The Finest Dishes in Croatia

The Finest Dishes in Croatia

Home-cooked meals made with lots of love are always the best part of any party or family gathering; this one in particular will wow everyone involved.

The food we eat doesn’t necessarily need to be traditional or particularly complex, but rather prepared with lots of love and high-quality local ingredients. Among the most popular dishes in Croatia, therefore, are specialities that require little effort, but feed many people, so they are the most delicious when eaten in the company of others. Whether you are preparing a regular Sunday lunch or hosting a large party, none of these dishes will disappoint your hungry relatives and guests, so here are some suggestions for making a true feast!

The “Bell”

Peka
Damir Fabijanić

Although this method was used for various purposes throughout Croatia’s history of food preparation, most people associate it with only a few of the most popular dishes that make everyone’s mouth water. Among these is bread baked “under the bell” (ispod peke in Croatian), as well as roasted veal or lamb, or even octopus, which will develop a specific flavour when prepared over an open flame, in a clay or wrought-iron baking vessel. Meat roasted under the bell is juicy and tender, easily separated from the bone, and is normally accompanied by potatoes that are cooked and roasted in the meat juices that give them a distinct flavour. Preparing food under the bell is a roasting method that takes a lot of time, sometimes even a few hours, depending on the type and amount of meat. But it is always worth the wait, because the end result is so delicious that even the most impatient guests, gathered around the fire with a glass of fine wine, won’t complain.

Stuffed peppers

Punjene paprike

Stuffed peppers (locally punjene paprike or filane paprike) are a common sight on dinner tables in Croatia every summer. Every family uses the opportunity to prepare this popular dish at least once during bell pepper season. The peppers are filled with a stuffing made from ground baby beef or lamb combined with ground pork, chopped onions, rice, garlic, eggs and spices. They are usually cooked in large quantities that last for days, and many even freeze them to have on hand whenever they need a quick meal. Given that they are always tastier the next day, stuffed peppers are often cooked the night before they are eaten, once the heat lets up. Stuffed peppers are usually served with mashed potatoes that provide a great contrast to this flavourful summer dish that many consider their favourite.

Grilled fish with Swiss chard

Riba gradele
Maja Danica Pečanić

Grilled fish served with Swiss chard and boiled potatoes is a simple dish usually associated with the Croatian coastline and its islands, summer vacation, a happy group of people drinking local wine in one of the many taverns, and true Mediterranean cuisine. Fish prepared using this method is placed on gradele or grill grate, and grilled over open flames so it is infused with a wonderful smoky aroma. The best type of fish to grill is white fish, such as a gilthead seabream, European bass, common dentex or common two-banded sea bream, but also blue fish like the European pilchard or tuna. When it’s done, the fish is seasoned with salt and pepper as needed, and covered with a mixture of olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley leaves. This is a relatively simple method of preparing fish, and the end result is a delicious and healthy dish that will thrill any seafood fan. Fish and Swiss chard together create a harmony of flavours and add special charm to the summer days spent on the Croatian coast.

Turkey with mlinci

Purica
Maja Danica Pečanić

Family gatherings during the cold winter months, especially around Christmas, are unimaginable without the delicious smell of a mouth-watering, crispy and soft turkey with mlinci. Turkey from Zagorje is especially common for this purpose, and it has become synonymous with a rich Christmas or Easter family meal. In the region of Međimurje, the dish is also called pura z mlinci. The dish is eaten in all of Northwest Croatia, and it is also a speciality of the capital, Zagreb. According to the traditional recipe, the most important ingredients are real homemade lard to bake the turkey in, and salt and pepper as condiments. Mlinci is an essential side dish served with turkey. It is actually a thin, dried flatbread made only from flour, water and salt, but it serves as the perfect base for enjoying the meat juices produced during roasting.

