesan, olive oil, and lots of spices. Usually, it is also served with cuttlefish, oysters, or crab. But the most interesting thing about this traditional Croatian food is its color.
Croatia is home to a fantastic selection of wines that cater to every taste. I could devote an entire post to Croatian wines as the country is home to so many different varieties but here’s a short guide to the most popular Croatian wines and the grapes used to make them, so you can navigate the country’s wine scene with confidence.
But first, here are a few interesting facts about Croatian wine:
Facts about Croatian wine
- Ancient Roots: Croatian wine production dates back thousands of years, with evidence of winemaking in the region since the time of the Illyrians, an ancient Indo-European civilization. The historical significance of Croatian wine is underscored by the fact that the Greek writer and philosopher, Homer, mentioned the wines of the Dalmatian coast in his works, praising their quality and flavor.
- Zinfandel’s Croatian Origins: Zinfandel, one of the most widely recognized grape varieties worldwide, actually has its roots in Croatia. DNA analysis has revealed that Zinfandel is genetically identical to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski and the grape variety known as Tribidrag. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Zinfandel made its way to the United States, where it gained immense popularity.
- UNESCO-Protected Vineyards: Croatia boasts several vineyard areas that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar, for example, is a well-preserved agricultural landscape that includes vineyards cultivating indigenous grape varieties. This recognition highlights the cultural significance and rich viticultural heritage of Croatian wine.
And here are my suggestions for a few of the most popular varietals you’ll find during your time in Croatia:
For Red Wine Lovers:
- Plavac Mali: This is Croatia’s superstar red grape. It produces full-bodied wines bursting with flavors of dark fruits and spices. If you enjoy Zinfandel, you’ll appreciate the rich character and aging potential of Plavac Mali.
- Teran: Found mainly in the Istria region, Teran grapes create red wines with lively acidity and vibrant fruit flavors. You can expect deep colors, pronounced tannins, and delightful notes of red berries and spices.
- Dingač: Grown on the picturesque Pelješac Peninsula, Dingač grapes result in powerful, full-bodied wines. These wines offer dark fruit flavors, hints of Mediterranean herbs, and a unique mineral touch that showcases the region’s charm.
For White Wine Enthusiasts:
- Malvazija Istriana: If you’re seeking a refreshing white wine, look no further than Malvazija Istriana. It’s a local favorite in Istria, offering zesty citrus, white flower aromas, and a crisp mineral character. Perfect for sunny days!
- Graševina: This widely planted white grape delivers vibrant wines with flavors of green apple, white peach, and citrus. Graševina wines have a lovely acidity that makes them versatile and enjoyable.
- Pošip: From the beautiful island of Korčula, Pošip grapes produce aromatic white wines with a full-bodied texture. Expect tropical fruit notes, ripe apricots, and a touch of Mediterranean herbs. These wines offer elegance and can age gracefully.
For Rosé Fanatics:
- Crljenak Kaštelanski: This grape, also known as Tribidrag or Zinfandel, is versatile and can create delightful rosé wines. Enjoy the refreshing flavors of red berries, watermelon, and a zesty acidity in these vibrant pink wines.
- Plavac Mali Rosé: Plavac Mali, primarily known for red wines, can also be used to make fantastic rosés. Experience the lively acidity, ripe strawberries, cherries, and a hint of Mediterranean spice in these refreshing pink wines.
- Frankovka: Frankovka, or Blaufränkisch, can produce rosé wines in Croatia. These wines offer lively fruit flavors like raspberries and red currants, with a refreshing acidity and delicate floral notes.
This overview is just a glimpse into Croatia’s exciting wine scene. I highly suggest you plan a visit to this amazing country to check out the impressive food and wine scene for yourself. And highly consider exploring the country like I did- on a catamaran trip with Yacht Getaways. You won’t regret it!
What traditional Croatian food do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.