With its excellent fresh seafood, expertly grilled and roasted meats, and quality ingredients, Croatia is a food lover's paradise. Whether you're looking for a luxurious truffle-centered feast or a simple sausage and bread sandwich, Croatia delivers delicious food. Eating in Croatia is an experience and as a diner you should take your time to experience the culture around eating and food.
While Italian in origin, pizza is a prominent part of Croatian cuisine. If you find yourself wondering what to eat in Croatia, you can't go wrong with a woodfired pizza place and they're everywhere. Pizza was the first meal I officially ate in Croatia. These first pizzas were ham and mushroom, and ham and sundried tomatoes.
Normally, I don't like mushrooms especially on pizza but the mushrooms in Croatia have turned me into a mushroom eater. The toppings on the pizza were delicious but I found the tomato sauce to be flavorless and the crust a little soggy.
Below is an unattractive picture of a rather unattractive but simple and delicious dish: cevapi with flatbread. A traditional Balkan dish, cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat in the form of a skinless sausage. It is typically served with freshly baked flatbread, sliced raw white onion, and a roasted red pepper paste called ivar. If you're wary of raw white onion like I was, don't be afraid: onions in Croatia are much sweeter than they are in the States. Much like pizza, cevapi is a ubiquitous food in Croatia.
Normally, I'm not a big ice cream person. At most I eat it once every six months but the gelato in Croatia was so delicious and creamy that it was hard to pass up. The best gelato was the wild strawberry from Vincek Confectionary in Zagreb. It's super creamy, tart, and full of strawberry flavor.
If you find yourself in the small city of Ogulin, which you most likely won't, a good place to sit down and enjoy a meal is the restaurant at Hotel Frankopan. The restaurant at Hotel Frankopan serves over fifty kinds of pancakes. Pancakes are common throughout Croatia and are what Americans would consider crepes. We ordered the sexy pancakes (crepes with chocolate sauce, banana, walnuts, and powdered sugar), chocolate pancakes with apricot and apple, pancakes baked with cheese and sour cream, and fried stuffed pancakes. I ordered the baked cheese pancakes and they were desperately lacking in salt and the cheese was chalky. My dining companions were very happy with their choices.
Located in old town Split, Bokeria is a modern Mediterranean restaurant serving excellent food and local wine pairings. They're open late, a little away from the central area, and well-priced for the quality of the food.
We started the meal with a cold platter of cheese, peppers and olives, and cured meats. It was a solid cold platter but it had nothing on the cold platter we had at Roca later on in the trip.
For my main, I ordered the Chilean sea bass with sun-dried tomato, cauliflower puree, and zucchini. The portion of the sea bass was unbelievable for the price of approximately $25. The sea bass had crispy skin, moist flesh, and well-seasoned. The cauliflower puree was smooth and full of cauliflower flavor without being overpowering. I didn't really notice the sun-dried tomato and felt like it could either be gone or have more added.
My friend ordered the beef cheek risotto. If you're not familiar with beef cheek, it's one of the best cuts of meat you can have. It comes out deliciously tender and fatty without being greasy. We also ordered the duck liver creme brulee, which is not a dish I particularly enjoyed (not big on liver).
Do you want to have a truly Croatian dining experience that you will not get anywhere else? Then make the trip out to Roca Estate on the Dalmatian Coast. This restaurant is surrounded by fields and vineyards. They cure their own meats, make their own grappa, and raise all the products they serve at the restaurant on their farm.
The owners of Roca Estate have taken their years of restaurant experience to create something truly special. If you want to have peka, a dinner of roasted meat, you need to reserve ahead of time. This is the type of meal to sit back and enjoy the conversation with your friends. Do not expect service to be quick; Croatians like to take their time with their food.
At Roca Estate, they cure their own prosciutto and their facility can stock over 6,000 prosciuttos. While the two differently aged prosciuttos were excellent, it was the guanciale that stole the show on the cold platter.
Most restaurants in Croatia serve fresh baked bread and Roca served the best bread I had in Croatia. It was crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, buttery, and sprinkled with herbs. It was hard not to stuff myself on bread.
Our roast meat platter was served with an accompaniment of sides. These included a dip of sour cream or yogurt with cucumber, cold beans, potato salad, and hard-boiled egg with wild asparagus. I didn't try the yogurt/sour cream and cucumber dip because texturally that's not something I want to eat. Of the side dishes, the hard-boiled egg with wild asparagus was my favorite.
The roast meat platter included lamb chops, steak, roast lamb shoulder, and venison-pork sausage. The venison-pork sausage was the best sausage I've ever had in my life. It was perfectly fatty without being greasy and the flavor was gamey, spicy, salty, and savory and perfectly balanced. I wanted to keep eating this sausage but unfortunately I had to share it with my friends.
