The influence of four cultures based in modern Europe – Latin, German, Slavic and Turkish – is felt in Croatia. This has resulted in the evolution of a distinct cuisine at each of the five regions in the country – Istria, Kvarner, Dalmatia, Zagreb, and Slovenia. This varied fare is also a reflection of the diversity on the culinary front of Croatia.
How new tastes arrived
The Adriatic Sea lies on one side of Croatia and in the areas along the coast, influence of Mediterranean cuisine is felt. However, in the interiors, one can get a taste of the fare from Turkey, Austria, Hungary, and Germany.
Croatia has seen the arrival of Romans, Hungarians, and the Turks during its hoary past. Along with altering the course of local history, the newcomers have blended their own culture and cuisine with those of Croatia. Once, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, and Montenegro together formed a single territory. Naturally, the food preferences of these places reached Croatia. Later, when Yugoslavia was formed by Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia, new developments were witnessed in the kitchen.
While pasta, one among the chief items in Croatia, arrived from Italy, wine was introduced by the Turks. Sarma, which is made by wrapping finely chopped meat with cabbage or grape leaves, can also be credited to the Turks. Meanwhile, Hungarians can claim to have introduced paprika.
Olive oil has a special place in the cuisine of Croatia, which boasts of more than 15 lakh olive trees. Mediterranean medicinal plants like sage, bay leaf, rosemary, and basil are abundant in the country. Preparing grape wine is a traditional practice that has been passed down the generations.
A long coast and the hills constitute the geography of Istria. This has given birth to a sea food cuisine along with one which has items like mushroom, meat, cheese and fruits as main constituents.
A wide variety of pasta can be tasted in Istria. Among them fukazi stands apart with its traditional mode of preparation and taste. Croatians prefer pasta along with meat stew. The impact of Italian cuisine is evident in Croatia as both countries share a border. Items like risotto and pasta are much popular in Italy as well as Croatia.
Dalmatian breed of dogs has made this area rather famous. A rich and varied fare of sea food items is a major attraction here. However, the top dish of the place is peka. It is prepared with vegetables, lamb or veal, olive oil, and herbs which are cooked using embers in a thick-bottomed vessel covered with a baking bell. The preparation takes about two hours. At one-hour interval, the dish is stirred and aromatic herbs added. A special type of wood is used to cook peka.
The cheese made in this region also tastes different. Dishes made of frog and eel are part of the local cuisine. Desserts have fig, almonds, lemon, orange, and carob as ingredients.
Kvarner lies between Istria and Dalmatia. The area is noted for food items made with shrimp and the most well-known is Kvarner bay shrimp. Other main dishes have Lovren, chestnut cherry, cheese, lamb etc as ingredients.
It is the capital of Croatia. The local cuisine sources its meat, pastry, vegetables, and milk products from neighbouring villages. Cake and coffee have a major place in the cuisine of this area, along with sausages and strudel.
Hungarian influence is pronounced in Slovenia, caused by proximity. No wonder, the use of paprika is more significant here. A signature dish of the place is Kulen. Pork weighing 150 kg and over a year old is used to make this sausage. Minced meat blended with sweet pepper and red hot pepper goes into its making
Slovanekian cobanac is a spicy version of Hungarian goulash. Beef, pork, lamb and deer meat are mixed together and sweet or hot red pepper added. Onion, celery, parsley and tomatoes are subsequently added during the preparation. This special dish of Slovenia is ideal with white wine.
Hundreds of islands form a part of the Croatian landscape. Quite naturally, sea food is a major constituent of the local diet. Dishes include grilling fish as a whole and making a stew known as brat.
Risotto us another peculiar dish, prepared with squid. Pag cheese made in Pag island is another popular delicacy. It is made from the milk of a breed of sheep, which are characterized by short stature. The spicy cheese is cut in cone shape and served along with prsut or fresh fruits.
Prsut is meat which has been smoked and treated with spices and certain leaves. Salt is also applied to the meat and dried in the sun. It serves an appetizer along with olive and cheese. It is relished during autumn and the start of winter.
Other special preparations
A favourite among local people is grilled and roasted octopus and shell fish. Vegetables, pulses and plants like wild asparagus are used in a lavish manner. Soup is steamed and sipped along with olive oil and garlic.
During spring, meat is roasted over embers into which aromatic herbs had been added, to prepare spit roast. Cabbage roll, made by cooking meat and rice in cabbage leaves, is popular in central Croatia. The dish is served along with boiled potatoes.
Another peculiar item of Croatia is a puff named Struclin. It is filled with batter, cottage cheese, eggs and fresh cream. It is eaten both sweet and spicy. Meat grilled or roasted in a steel bowl is termed Kotlovina.
Pasticada beef stew is served during lunch on special occasions. To prepare it, meat is marinated with vinegar, and stuffed using garlic and ham and kept overnight. During cooking the next day, dried plums are added. A very tasty thick and dark sauce will be obtained which makes a good combination with pasta or potato dumplings.
A common dish in all the regions on Croatia is black risotto which is made with squid, mussels, and shell-fish. Rakia, prepared from grapes, can be termed the national drink of Croatia.