Beans with sausage

Grah

It is said that the best bean stew is one that is made in large quantities, and that it only becomes tastier the longer it sits. In addition to it being a popular lunch in inland Croatia, beans with sausage are a speciality most look forward to after spending some time outdoors. Many hikers that spend a day on the Medvednica Mountain in Zagreb usually don’t leave before recovering their strength with a plate of hot beans. Although it takes a while to prepare so that the beans are soft, thick and delicious, a bowl of hot beans with sausage and a slice of bread are enough to nourish both body and soul. It is eaten during the cold, dreary winter days, but also in spring, when it is traditionally made for the Workers’ Day celebrations in Croatia, held on 1 May.

Fiš-paprikaš

Fiš-paprikaš
Damir Fabijanić

In addition to the classic paprika-flavoured stew, a special place in Croatian cuisine belongs to fiš-paprikaš, a rich paprika-flavoured fish stew eaten in Slavonia and Baranja. There are as many original fiš-paprikaš recipes as there are families in Slavonia and Baranja. It is made from freshwater fish, which is why it is so common in these two regions where rivers play an important role. Fiš-paprikaš is traditionally made in a copper cauldron suspended above an open flame. Diced pieces of gutted freshwater fish are added, such as catfish, carp or pike, and some onions, then everything is covered with water, and left to boil above the fire. Its specific colour and spiciness come from the ground sweet and spicy paprika from Baranja. It’s especially pleasant when eaten among friends after a job well done.

European Flat Oysters

Kamenice
Maja Danica Pečanić

The eastern part of the Pelješac Peninsula, namely the Ston municipality, is an area known for growing mussels and European flat oysters of superior quality. The Bay of Mali Ston has proven to be especially suitable for growing these delicious shellfish because of the freshwater river Neretva that flows into the sea, as well as because of frequent winter rains, which create ideal conditions for their growth. European flat oysters should be harvested in March, as these prized molluscs are meatiest during this period. This is also the time when the village of Mali Ston holds the Oyster Day Festival (Dani malostonske kamenice) with the aim of promoting these molluscs. The oysters are commonly served raw with a touch of lemon, in portions of six or twelve, and they pair well with both red and white wines. When served with a chilled sparkling wine, they offer a truly special gastronomical experience.

Tartufata

Tartufata

All year long, Croatian truffle hunters and their trusty dogs look for three basic types of truffles. The white truffle (Tuber Magnatum) has the highest quality and value because it grows only in the areas of Croatian Istria, Italy, and France, which is why it achieves the highest prices on the market. It is closely followed by the more common summer and winter black truffle (Tuber Aestivum). After they have been dug up and cleaned, truffles are stored in the form of nuggets, sliced thin and preserved in olive oil, or further processed to keep them from going bad. Among the more popular delicacies that can be found in stores or directly from truffle hunters is the tartufata, an aromatic sauce made from a combination of button mushrooms, truffles, olive oil, salt and garlic. It is used for preparing delicious sauces and spreads, and many consider it their favourite addition to a simple pasta, risotto or bruschetta.

Pašticada

Pašticada
Maja Danica Pečanić

The aromatic pašticada is another Dalmatian speciality that every family in Dalmatia has its own recipe for. It takes a lot of time and patience to prepare, but the end result is a mouth-watering meat sauce that is definitely worth the effort. Pašticada is made from beef or baby beef that is first marinated in vinegar, then fried and braised in a sauce made from wine and sweet Dalmatian Prošek. Prunes and aromatic condiments are then added, such as cloves, nutmeg, bay leaf and pepper, to elevate the dish. The long and slow preparation process produces a dark, thick meat sauce that is often served with fresh, homemade gnocchi, whose powerful flavour is difficult to resist.

Black risotto

Crni rižoto
Maja Danica Pečanić

In addition to its wonderful taste, black cuttlefish risotto also draws attention with its unusual colour, which is the result of adding cuttlefish ink. The creamy texture and aroma of this dish make it a common appetizer in many restaurants in coastal Croatia, as well as a popular main course among seafood fans. Although in the past black cuttlefish risotto was often prepared as a dish for fasting days, such as Christmas Eve, nowadays it is considered a special delicacy that not everyone can make. Besides the cuttlefish, this risotto owes its distinct flavour to Prošek, a Dalmatian dessert wine which is added to the rice during the cooking process, giving it a special aroma.