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How to Eat Like a Local in Croatia

How to Eat Like a Local in Croatia
Photo credit: Jeremy Scott Foster

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So you’ve never eaten like a local in Croatia? Let me tell you, friend. You’re in for a treat.

No matter where you are in Croatia, your taste buds are treated kindly. Croatia has a diverse range of food, including simply cooked meals in Dalmatia, hot salamis doused with paprika in Slavonia and seriously gourmet foods in Istria.

I’m fond of Croatia and Balkan food, but it took some adjustment to figure out how to eat a like a local Croat.

Marenda: Not Breakfast But Not Quite Lunch

Anchovies and Dalmatian Ham with Cheese. Photo credit: Flickr / brownpau

Between 9 and 11am, it’s not breakfast and it’s not lunchtime, but you can definitely still eat! In Croatia this meal is known as marenda and you should probably be dining on a platter of sliced meat and cheese.

Istrian Pancetta (ham) and Kobasice (sausages)
Istrian Pancetta (ham) and Kobasice (sausages). Photo credit: Flickr / Tim Ertl

We’re not talking your average deli meat, though. With a huge international export business, Croatia makes some of the most sought after prosciutto in the world. This dry cured ham is unique due to the cold northern wind, known as the bura, that is critical in the drying process.

Istrian Prosciutto
Istrian Prosciutto. Photo credit: Flickr / Tim Ertl

On the platter, add two other must try Croatian specialties: kulen is a hot and spicy salami made in the Slavonia region that gets shipped all across the country everyday. Paski sir is a cheese famously made from sheep’s milk on the island of Pag, where the sheep graze on nothing more than grass, various herbs and aromatic plants.

Croatian cheeses
Croatian cheeses. Photo credit:

You can’t consider eating marenda without a drink, so when you’re offered one, you have to accept it, thirsty or not! Water is fine to ask for, but why not try one of the local beers, like Karlovacko or Ozujsko?

If beer and water are not your thing, you simply can’t pass up a local Malvazija white wine, or a red Plavac Mali. If you’re up for it, try a shot of Croatia’s answer to grappa (I never say no to one flavoured with walnuts). Rakija is made with the skin from grapes & comes in a dozen or so flavours. Just be careful how many you try – it has a very high alcohol content!

Croatian Spirits
Local Croatian spirits. Photo credit: blanka

Whatever drink you decide on, you can toast your dining party with the phrase ‘Živjeli’ which is Croatian for cheers!

Traditional Croatian Lunch

Between 12 and 2pm on the weekends, we gather as a family unit, to share a meal together. I’ve been told if I don’t prepare a warm meal for lunch, then it simply doesn’t count. I enjoy a sandwich from time to time, but I often hear the tut tuts from those around me telling me it’s just not hearty enough!

So what is a hearty Croatian lunch?

Black Risotto

Black Risotto
Black Risotto. Photo credit: Flickr / jomme

Don’t let the colour deter you. This black-as-the-ace-of-spades dish is as tasty as it is ugly. It’s typically Dalmatian and is made from cuttlefish. The black colour is from the ink from the fish. It’s served with grated cheese & parsley.

Under the Bell

Traditional peka style cooking
Traditional peka style cooking. Photo credit: Flickr / joao ornelas

Peka is a simple style of cooking where you take any kind of meat, squid or octopus & pair it with potatoes & cook under extreme heat, using a terracotta lid! It’s Croatian cooking at its very best and is known as under the bell, which is a literal translation for what Croatians call ispod čripnje or ispod peke, depending on where in Croatia you are.

Fuzi and White Truffles

Fuzi and white truffles
Fuzi and white truffles. Photo credit:

The Italian food influence is huge in Istria, and it’s here you’ll need to order fuzi, a hand made pasta that is served with either a white truffle or a rich game sauce. You’ll want to save your pennies along your Croatian travels, too, so you can indulge in a white truffle (tartuffi) in the northern part of Croatia known as Istria. It’s a must try mushroom with a unique flavor!

Don’t Forget Your Manners!

Croatian cold cuts
Croatian cold cuts. Photo credit:

With meals like this placed on the table you’ll be forgiven for wanting to dig right in, but take some advice from someone who has made the error of not waiting! When eating with Croatians, you’ll need to wait just a second to see if anyone will be saying a prayer. The majority of Croatians are Catholic, and it’s customary to say grace before your meal.

So wish your dining party ‘Dobar tek’ (good appetite) as no meal is ever started without it, and receive a cheer of ‘hvala’ in response!

Once you have your meal in front if you, be sure to take a small portion, but only because you’ll be forced to take a second helping, no matter how big your first one was. You could be bursting at the seams, but your host will insist that you take a second helping. Why? Because in Croatia, your host would be rude to not make you eat a second serving!

Dobar tek!

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SJ Begonja
SJ Begonja
SJ is a mum & wife, now Australian expat. She packed up her very typical Aussie life in May 2013 and shifted it along with her Croatian husband and son to rebuild the old house they inherited in Croatia & make it their home.

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18 Responses

  1. Yes, but, that is Dalmatian. Croatia is not only Adriatic sea, Istria and Dalmatia. Croatia is much more. There is more to explore and more food to try. Different food.

  2. Great article! My GF , Ashley and I are about to live for three months in Croatia. We are starting in August and was wondering if you have any tips on the region of Istria! As we will be focusing on this dragoon for our blog. If you have suggestions of local dishes, restaurants, towns to visit, people to meet and so forth that would be great.

  3. We’re so excited to visit and try all of the food! What’s your absolute favorite Croatian fare? Any word on their desserts?

  4. I have to correct something. First, you have to consider that Croatian customs are different depending on where you are in Croatia. And it is a big deal. For example meal between 9 and 11 am is called “marenda” only in coastal part of Croatia and islands, in other parts – “gablec”. For croatian lunch you described something that is typical for coast and islands, but in other part of Croatia typical lunch is some kind of soup, roast chicken with potatoes or pork in the same way, the turkey with “mlinci” and other variations on a theme of continental cuisine. And one other thing, although the majority of the population at the last census declared themselves Catholics you will rarely encounter on a situation that one expects from guest to wait and pray. It is customary for host to adjust its habits to guest.

    1. I think it would be a safe assumption, then, that this article was intended to highlight a coastal dining experience!

      Interesting anecdote regarding the host/guest relationship. Thanks for sharing!

      1. Yes, this is coastal dining experience. Continental is mentioned only with Slavonijan “kulen” but there is much more in Croatian cuisine than mentioned in this article. I’m not saying that this is not good article but it is not complete.
        As for the host/guest relationship usually you will find the situation that I’ve mentioned. But to be safe wait until the host says – please, help yourself.

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