While we love Balkan food in general, we hold a special place in our hearts for Croatian cuisine. Full of rich flavors and hearty Adriatic seafood, traditional Croatian cuisine is both similar to its Balkan neighbors and yet still surprising and inventive, creating something all of its own. Here are the best Croatian dishes and the best Croatian food you need to try during your trip!
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The Best Croatian Food and Dishes to Try
In no particular order…
Croatia’s most famous cheese comes from one very particular, small place: the Adriatic island of Pag.
Pag cheese (Paski Sir in Croatian) is a hard cheese made of sheep milk that is given a specific taste due to the (quite salty) diet of the sheep who live on Pag, making it a distinct and recognizable cheese that has won many awards worldwide for its unique and delicious flavor.
With its distinct sharp, salty flavor, Pag cheese is a big crowd pleaser both in and outside of Croatia.
Popularly served throughout Croatia, both on its own and incorporated into dishes like various pasta, any foodie traveling through Croatia should be sure to try a slice.
Though the island of Pag is the only place the cheese can be produced, you can find it being sold in markets and restaurants across Croatia.
However, if you do indeed make it to the island of Pag, consider taking a Pag cheese tour to learn all about its production–and to taste the famous cheese at the source.
One of the best things about Croatian food is the abundance of fresh seafood. With over 1000 miles of coastline and 1700 islands and inlets, a lot of Croatian cuisines are centered around seafood and there is no shortage of fishing villages, boats and fishermen supplying hungry locals and visitors with the catch of the day, and often that means Squid.
Interestingly squid is most active at night when it is feeding so they are best caught at night too. They are attracted to the lights fisherman waves around and come to the surface where they are then easily caught.
They need to then be cleaned of their inner organs and shell before being cooked and there are several ways they can be served. Stuffed Squid is commonly found throughout the Mediterranean and there is also a Croatian dish where it is stewed and served with polenta. But for me simply grilling it with a few herbs like oregano or dill and a generous squeeze of lemon, is hard to beat.
We had fresh grilled squid the first time we visited Croatia in a seaside taverna in Dubrovnik and it was so good we ordered the same thing when we returned the following year. You will find squid on all the menus all over coastal Croatia and even if it is not in season it will have been snap frozen fresh and defrosted expertly for your enjoyment. There is no reason why it can’t be enjoyed all year round!
Contributed by Sandra Papas from Greece Travel Secrets
Crni Rizot (Black Risotto)
A lot of travelers readÂ books about Croatia before traveling to this little country and one of the things that always comes up is the traditional food. What is included in traditional Croatian food depends on where you are in the country.
On the Dalmatian Coast, traditional food has a Mediterranean flair, and of course, often includes seafood.
A typical meal may include fish caught right off the coast with crni rizot (black risotto). Crni rizot is made with cuttlefish and squid â€” the ink of the cuttlefish is added at the last moment to give this dish its black color. Itâ€™s usually served with a bit of Parmesan cheese on top.
Add to that, shrimp in white wine, garlic, parsley and a light tomato sauce, and a salad. For dessert look for local mandarin oranges and a flakey, doughy pastry with a cheese filling.
There are many places to order these Croatian specialties, but sitting at an outdoor cafe on the island of Hvar, overlooking the Adriatic Sea with a glass of wine in hand, has to be the best way to experience them.
Contributed by Mel of TravelingMel.
A simple fish stew, yet rich in taste and flavor, Brudet is a common dish along the coast and in the regions of Dalmatia, Istria, and Kyarner. There are as many recipes for this dish as there are locals who enjoy it, as everyone has their family traditions and unique ingredients.
The dish comprises several types of fish, slow-cooked in a single pot, which is well flavored with local spices and red wine. Usually served with polenta or potatoes, the dish takes advantage of all the leftover fish not sold at the market. Popular varieties of seafood include white fish, shrimps, scallops, mussels, and calamari.
The popularity of this dish is not only due to its great taste but also as a result of its simplicity of preparation, reminiscent of the food in Egypt. I tried many wonderful foods while traveling the country, but Brudet remains one of my favorites and is a must-try.
Contributed by Rai of A Rai of Light.
Cevapi is a staple food throughout the Balkans – and every country will proudly tell you why their version is superior. I have a soft spot for Croatia’s rendition, known locally as cevapcici.
There are regional variations, but cevapcici is essentially caseless sausages made from a combination of ground beef and pork. In Croatia, the mix is typically seasoned with garlic and paprika. The cevapcici is hand-formed into sausage-shaped morsels before being chargrilled. If you think they resemble Turkish kofte, that’s because cevapcici originated around the time the Balkans fell under Ottoman rule.
