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The diverse regions and foreign influences over the centuries have left their mark on Croatian cuisine. Our local food writer Kristin Vuković has put together her favourite dishes from the breadth of mouth-watering dishes on offer.
Known locally as crni rižot, this is made with cuttlefish or squid, olive oil, garlic, red wine and squid ink, which gives an intense seafood flavour and black colour. Popular all along Croatia’s coastline, this dish will turn your mouth and teeth black – but it’s worth it.
The white-grey, long-horned Istrian oxen are a gourmet delicacy. Boškarin is served at top restaurants and konobas (taverns) in a variety of ways, including as carpaccio; in savoury sauce with pasta or gnocchi; as salami or steak; and boškarin tail soup.
Also called brudet, this fisherman’s stew hails from from Italy’s Marche region. Traditionally, fishermen cooked it over an open fire using the catch of the day. They would add ample vinegar to the pot to preserve the stew for a couple of days. Like Italians, coastal Croatians use a tomato base in this dish.
This simple dish of mussels in a wine broth with garlic and breadcrumbs is popular all along the Croatian coast. Buzara means ‘stew’, and the preparation is similar to the way the French make moules marinière.
Commonly found on the Adriatic coast, these donut-like fried pastries vary from region to region – egg yolks, raisins, grated lemon or orange rinds, and even rakija or rum can go into the mixture. Traditionally served during the holidays, these are popular and highly addictive, so you can usually find them year round.
Fuži and pljukanci
Fuži is quill-shaped homemade pasta made by cutting 5 x 5cm squares and wrapping each piece around the handle of a wooden spoon. It is often served with a truffle cream sauce or mild red sauces including beef, boškarin, chicken, rooster or wild game. Istrians also love chewy, hand-rolled pljukanci – this is pasta that resembles the shape of green beans – and njoki (gnocchi).
A good meal frequently begins with a platter of pršut i sir (ham and cheese). Istrian pršut is made of skinned pork leg, which is dry-salted with sea salt and seasoned with natural spices such as pepper and garlic, and sometimes bay leaves and rosemary. Unlike southern coastal Croatia, where Dalmatians smoke their ham, Istrians air-cure their meat with the strong northern wind of the Bura. Istrian ham is aged for at least 12 months, and up to 18 months depending on weather conditions. The resulting product has a special aroma and moderately salty taste, which pairs well with cheeses from the region.
Malvazija and Teran
Istria’s signature wine varieties are Malvazija and Teran. Malvazija, an easy-drinking white wine with good minerality and apricot and apple notes, pairs well with seafood dishes. Teran, a robust red, goes well with meat dishes including boškarin and pršut.
Popular throughout Croatia, this tender meat & vegetable dish is also called ispod čripnje (under the bell) – literally food that is cooked under a terracotta or iron lid over burning embers. Peka can include octopus, lamb, veal or chicken, and is often accompanied by potatoes.
Istria’s Motovun forests contain some of the highest concentrations of truffles in the world. Croatian tartufi are not as well known as Italian, but some say they have a stronger aroma. They’re certainly less expensive than their Italian counterparts – a multi-course meal with a generous amount of truffles costs half what it would in Italy.
Local knowledge – 3 things locals are eating…
Often referred to as ‘Mediterranean sashimi’, raw fish drizzled with olive oil is having a moment with foodies. Damir & Ornella in Novigrad serves a ‘sea-to-plate’ raw seafood degustation, artfully filleted tableside. Also, try oysters from the Limski Kanal, prized for their intense, briny flavour.
Croatian olive oils received nine awards at the 2016 New York International Olive Oil Convention, six of which were from Istria. A good-quality extra virgin Istrian olive oil has a piquant, peppery taste and a scent evocative of freshly cut grass. Many are produced by individuals or small cooperatives so they have ‘local’ flavours. You’ll find it drizzles on everything.
This is the equivalent of elevenses, often eaten between 10 and 11am. Since the workday, even in offices, can start at 7am, this provides an energy boost before lunch. Don’t expect to get much done while it’s marenda time – take a break yourself and look out for set menus which feature soup or dishes such as jota, a bean & sauerkraut stew with bacon, which is like goulash.
5 foodie travel tips
Try a tavern
Locals won’t be surprised if you stop them and ask for their favourite local konobas (taverns) – casual establishments where you’ll find some of the most authentic cuisine. Try simply grilled fish drizzled with piquant Istrian olive oil and garnished with parsley, paired with a glass of crisp, dry malvazija wine.
Fresh produce such as deep green blitva, a type of Swiss chard, ruby-hued peppers, purple figs, multi-coloured carrots and giant green cabbages are popular. If you have access to a kitchen, take advantage of green markets and fish markets, which can be found in almost every town and city. Wandering through stalls offers a good opportunity to mingle with locals who are selling their wares or shopping for food.
Ask about daily specials
Due to the number of English-speaking tourists, almost all restaurant menus in Croatia have English translations, and most servers speak English. It’s worth asking about seasonal and off-menu items. Dishes such as maneštra, a vegetable and meat stew, is usually only made at home. It could be the staff meal of the day and they might be willing to serve it to you.
Istria’s burgeoning slow food movement encourages visitors to try specialist local ingredients. In Buzet, touted as the city of truffles, Toklarija (+385 91 926 6769) is one of Istria’s most intimate fine dining experiences. In his family’s 600-year-old converted olive mill, Nevio Sirotić serves a changing daily menu, including truffles in season. The Tartufo Vero project lists other premium restaurants in Istria that offer seasonal truffle-based menus.
A distilled spirit made from fruit, rakija is part of Croatian culture and a symbol of hospitality. It is customary to have a glass before and/or after your meal, and to look your fellow drinkers in the eye, clink glasses, and consume the entire shot at once. Traditional Croatian rakija varieties include travarica (herbal), šljivovica (plum), medica (honey), višnjevac (sour cherry), smokva (fig) and biska (mistletoe).
Is there anything we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below…