The finest traditional dishes in Croatia

The finest traditional dishes in Croatia

There are many traditional Croatian dishes, ranging from those made with simple and inexpensive ingredients to those made from valuable pieces of meat. Regardless of their ingredients, they all have one thing in common – they taste better when eaten in good company.

Traditional Croatian cuisine is rich and varied, and cookbooks are full of recipes characterised by an efficient and prudent use of ingredients that hard-working homemakers had at hand. It is difficult to pick only a handful of specialities and traditional dishes from all of the regions of Croatia – from Slavonia and Baranja, through Zagorje and Lika, Istria and Kvarner, all the way to Dalmatia and the Dubrovnik hinterland – but the following ten are a good start.

Komiža flat bread

Komiža flat bread
MAJA DANICA PEČANIĆ

The Komiža flat bread (komiška pogača) is a savoury dish that owes its name to the charming little village of Komiža at the foot of the Hum hill, on the island of Vis. Since this village has a long fishing tradition, it is no surprise that the traditional dish from this area contains salted fish, which has been prepared in fishing villages on the Croatian coast since ancient times. The basis for the flat bread is yeast dough that contains a combination of onions, fresh tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes (pelati), saltwater fish like anchovies or European pilchard, condiments, and capers. It is usually cut into squares and served as a snack or even a main course. Its rich filling makes it especially juicy and unique. Since it is a savoury dish, it goes well with red wines or even beer, and a single slice will invigorate you after a long day in the sun.

Soparnik

Soparnik
MAJA DANICA PEČANIĆ

Another simple, yet valuable recipe included in the register of items with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is soparnik from the villages of Poljica. This is a thin pie made of dough, Swiss chard and onions that has been made traditionally in Dalmatia for centuries. Soparnik is a speciality from an area that once belonged to the Republic of Poljica, which covered the territory around Mosor Mountain, east of the city of Split. Due to the inexpensive ingredients used to make it, it is suitable as a fasting meal, and often served on Good Friday, Christmas Eve, and the eve of All Saints’ Day. Soparnik is a savoury dish baked in an open fireplace called komin. It is placed on a baking tray directly on the embers, and covered with ashes on top. It is done when it becomes brown, and any ashes are removed after it is taken out. Soparnik is served coated with olive oil and pressed garlic for added aroma and flavour.

Štrukli from Zagorje

Štrukli from Zagorje
MAJA DANICA PEČANIĆ

Štrukli or štruklji, a traditional speciality of the Hrvatsko Zagorje region, were always prepared from ingredients readily available in every household. In an effort to protect štrukli from Zagorje as an original Croatian dish, the art of preparing them has been entered into the Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Croatia. Štrukli can be prepared in one of two ways – by cooking or baking them – and they can be served as a savoury dish or a dessert. Both methods involve using dough filled with cow cheese. The difference is that štrukli cooked in salted water can be covered in melted lard and sprinkled with fried bread crumbs or served in an aromatic soup, while baked štrukli are covered in sour cream before being placed in the oven. The delicious štrukli will bring joy to people of all generations, and you can’t go wrong whichever method you choose!

Sinjski arambašići

Arambašići
MAJA DANICA PEČANIĆ

Although they resemble sarma, a dish popular in the region, sinjski arambašići are actually smaller rolls of cabbage or sour cabbage leaves, stuffed with a mixture of baby beef and pork. A well-known saying from Sinj says that “cabbage makes the arambaši” ( kupus radi arambaše), which is evidence of the importance of good sour cabbage for preparing this traditional dish of the Cetina river basin, a part of the Dalmatian hinterland, where the town of Sinj is situated. Cabbage leaves are stuffed with meat finely chopped using a cleaver (not ground), mixed with thinly sliced bacon, fried onions, chopped garlic and parsley, and grated lemon zest. Arambašići are cooked together with pieces of dried meat or bacon and sour cabbage. This rich and delicious dish makes for an invigorating meal on rainy autumn days, and local red wine makes it even tastier.

