10 CROATIAN FOODS YOU HAVE TO TRY
Here at LBW we love the Croatian YachtLife. We love the sun, the sea, the waves, the parties, the history, the breathtaking vistas of the Dinaric Alps, the untrodden islands – the list goes on! Oh, and we love Croatian food. Here are 10 reasons why…
Okay, okay, so we know this one's not a food, but still, any veteran of the Balkan travel circuit will know that it's simply got to have a place here. Clear and pungent, tasty and palette-cleansing like no other spirit out there, it's likely you'll enjoy plenty of this regional liquor as you bounce over the waves of the Croatian Adriatic on the YachtLife or hit the rustic villages of the Dalmatian islands. Hey, who know, you might even get the chance to visit a local distillery and see just how the grape-based tipple is created. One word of warning: that rakija hangover can be brutal!
Smoky fish stew
Yea, we know, the name is hardly the sort of eloquent, menu-ready thing to set the taste buds a-tingling, but hey, we do try not to judge a book by its cover, right? You'll be darn glad you didn't with this one too, because that bubbling broth of paprika-infused goodness, packed with fresh fish cuts pulled straight from the Adriatic Sea, served up with crunchy focaccia bread and a topping of chickpeas, really is to die for. It's also the perfect example of the fusion of Hungarian, eastern European and western cooking styles that dominates the Croatian kitchen.
Cheese is everywhere in Europe: France has its pungent Roquefort, England has its Cheddar, Italy has its salty Gorgonzola. Croatia, though, has Pag. Made originally solely on the island it shares its name with, it's known for the unique herby flavours that are due to a sheeps's milk coming from animals reared high on the Velebit foothills, where fields of aromatic sage plants grow. Now considered an artisanal cheese, Pag can be a little pricy, but it's also the perfect addition to a mezze sharing platter with olives and cold cuts.
Think olive oil and most will instantly look to places like Spain and Italy, where the viscous condiment is famed for its freshness. However, Croatia also has its very own selection of oils, typically made from the olive groves of verdant Istria – a large peninsula region in the north of the country. The products here are known for their unique, peppery flavour, which makes them the perfect accompaniment for dipping bread and sharing platters. They also go great on green salads and pizzas – which also happen to be popular in Croatia thanks to the Italian influence (more on that later though).
Croatian octopus salad
There's no question that the Croatian locals like to make the most of the bounties of the sea - there are miles and miles of coastline here from which to fish from after all. One of the many culinary creations that's come from that is the salata od hobotnice, or octopus salad, which is a really popular starter and snack in towns and cities right up and down the Adriatic Riviera. Douse it with a little lemon juice and garnish with parsley and you're bound to be hooked! Oh, and did we mention just how well this one goes with a cold beer?
Ah, Ćevapi: the go-to stomach filler of the Croatian kitchen. These hearty, hefty meals are something like the Balkans's answer to the Turkish kebab. It might have even been the Ottoman influence that first inspired the locals here to bind pork and beef with herbs and spices, and then proceed to grill the mixture over an open flame, who knows? Still, the result is undeniably tasty, mimicking a western burger, but served in a tasty flatbread with a healthy (or not so healthy) dousing of mayonnaise.
No matter if it's little tunnies, anchovies, sprat, pilchards or swordfish, any lover of seafood should be sure not to leave Croatia without sampling the local cooking method at least once. A lesson in beautiful simplicity, it involves just a grill of smoldering coals, a sharp knife to crosshatch the surface of the fish, and a generous marinate of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and country herbs. Just imagine sitting and devouring one of those bad boys as the Adriatic crashes against your toes and the Dalmatian fir forests sway at your back. Nice, eh?
Eh, pizza in Croatia? Well, yes actually! If you head up to the northern reaches of the country, where Italian cities like Trieste are just a stone's throw across the border, and the little hilltop towns ooze Italian history, Roman relics and come peppered with traditional Latin trattorias, it's hard not to see just how much influence the boot-shaped nation across the water has had on Croatia. That, in turn, means that there are some darn great pizzerias, offering crispy bases and fresh tomato tops to rival even Rome – all for a smaller price tag, of course!
Hailing from the salt-washed bays and fishing towns of gorgeous Dalmatia (the region that we travel on our bucket-list-busting YachtLife trips each summer), the dish known as peka is a real must-try after a long day lazing on the pebble beaches. It's actually a lot like a Moroccan tagine, coming cooked in a bell-shaped terracotta dome in a roaring fireplace. Throw in fresh veggies and oodles of local chicken and lamb cuts, plenty of thyme, bay leaves and other herbs, all before serving it up with crunchy salad and Croatian bread. Mmm. Sorry. Mouth. Is. Watering.
Taking us away from the fish-heavy cuisine of the Croatian coastline, the hearty orange stew that is Cobanac was designed centuries ago to feed the rural shepherds of the Slavic mountains in the east while they tended their flocks across the rugged highlands. That means the medley of lamb and beef that broils with spices and paprika over an open flame is certainly one to keep the wolf from the door. It's also a great taste of the Slavic influence that can still be discerned in the regional kitchen.
Are you a lover of Croatia? Can you think of any more tastes that travelers must try on our YachtLife tours this summer? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below…