Our meal also included a beef dumpling soup that I could have done without and a side of incredibly buttery and perfectly roasted potatoes. Croatian potatoes put Idaho spuds to shame.
The New York Times called Mondo Konoba "the best little restaurant you may never reach," and I can't disagree. If you find yourself on the Istria peninsula, the medieval hilltop village of Motovun is the place to go for wine and truffle lovers, or lovers of beautiful views. The menu focuses on local ingredients, simple pasta dishes, and a refined yet relaxed atmosphere.
The meal at Mondo Konoba starts with freshly baked bread and olive truffle tapenade. I was seriously loving the freshly baked bread in Croatia. After eating bread in Croatia, and even Hungary, I didn't want to go back to eating the flavorless, squishy bread typically available in the United States.
As an appetizer, we ordered the cold meat platter with cheese fondue, local olives, and pickles. This was the least memorable part of the meal for me though I enjoyed the olive after the canned olive I had a seafood restaurant in Rijeka.
My friend Nan continued her meal with the tomato and truffle soup which she thought was delicious. I continued my meal with an arugula and parmesan salad. The arugula was peppery and fresh which complimented the funky shaved parmesan cheese. But really? It was a salad and fresh vegetables are rare on most Croatian menus. Craving met.
For my main course, I ordered the gnocchi with shrimp in truffle cream sauce. The gnocchi were perfectly cooked fluffy slightly chewy pillows of perfection. I've never had better gnocchi in my life. Shrimp can be easily overcooked but these were tender and the ideal size for the gnocchi. The truffle flavor was effused throughout the dish but not overpowering. This is not your truffle oil bullshit.
Nan ordered the celery and spinach stuffed ravioli with truffle cream sauce. The ravioli was flavorful and the pasta tender.
My friend Tyler ordered the tagliatelle with truffle cream sauce. Do you see a trend here of fresh pasta with truffle cream sauce? Not a great restaurant for people who don't like cream sauce, truffles, or pasta. Also, aren't these dishes goddamn beautiful?
My friend Maddy ordered the eggplant risotto with truffles and a Parmesan cheese crisp. I tried a bite of her risotto and it was a well-executed creamy risotto with a blend of eggplant and truffle flavors.
Konoba Istarska Hiza Kontija
Pork? Do you like pork? Do you like delicious crispy skin married with juicy pig flesh? Then Kontija will be your heaven. Drive from Porec to Ravinj and look for the man turning the pig on the spit. Across the street, there will probably be a middle-aged man chopping wood while an elderly man sits on a stool. You will have a very Croatian moment.
My friend Nan and I shared the roast pork with rice and potatoes and served with gravy. The skin on the pork was deeply flavorful and crispy. The meat was tender. Underneath the meat, soaking up all the juice and fat were the rice and potatoes. Awesome!
Tyler ordered the roasted suckling pig with potato and ivar, a roasted red pepper sauce. The suckling pig was succulent and darn tasty.
Maddy ordered the scampi and boy was it fishy. These guys were a little too intense for me.
Restoran Konoba Girica
For simple and fresh fried seafood, head to Girica in Rijeka. Not only is the food good, it is affordable and served one of the sweetest waitresses in the world. She gave her number to my friends living in Croatia and offered to be a translator for them whenever they needed it. Also, she tried her hardest to explain shark when she didn't know the English word and even drew us a diagram.
Croatia is a meat heavy country packed with delicious bread, pasta, and risotto but acid, herbs, and fresh vegetables can be seriously lacking. To get some lighter, tapas style dishes, make your way to Mali Bar in Zagreb.
The restaurant is cozy and California-inspired; they even have posters for Alice Water's Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. We ordered four dishes to share: shrimp cake, toast with goat cheese, wild asparagus, and fried egg, tuna prosciutto, and chicken wings.
I was so fucking happy to see a lime at this point in our trip. It brightened the entire dish in a way I had been missing the entire time in Croatia. Not to knock Croatian cuisine, it's amazing, but goddamn y'all need some acid.
The asparagus and goat cheese toast was tasty, and normally I would be all over it but it was a little too heavy for me at this point in the trip.
Tuna prosciutto, have you ever heard of such a thing? I never had and I want it more in my life. It was fresh, simple, and the texture soft in a way that was sexy, not mushy.
The chicken wings, not pictured here, were flavorful but the sauce had reduced too much and was too salty even for me.
Don't dismiss Croatian cuisine as heavy Eastern European food or knock-off Italian. It is a complex cuisine with influences from multiple regions.
Just don't expect it to be acidic or spicy.