I had been told the food in Croatia was wonderful, due to its proximity to Italy. Hurrah, I thought, I’ll be scoffing truffles, amazing pasta and seafood, and will have Italian-inspired cuisine pouring out of my ears. Well, as it turned out, those foods hail from a part of Croatia called Istria, in the north, and my family and I went to the southern Dalmatian coast. Where the food does not quite live up to the heights of gastro-porn, let me tell you. The Dalmatians like their food on the bland side – simple, hefty and with scant spices or herbs.
In this part of the country, Croatian cuisine runs along the lines of grilled meat and fish, potatoes and rice, boiled veg and very sturdy pizzas. You can also get pasta and risotto too, great big salty, starchy portions. Not bad, but nothing that memorable. Menus are identical in every single restaurant. That’s completely fine – you can get around the monotony by staying in self catering accommodation, which we did. Our first meal, foraged by my husband very late one Saturday night, was a bag of the favourite national snack, fried dough, bought from a very grumpy lady in a kiosk. (A similar dough kiosk is at the top of the page).
I cannot go on holiday anywhere without knowing that I can go and explore the local food market and lug back some treats. The fresh produce in Croatia is out of this world. And I love a good rummage around the supermarkets, too – you never know what you’re going to find, such as five variations on Nutella or bizarre flavours of crisp. And what is it about holidays that suddenly mean that you go mad for eating lots of salty pretzel sticks? We did this almost every night with our drinks.
The food market in Split was probably the best gastronomic experience of the holiday – people sell bright, fresh fruit and veg, mostly grown on their allotments, and you can even buy kilos of live snails and several different types of fresh asparagus. Women stand holding bags of eggs and waving bunches of fragrant lilac, murmuring for you to go and buy them.
Super-fresh baby artichokes, beans, ruby-bright radishes and parsley:
Three types of wild asparagus in varying degrees of thin-ness – a little more bitter than the fatter spears, but delicious:
Cooking snails with garlic butter crossed my mind here, but I chickened out. The snail seller gave a great big booming laugh when I refused to let him put a slimy one on my arm:
Ladies queuing to get smoked sausages and chicken:
Split’s fish market is where exhausted, yawning fishermen sell their morning’s catch, tucked away in the gothic maze of the old town streets. You wander down narrow alleyways following your nose, then arrive at an ancient stone building that houses stalls of fish so fresh that you can still see some of it moving (gasping) on the tables! We bought fresh langoustines, skipjack tuna and a great big jar of salted anchovies.
Massive buckets of anchovies in oil and salt – we bought a big jar to bring back home:
Monkfish, I presume?
Fishermen selling the catch of the day inside the beautiful old tiled market building:
Dishes are big, simple and perfectly ok. Grilled meat, potatoes and fried fish. Not a lemon wedge in sight, sadly:
If you’re lucky, you might get a blob of red pepper avjar on the side, a delicious grilled red pepper/aubergine sauce:
Pizza: we’re not talking sourdough wood-fired pizzas here, more along the lines of a mid-90’s Pizza Hut thin crust. But really quite nice in a retro way!
I love to see what’s different compared to the UK. Here I found the following amazing and weird things…
Croatians like very mild cheese – mainly gouda in plastic wrap. You won’t find anything honky or strong tasting:
Sausages feature heavily everywhere:
Behold the terrifying enormous mortadella luncheon meats:
Cheese shaped like travel pillows!
Chocolate flavoured with Petit Beurre biscuits – nice idea, but Croatian chocolate tastes soapy:
If you’re not near a food market, your best bet for lovely fresh fruit and veg is to go to small greengrocers where you can bet that a granny up the road will have grown the lettuces.
In Korcula island’s old town, this small shop was only stocked with locally-grown salads and delicious strawberries grown by the locals:
Greengrocers and small shops in Dubrovnik – everything looks like it has been pulled out of the ground the same morning:
Bread and cakes
There is a reassuring abundance of bakeries everywhere – Croatians love their dough!
Although the smell wafting from them will be lovely, be warned the pastries and bread are rather solid and basic in nature:
The croissants are often filled – not unpleasantly – with jam!
However, the cakes look terrifying – very square, dense and clogged with heavy centres and toppings:
Shriek, the cake on the left has EYES:
There appears to be a national obsession with wafer biscuits – you can buy huge packs of biscuits and wafer sheets in most supermarkets, and I found this rolled wafer chocolate log (below right) for sale in Split food market:
Perhaps during Communist-era Yugoslavia, wafers were the only biscuits available on the black market. Not very inspiring, and the chocolate log tasted strangely dusty and very little of chocolate.
BUT – happiness is a warm filo pastry cheese or spinach burek (similar to a Greek spanakopita but minus the herbs), straight from the bakery oven, or on sale at kiosks in most towns – thoroughly recommended:
You won’t fare too badly in Croatia, but when eating out the cuisine won’t exactly make your heart thump with excitement. I would really recommend going self catering, cooking for yourself with great fresh produce, and taking some chilli sauce with you in your suitcase! When we got home we ate a Thai curry and it nearly blew my head off…