Green Stew from Konavle

Green Stew from Konavle
TZ OPĆINA KONAVLE

The “green stew” from Konavle (konavoska zelena menestra) is considered to be an original dish from the area of Dubrovnik. Historical records from the 15th century mention the dish as a speciality of the area of Konavle. Several types of dried meat are used to make the green stew, as well as green and white cabbage, potatoes and kale. Whatever was at hand would find its way to this dried-meat stew – ribs, shank, pig head, dried mutton or kaštradina, pancetta, Dalmatian prosciutto or the bone from it, and sometimes even a sausage or two. Konavoska zelena menestra would always be left to sit for a while before being served. When it was time to sit at the table and eat, special attention would be paid so that each plate had equal amounts of different meats and cooked vegetables. The final touch was freshly grated horseradish added directly onto the plate, whose strong aroma would perfectly complement the salty meat and cooked vegetables.

Zagreb Schnitzel

Zagreb Schnitzel
CROCHEF

The Zagreb Schnitzel (zagrebački odrezak) is one of the most well-known dishes from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and it owes its popularity to a delicious combination of ingredients, textures and flavours. The Zagreb Schnitzel is a pan-fried veal escalope filled with ham and melted cheese, and therefore represents a richer version of the well-known Wiener Schnitzel (bečki odrezak in Croatian). Although these days, it is often made from other types of meat, such as pork, turkey or chicken, veal is traditionally considered the main ingredient. Restaurants usually serve the dish with a lemon wedge as the acid goes well with the fried meat, and the most common side dishes are French fries or risotto with peas.

Šporki makaruli from Dubrovnik

Šporki makaruli from Dubrovnik
TZ DUBROVNIK / NIKŠA RAGUŽ LUČIĆ

Šporki makaruli from Dubrovnik is a delicious pasta with meat sauce, often prepared on the eve of the Festival of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik. The dish dates back to a time when the best pieces of meat in the delicious sauce were reserved for the Dubrovnik aristocracy, while the last plates of the makaruli were given to their trusted servants as a meal. The meat sauce served with homemade makaruli was based on beef or baby beef, and the actual meat used varied depending on what was available at the time. The meatless makaruli that were covered only with the sauce were called šporkani or “dirty”, which is how this traditional dish came to be known.

Corn-flour zlevka

Corn-flour zlevka
Maja Danica Pečanić

The corn-flour zlevka or zlevanka is a simple dish made from high-quality local ingredients that have always been available in pantries across northern Croatia. It is most commonly made in the regions of Međimurje, Zagorje and Podravina, but can also be found in Slavonia and Moslavina, whose vast fields were often used to grow corn, which was turned into rich corn flour in mills. Zlevka is a dish that can easily be turned into a dessert just by adding some apples, walnuts or jam, or it can be left as is and eaten as a savoury dish, depending on the preferences and ingredients that the household has. It is filling, calorie-dense and delicious, and since it tastes equally as good both hot and cold, it can be a nice breakfast, quick snack or light dinner. It can even replace bread when served with different meat dishes.

Lika bread

Lika bread
Maja Danica Pečanić

To make the crispy and hot bread from Lika, homemakers would get whole grain flour made the old-fashioned way, by grinding grains between two stones in watermills. The bread was usually made from corn flour and baked in the fireplace, covered with ashes and embers. With the introduction of the “bell” method (peka), it became quite a delicacy in and of itself. Once it cooled off, freshly baked bread was cut into slices and coated with lard or dipped into seasoned olive oil, and would be a perfect addition to meat dishes.

Čobanac

Čobanac
Maja Danica Pečanić

After a hard day of working in the fields, the pasture or the forest, nothing nourishes the body and soul better than a shepherd’s stew ( čobanac), a traditional dish from Slavonia made in a cauldron or large pot. It was once made by shepherds – or čobani – on the vast pastures of Slavonia. The filling and nutritious meat dish was made by slowly simmering it over the fire for several hours. The stew normally contains several types of meat, mainly pork and baby beef, with the optional addition of game or lamb meat. One of the main characteristics of the dish is certainly its spiciness, achieved by ground red pepper and dry hot peppers. Part of its charm lies in the slow cooking process and gathering of people around the open flame and the smoking cauldron, while the smell of spices and fried meat permeates the air around it.