Two questions I often get asked about Croatia is what food Croatians eat and whether Croatians speak English.
Both are very important questions, and I’m here to answer the second one for you.
Food Croatians Eat
Typical Croatian food varies from region to region, and the flavour and cooking methods used may vary depending on the region.
Croatian food has a close relationship with its history.
Croatia has at one time or another been invaded or ruled by other European Empires. Parts of Croatia and Bosnia were invaded by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, while the Istrian and Dalmatian regions were part of the Republic of Venice. Napolean eventually conquered this area and renamed it the Illyrian Provinces of the French Empire. Phew!
And just to confuse matters even more, the Austrian and Hungarian empires eventually merged into the Austro-Hungarian Empire and rescued the eastern part of Croatia from the Ottomans, and also ruled over a section of northern Croatia and parts around Rijeka.
But please don’t ask me when and how- that’s another story for another time!
We are here to discuss Croatian cuisine, with all its Turkish, Hungarian, Austrian, Italian and French influences.
Every Croatian kitchen must contain the following:
Smoked paprika, parsley, rosemary, vinegar, sour cream, tomatoes, chillies, capsicum, potatoes, green and red peppers, sauerkraut, salami, walnuts, polenta, pork, beef, chicken, smoked hock, seafood.
The Croatian cuisine varies depending on the region.
Food Croatians eat along the Adriatic Coast:
They eat a lot of seafood: fresh fish, squid, mussels, seafood risotto. For example, in Split there is the daily fish market selling fresh seafood. Every morning when we looked out of our apartment window, we would see the fishermen arriving at the port with their catch of the day, ready for the fishmongers from the local fish market.
Food Croatians eat in other regions:
Inland, especially in the eastern region of Croatia known as Slavonia, the cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish and Hungarian cuisines. Gulaš, fish paprikaš (fish stew), lamb or pork cooked on the spit.
But regardless of the region, there are a number of Croatian national dishes that you can find almost anywhere. Many Croatians living abroad have raised their children on these same traditional Croatian meals! This is the stuff I was brought up eating!
Photo by Flickr
Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
These are rolls of sauerkraut (sour cabbage) stuffed with ground pork and beef, cooked in a paprika-based soup (with added smoked hock/meat pieces to give it a smoky flavour). This is similar to the Greek Dolmades (which are stuffed vine leaves). Some Croatians serve Sarma with mashed potatoes. I think it’s filling enough without the mash!
Punjena paprika about to be cooked. Photo by Mamma Loves Travel
Filana/Punjena Paprika (Stuffed Peppers)
Similar to Sarma, however instead of using sauerkraut, the meat mixture is stuffed into peppers. Traditionally, green peppers are used however my mum used red peppers instead as they don’t taste as bitter as the green. The stuffed peppers are cooked in a tomato-based soup and served with a side of mashed potatoes, if desired.
Photo by Mamma Loves Travel
Ćevapčići/Ćevape (Skinless Sausages)
Made from pork and/or beef, these small skinless sausages can be found in many parts of the world. In fact, here in Australia, they are sold in all major supermarkets as “chevaps”. Traditionally they are spicy but as I recently found out while traveling through Croatia, most restaurants omit the spices (unfortunately). If you are looking for traditional Ćevape, look for the “Sarajevski Ćevape”- a recipe from the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. I’m told that the traditional and “the best” Ćevape can be found in Sarajevo (and at a takeaway shop I found in Split). Ćevape in a restaurant are served with a salad garnish and “ajvar” (red capsicum relish), while takeaway places serve them in warmed pita bread (lepinja) with your choice of fillings.
Lignje to die for! Photo by Mamma Loves Travel
The best meal I had in Croatia on our recent trip was at a tavern on the Dalmatian island of Brač. I had battered lignje with crispy chips and a salad.When holidaying in Dalmatia, fresh seafood is a must, of course. Click To Tweet
Photo by Flickr
Ražnjići (spiced pork skewers)
These are grilled skewers of spiced pork, similar to Greek Souvlaki, usually eaten with a salad and ajvar.
Grah (bean stew)
Growing up, every Croatian kid I knew hated Grah. Everyone knew that if you ate Grah for dinner to stay away from you the next day (“Beans, beans, good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you….”).
But I LOVED Grah. It was one of my favourite comfort foods. Grah, translated into English, means beans. But in Croatia (and Bosnia and Serbia), Grah is bean stew made using either Borlotti or kidney beans. Traditionally, it is cooked as a thick stew with added smoked meat or sausage. The smoked meat really gives the stew its hearty flavour. My mum used to add chopped carrots too.
And after finishing your Grah, you can grab some crusty bread and mop up the remaining liquid on your plate (if there’s any left!).
Umak od Rajčica (Tomato sauce)
Ok, this is not what Croatians eat in a restaurant. It is a very thick tomato sauce that is not used as a pasta sauce as such, but is used as a dip for bread or pieces of chicken. It’s something my mum sometimes cooked. You make a white roux using flour and oil (or lard), then add tomato paste and water and mix on the stove until it is a thick, orangey-red coloured sauce (and add salt and pepper to taste). We would then dip our bread in it and eat. My husband and kids love it! Have you tried it?
Mlinci: photo by Flickr
Mlinci (baked noodles)
Mlinci is a dish traditionally eaten in the northern and eastern regions of Croatia (Zagorje, Medimurje and Slavonia). Mlinci are made from dried flatbread that is broken up into pieces, soaked in soup and then baked in the oven. It is eaten as a side accompaniment to meat (especially roast chicken). It’s something my family eats every Christmas and Easter!
Fish Paprikas photo by Flickr
Fiš Paprikaš (Fish Stew)
This is what Croatians eat in the Slavonia region, and it is properly known as Riblji Paprikaš (riblji means fish but now they just call it “Fiš”, less confusing for tourists I guess!). It is traditionally cooked in a huge pot over an open fire and is something Croatians would cook for a special celebration. This stew is cooked in a tomato and hot paprika-based sauce. There are variations using chicken instead of fish if you don’t eat seafood.
Ajvar photo by Flickr
Ajvar (red capsicum relish)
Not a dish but a dip or accompaniment made from red capsicum that is eaten with meat (or spread on a slice of bread as my kids like it!). Some Croatians add eggplant as well. You will find it often served with Ćevapčići.
Now you know what food Croatians eat- you can find most of these dishes in Croatian restaurants or homes.
If you’re from a Hungarian, Turkish or Greek background, you will probably recognise some of these dishes.
Most restaurants and taverns also serve foods such as spaghetti bolognaise, pizza, chicken schnitzel and hamburgers etc…so if your kids are particularly fussy, you should still find something to make them happy.
I have not included any desserts in this list- I will tackle these in a separate post very soon!
If you are interested in Croatian cooking and would like to try your hand at a few recipes, grab a copy of A Taste Of Croatia by Karen Evenden.
Have you tried any of these Croatian dishes? What’s your favourite? Do you have any questions about what food Croatians eat?
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