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16th November, 2020

Dobar tek! Our guide to Croatian Cuisine

The Croatian equivalent of “Bon Apetit”, you’ll hear “Dobar Tek” frequently as you dine – and you’ll soon come to associate it with mouth-wateringly delicious cuisine…

From the humble konobas (typical Croatian guesthouses) to the top restaurants offering the best of fine dining, Croatia is undergoing a gastro-revolution. Chefs are buzzing with a new energy to re-invent the country’s long and varied culinary traditions, making the most of local produce in recipes tweaked to suit contemporary tastes and presented to delight the modern eye.

Everywhere you go you’ll find outdoor food markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious prosciutto is served with plump olives, lamb and suckling pigs are spit-roasted, ewes’ milk is turned into award-winning cheeses; broad beans and artichokes are married in delightful, fresh concoctions; and the perfect climate ripens the grapes that go into the hundreds of different wines.

There are more than 300 geographically defined wine-producing areas in Croatia, and look out, too – or should we say beware – of the large range of spirits, or ‘rakija’. This brandy-like alcohol can be made from almost any fruit: Šljivovica is a plum firewater popular on the continent; grappa, popular in coastal areas, is made from grapes; Višnjevac is a delicious cherry brandy; and Kruškovac is flavoured with pears. These potent drinks are often offered after a meal and are in many instances home-made.

Vegetarians will be delighted to taste how the locals prepare the bounty from the soil – Swiss chard with potatoes and tomato sauce, vegetables prepared with the abundant olive oil, wine vinegar and wild herbs, hard boiled eggs tossed with wild asparagus foraged from the countryside earlier that day.

In Northern Croatia’s continental cuisine meat, freshwater fish and vegetables dominate the menus. Mediterranean flavours and ingredients take over as you approach the coast. Imagine sitting down in a traditional wine cellar in Istria to mistletoe schnapps followed by a hearty stew, perhaps some wholesome risotto, or pasta deliciously flavoured with the famous truffles. Wash this down with an excellent Istrian wine such as Malvazija of Buje. And to finish, perhaps something sweet like the local Rab cake.

As well as wine and truffles Istria is excellent if you’re in the mood to sample the bountiful seafood. Kvarner Bay to the east of the peninsula is well-known for its delicate, flavourful scampi; introduced thirty years ago from Norway, these little crustaceans adapted to the warm water by developing thinner armour and more succulent meat. To the west Novigrad is lauded for its scallops, known as kapešante, which thrive in the combination of salty seawater and fresh river water in the marine area.

Head inland to Slavonia and you’ll find tasty cold cuts and kulen, a type of smoked sausage made with pork, paprika and garlic. This dense sausage is left to cure over winter and can keep for up to two years if stored correctly.

Travel south to Zadar to taste a glass of famous Maraschino, a dessert liqueur made from the local Maraska cherries, and Pag cheese. Made on the island of Pag this hard, artisan cheese consistently scores highly in sheep-milk cheese contests worldwide; the much-lauded flavour is delicate due to the sheep’s exclusive diet of grass, herbs and aromatic flowers. Unsurprisingly, the lamb from here is incredible too!

In Dalmatia your menu may offer dalmatinska pašticada; this carefully prepared beef stew takes two days to prepare, and is usually enjoyed during important feasts, served with fresh gnocchi or pasta.

And finally to Dubrovnik, where restaurants will serve you riches from the Adriatic Sea: fish, calamari in various ways, mussels and shrimps, boiled in a stew or grilled. Here, you can feast on the rare Ston oysters, one of the greatest seafood delicacies in the world. If meat is more to your liking, look out for lamb cooked in embers under an iron bell. And if you still feel peckish as you’re wandering the ancient streets of Dubrovnik – or the lively promenade around Split harbour – make sure to buy an ice cream; they come in almost any flavour you wish, and in some you didn’t even know existed.

Every region has its own cakes and sweets, many of them delightful by their sheer simplicity and good use of local produce such as dried figs, raisin, almonds, honey and eggs. Look out for rafioli (a fine thin dough, filled with ground almonds and pressed together into a crescent shape), mandulat (nougat with toasted almonds), smokvenjak (figs mixed with walnuts or almonds, rolled into balls and dried), gingerbread rozata (a custard pudding similar to a crème caramel flan) and kremsnita (a custard pastry slice).

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.