Croatian food is delicious. However, what is Croatian food exactly? What makes Croatian food so tasty? Here are my 7 surprising answers:
- Choose ingredients with care
- Drop the spices
- Respect the tradition
- Where’s the spoon?!
- Pass the bread!
- Is there something sweet?
Even though you cannot generalise, by applying these basic rules, you’ll make most Croatians happy to join you for lunch. And make their mouth water.
1. Choose Ingredients With Care
A pivotal step in Croatia cuisine is the choice of ingredients. Nothing unique, you might say. That’s right.
However, Croatians have their special list of the “BESTEST” ingredients. If you use these, nothing will go wrong:
- Lamb from the island of Pag (“paška janjetina”)
- Lamb from the island of Brač
- The Drniš prosciutto (pršut)
- The Vrgorac strawberries
- Paški sir (sheep’s milk cheese from Pag)
- Lički krumpir (potatoes from Lika)
- Istrian olive oil
- Slavonian black pig
The list doesn’t end there, of course. All of these have a delicate and unique flavor that you don’t want to destroy with spices! Hence,
2. Drop The Spices
Generally speaking, traditional Croatian cuisine doesn’t use much spices. Sometimes none whatsoever. Same goes with the sauces.
It’s the food itself that has to come to the fore.
For example, to make the perfect peka (meat and potatoes cooked under an iron bell), you should stick to the meat and the potatoes. Maybe, just maybe, carrots and onions. And that’s it! Nothing fancy. No cardamom, no cinnamon, no parsley, no bouquet garni! Just meat and the potatoes.
If spices are used, it’s the bare minimum. Pepper, parsley, garlic, paprika maybe. Oh, capers, too (this is my article on capers)
Olive oil is the main condiment along the Croatian coastline. In this context, it plays the role of both a spice and a sauce. Fish, salad, vegetables… cannot be eaten without olive oil. Plenty of it. Of course, it has to be THE RIGHT OLIVE OIL.
To enhance the flavor of the main ingredient, you should…
3. Respect The Tradition
In other words, respect the tradition when choosing a side dish. Or when selecting a recipe. Many Croatians have zero tolerance for creativity.
- Fish (preferably grilled) is traditionally served with boiled chard and potatoes. Make sure that the chard is boiled to death. Potatoes likewise.
- Turkey roast is served with mlinci (cracker-like pasta). The greasier, the better.
- Sarma (sauerkraut rolls) is served with mashed potatoes. When Croatians go skiing, they make sure to take along a week’s supply of sarma. After a heavy meal like sarma, the only possible outdoor activity is snow-angeling.
- Pašticada (Dalmatian version of boeuf bourgignon) is always served with gnocchi.
Keep in mind that we live in a globalised world. Food from all around the planet has become available to Croatians. And this is certainly going to change some traditions.
After a lunch we had in a Chinese restaurant in Dubrovnik, my parents were (unsuccessfully) trying to eat a traditional Croatian cake, the Međimurska Gibanica, with chopsticks.
4. Where’s The Spoon?!
According to Croats, soups and stews are essential to good health and well-being. A bowl of soup is comforting, soothing and reassuring. And contributes to regular bowel movements.
My wife (my father-in-law likewise) cannot even imagine lunch without a bowl of soup.
Any kind would do. Homemade or “artificial”, vegetable or meat. As long as it can be eaten by a spoon.
If you go to a restaurant in Croatia and ask for a vegetarian menu, the waiter will first, with much compassion and concern, take a good look at you.
First. your eyes. Is there any sign of jaundice? Then, your skin. Is it pale, greyish or blue? Then your pulse. Is it steady?
If you pass this test, with much reluctance you will be shown vegetarian options on the menu. Do not expect to find a great variety. Anyway, vegetarians don’t have much longer to live, do they?
Meat, on the other hand, is an essential element of any REAL meal. Pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, veal (BTW, veal is very popular in Croatia, especially in peka, where it usually accompanies lamb).
A substantial amount of wood has to be burnt to make enough charcoals for peka.
However, this is what makes peka even more appealing. (As you observe the fire consuming the wood, you consume wine, beer or orahovica (green walnut liqueur).
Word of caution: Croatians make sure that the animal is really dead, with no chance of it coming back to life. Of course, in restaurants they will try hard to meet your needs, but at home, their meet should be very, even extremely, well done. Almost carbonated.
What about fish? Interestingly, Croatians do not eat nearly as much fish as they should. Why?
Well, fish is tasty and delicious… but it’s lean. Kind of. It’s diet food. You get hungry right away. If there were no “fasting” days (Good Friday and Christmas Eve), some Croats might never even taste fish.
6. Pass The Bread!
Croatians like their bread. And their bread likes them, too. The bakers like the Croatians. The bakers are among the wealthiest entrepreneurs in Croatia. Because Croatians (usually) eat bread with everything. Including pasta.
I have been told that Croatia has delicious bread. I agree. White, semi-white, black, with seeds, rye, corn…
One of the best breads you can try in Croatia is the peka bread, or bread cooked under an iron bell.
Skilled bakers have to do everything right. There needs to be the right dough, the right amount of fermentation, the charcoals should be perfectly distributed and the cooking has to be optimal. Which is a challenge, because there are no thermometers of glass windows to take a look inside of that primitive oven.
With a slice of such a delicious bread, the simple Croatian meals are taken to a new dimension. Bon appetit!
Prosciutto and cheese platter, (“pršut i sir)” is served at holidays, formal dinners and weddings. A home-made pršut can be quite expensive. But real connoisseurs will pay extra for a good, mature treat. the same goes for a good cheese. The PAŠKI and the LIVANJSKI are considered to be the best to serve with pršut. And, of course, bread cooked under the iron bell, or the peka!
7. Is There Something Sweet?
Or, in Croatian, “Ima li što slatko?”. A dessert is essential, too.
Traditional Croatian desserts have usually contained these ingredients:
- Sour cherries (“višnje”)
- Cottage cheese
- Poppy seeds
However, in the era of cooking blogs, Masterchefs and other cooking shows, things are dramatically changing.
Croatian cuisine has always been under foreign influence. Some recipes have become “adopted” by the Croatians as their own:
- Čupavci (spongecake cubes in chocolate syrup, covered with grated coconut)
- Cupcakes (all kinds)
- “American” pancakes (ours are more like crepes)
- Sacher Cake
I’m admiring a cake made of chestnut flour and chocolate. GLUTENFREE. It was delicious!