Croatia's central location in Europe means its cuisine offers a unique blend of the best of many different regions. Along the pristine Dalmatian coast, the food is Mediterranean, with many distinctly Italian influences. Further inland, what's known as continental Croatia, is full of rich Austro-Hungarian style dishes. The common factor in both regions is the emphasis on getting extended families together and devouring a delicious meal.
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1 Jul 2008 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 13 May 2015 - 4:00 PM

Along the coastline, families get together, especially in summer, and cook in a bell shaped oven called a pekawhich (peka). The peka steams the food in its own natural juices, which enhances the flavour. Devotees claim anything cooked under the peka tastes incredible, with turkey and pork being particular Croatian favourites.

With its thousands of islands and a population that learns to fish as soon as they can walk, seafood is very popular. Dishes range from simple grilled whole fish to an Italian inspired seafood stew called brodet, which is traditionally served over soft polenta. A black risotto made with squid ink is also a big favourite.

Spit roasts are popular especially in the spring and whole lamb or pork often features, with herbs such as rosemary sometimes added to the charcoal to add a distinctive flavour. On open fires, whole fish and sardines are cooked along with cevapi, a dish of two types of grilled minced meat hand-shaped into 'sausages' that is often served with flatbread, chopped onion, cottage cheese and sour cream.

When families gather in central Croatia, cabbage rolls stuffed with pork and rice are enjoyed along with mashed potato. Meals often start with slices of cured meats such as prsut, the Croatian version of prosciutto; kulen, a spicy salami; csabai and speck. Many home cooks make their own sauerkraut by pickling whole heads of cabbage. Paprika is used liberally to add flavour to everything from homemade salami to hearty stews.

Sweets in continental Croatia are magnificent and feature many fruits in season such as plums, apricots and apples as well as poppy seeds and walnuts. Palacinke pancakes are popular along with fruit dumplings, luscious tortes and buttery biscuits.

 

View our Croatian recipe collection here.

Croatian Food Safari recipes
Brodet

This is the classic, spectacular Croatian seafood stew from the Dalmatian Coast. I was amazed to see Ino preparing the eel by running his hand down the length of it to break any small bones. If you’re buying eel for the first time, get your fishmonger to show you how this is done, if you can find one that stocks eel! For the recipe you need to use at least three different kinds of fish and some shellfish, white-fleshed reef and rock fish are good choices. Ideally one fish will be for flavour, one for its flesh and one to boost the thickness of the stew. Scampi are great for flavour or you can use Balmain bugs or crabs instead. Serve with soft polenta.

Stuffed artichokes (punjeni artichoke)

A dish that celebrates this delicious vegetable, which is only available fresh for a limited time in spring each year. Dennis Valcich is a masterful chef and this recipe is a true favourite. It works well either as a main dish or an accompaniment.

Barbecued rack of lamb

This is a lovely, simple recipe for cooking lamb on a spit-roast barbecue. Tonci Farac's tip on ageing the meat first is brilliant – it gives a richer, more flavoursome result. Afterwards, take the meat out of the fridge half an hour before cooking so it doesn’t suddenly leap from the cold of the fridge to the extreme heat of the barbie.

Cabbage rolls (sarma)

A delicious recipe that is bursting with flavour. It is best served in the traditional Croatian way with lashings of creamy mashed potato. You can prepare the meat stock in advance (dried pork ribs are available from European delis). Note that whole pickled cabbage leaves come in jars from European delis and some butchers. You can also pre-prepare the stock for this recipe. 

Plum jam biscuits

Delicious melting biscuits from the queen of sweets, Mira Valcich. Make sure you find provdl for this recipe, which is favoured for baking as it tends to keep its shape rather than spreading while cooking – it comes in jars and is found in European delis and some supermarkets.

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