The ultimate cheap bite, cevapcici are usually dished out in large portions – never less than five – and always served with chopped raw onion and a heaping of bread (you can use the bread to mop up the excess oil). In Zagreb, cevapcici is a worker’s lunch, often prepared mixed grill-style with regular sausages and mustard on the side. At suburban grill-houses, a plate of cevapcici will cost you a couple of Kuna. For an ‘elevated’ cevapcici experience, try Plac Kitchen & Grill near the Dolac Market.
Contributed by Emily of Wander-Lush
Kremšnita is one of the most famous Croatian desserts, especially popular in the northern part of the country. It’s a cake made of two layers of puff pastry with custard cream between them. The cream is made of vanilla with sweet cream and some whipped cream on top of it.
Although there are many versions of a similar cake in Germany and some other neighboring countries, the variation that is the best known in Croatia, is Samoborska kremšnita. It’s coming from a small town of Samobor, located next to Zagreb. It was invented by Ðuro Lukačić, who made his version by the kremšnita from Zagreb. However, he started to use a top layer of puff pastry with just a bit of icing sugar on top of it.
A place to try kremšnita in Samobor is a restaurant called ‘U prolazu’ located on its main square. However, if you would like to try the version from Zagreb, with a thin layer of whipped cream on top of it, go to ‘Vincek’ patisserie.
Contributed by Tea Gudek Snajdar of Culture Tourist
Fritule also referred to by the Anglicized ‘Croatian Fritters,’ are a special Croatian pastry lovingly crafted each year at Christmastime as part of the country’s Advent and Christmas traditions. Similar to donut holes, they are made from fried, sugared dough.
While they are reminiscent of Italian and Dutch pastries, you can tell you’ve encountered the Croatian version by the inclusion of rum, citrus zest, and raisins.
If you find yourself in Croatia in winter, make sure to get your hands on some!
What to Pack for Croatia
We have an entire Croatia packing list, but make sure you don’t leave these items behind!
A Guidebook – While travel blogs are great, we also definitely see the benefit of having a good paper guidebook in hand to refer to in your on-the-ground travel. We recommend the Lonely Planet Croatia book.
Mosquito repellent: Mosquitos in the summer can be nasty! You can bring ones with DEET or without DEET, or I love having some of these mosquito repellent wipes that I can keep in my bag in case I suddenly start to get swarmed and don’t have my regular repellent with me.
Sunscreen: You can buy sunscreen in Croatia, but it’s likely cheaper at home or bought online in advance. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen. Who doesn’t love a good solid for liquid swap? Great to keep in your bag without worrying about sunscreen explosions.
Water shoes: Pebble beaches in Croatia are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the pebble seafloor is what creates that gorgeous deep turquoise-colored water that is hard to beat, as the lack of sand means you have incredibly clear water. However, on the other hand, pebble beaches and rocky shores can be downright painful!
Our friend recently cut his foot on a rocky beach in Croatia; had he been wearing water shoes, he’d have avoided such unpleasantness! We suggest these unisex water shoes. They’re not sexy, but they will make your trips to the beach far more pleasant!
A secure backpack: We both carry the CitySafe backpack by PacSafe not only on our travels but in our day-to-day lives. It’s cute, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, and it’s secure. We’re talking about interlocking zippers (which you can then put through a second clasp for two layers of security), slash-proof wire mesh construction, and RFID blockers to keep your data safe.
It’s neutral enough to be unisex, it’s roomy enough to fit a small laptop, large camera, and tons of odds & ends, and it fits under the plane seat in front of you. We’re obsessed. Check it out for yourself!
Grayl Water Filter: Tap water is generally safe to drink in Croatia, but if you’re not used to drinking tap water from other countries, the typically harmless bacteria found in all water can cause some gut irritation. To both be safe and not buy dozens of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. If you’ll be traveling outside of the major tourist centers, check if the water is potable locally.
Sea bands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Sea bands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Croatia – being on the water! A trip to Croatia isn’t complete without a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!
Where to Stay in Croatia
Here are our recommendations for where to stay in Dubrovnik. We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in other Croatian cities, but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible since this is a popular time to visit the city.
More Croatia Travel Resources
Headed to Croatia? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Croatia, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Croatia packing list with a detailed section for all seasons.
If you’re still putting together your itinerary, here’s a great list of places to visit in Croatia, our Croatia national parks guide, and the Croatian waterfalls guide to help you choose. We also have a guide to the best day trips from Spit if you’re to be visiting Split as well.
Next, check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Croatia and local tipping customs.
Of course, if you’re coming to Croatia you’ll have lots of opportunities to shop! Read our guide to shopping in Croatia so you know which souvenirs are truly local gems.
If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan bus, road trip, and itinerary guides.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Croatia (or really, any part of the world)! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel – especially during the winter! – so it’s better to play it safe.
Pin This Guide to Croatian Food for Your Trip!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.