The food of Croatia

To be perfectly honest, while travelling the coast of Croatia from one end to the other, we didn’t really have a chance to experience any real Croatian food because we didn’t find any restaurants offering it. That’s not to say that there weren’t any restaurants, quite the contrary actually, but none that would offer something traditional. All we could find (granted in mostly tourist towns) were “full English breakfasts” and various weird renditions of the cuisines of other countries. Where is the seafood on the coast (duh!?!)? The stuffed peppers (Punjena Paprika)? The cabbage rolls (Sarma)? Where is the slow foods movement I heard so much about?

I will be the first to admit ┬áthat we didn’t go off the beaten track in a lot of these tourist heavy cities such as Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar but even the local’s grocery stores had dismal supplies. The produce was scarce and mostly imported, the selections of meat products were always in limited quantities and in some cases questionable qualities and the presence of local products was unheard of. I was shocked since I’ve heard so much about the quality of food in this beautiful country. Also, to make matters worse, the prices were unreasonably high. A meal for two with a bottle of cheap wine came to about 80$ (CAD) on average… that’s close to Toronto prices without the value.

One thing that really did impress us, regardless of the origin of the items on the plate, were the food portions. The basic idea is to feed way past the normal point of saturation and they sure respect this rule. Giant meat portions with about a kilogram of potatoes and a giant bowl of cabbage salad was the norm. Oh and all of this was served with bread! It was this foodie’s worst nightmare having to put my fork down and declare defeat by never ending food.

I hope that the real food culture exists somewhere in Croatia and I am more than happy to return to experience it but first impressions were certainly not as positive as we thought they would be. Can someone give us some pointers for the future?

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1 Comment

  • We spent 3 months there and quickly learned that unless we wanted to live off of pork cutlets and pizza, we would have to do really good homework online when choosing a restaurant, which helped. You have to dig a little for the gems. For a few weeks we stayed with distant relatives there and ate spectacularly. Oddly, many tourist “restoran” there have identical menus and not all that great of food and nothing like the great everyday food we had with the locals.

    A few things we learned: many locals hardly ever eat out. It’s a cafe culture, so they spend their time and money drinking but a huge portion eat their meals at home (and many still have their baba or mother cooking for them). And many in the country don’t have a lot of disposable income, and cafe life is cheaper than restaurants. Usually the biggest meal of the day is lunch, which has long been the tradition there (followed by a siesta during the hot mid-day sun). So the restaurants are really geared towards tourists, what they think tourists want, with a lot of menu duplication. Things are getting better though and with time you’ll see more gems in more places, I think.

    Also, we too looked high and low for sarma, then were later were informed that while basically everyone makes some form of sarma/stuffed cabbage at home, it is less likely to be seen on a menu because it is considered to be more of a Serbian dish… and old feelings die hard.

    For others that read this that might be planning a trip, always ask what the daily special is (often it is something locals will order), try to eat at places a little off the main tourist area, and if you are able do some online searches at Like Croatia, Taste of Croatia, etc. to pick out some must-do restaurants for your higher end meals.

    The supermarkets are rarely the best place to buy groceries, go to the trznica or outdoor markets, which are more fun anyhow. Often there is a mesarnica (butcher), homemade cheese for sale, a bakery nearby, and locals selling there fresh produce. This is the way to roll when putting together your own picnic lunch.

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