What can you expect from the food in Croatia?

Wondering what the food in Croatia is like? We look at some of the typical dishes you can expect to see on menus across the country, including seafood, meat and vegetarian cuisine.

By Saga team

Published 14 May 2024

City of Split colorful harbor view, Dalmatia, Croatia

In the humble konobas, typical Croatian guesthouses, and in the top restaurants offering the best of fine dining, Croatia has undergone a gastro-revolution in recent years.

Chefs are buzzing with a new energy to re-invent the country’s long and varied culinary traditions, making the most of succulent local produce, in recipes tweaked to suit modern taste 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.

Each region of Croatia has jealously preserved its own recipes, which showcase the best of what’s available there.

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…

North Croatian food

In Northern Croatia’s continental cuisine, meat, freshwater fish and vegetables dominate the menus, but Mediterranean flavours and ingredients take over as you approach the coast.

Imagine sitting down in a traditional wine cellar in lstria to mistletoe schnapps followed by a fish stew, perhaps some frutti di mare risotto, or pasta deliciously flavoured with the famous truffles.

Wash this down with an excellent lstrian 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.

Food in Dalmatia

In Dalmatia your menu may offer dalmatinska pašticada, a braised beef stew that takes two days to prepare. It's made by stuffing meat with garlic, cloves, carrot, celery and bacon and marinating in wine vinegar overnight, before being seared and simmered for several hours. It's traditionally served with fresh pasta or njoke (gnocchi), and frequently enjoyed during important feasts.

In Dubrovnik restaurants will serve you riches from the Adriatic Sea: fish, calamari in various ways, mussels and shrimps, boiled in a stew or grilled.

You can even feast on Mali Ston oysters, widely regarded as one of the greatest seafood delicacies in the world. Oyster farming in the Mali Ston Bay has existed since the Roman era and they have a Protected Designation of Origin.

If meat is more to your liking, look out for lamb and veal cooked in embers under an iron bell.

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!

Croatian wine and spirits

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.

Vegetarian food in Croatia

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, scrambled eggs with asparagus.

Thanks to its proximity to Italy there are plenty of familiar dishes for vegetarians in Croatia, including pasta, pizza and risotto. Or try one of Croatia's traditional vegetarian dishes such as Zagorski Štrukli, a filled dough dish that can be sweet or savoury, or Ćoravi gulaš, a popular vegetarian goulash with potatoes, onions and carrots in a tomato base. Or try soparnik, a savoury pie filled with Swiss chard and red onions - it's often popular with tourists.

In the large cities popular with tourists, such as Split and Dubrovnik, it’s not too hard to find vegetarian or even vegan restaurants, or at least find restaurants with clearly marked menus to make ordering a meat-free meal easy, but you may find yourself having to explain that you do not want to eat meat in more rural locations.

Desserts in Croatia

And so to pudding. 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, raisins, almonds, honey and eggs.

Look out for rafioli, mandulat, smokvenjak and gingerbread rozata.

Just in case 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 of any flavour you wish, and some you didn’t even know existed, such as nougat or chocolate and apricot.

Discover more about the beautiful country of Croatia. Find out more about our holidays to Croatia.

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