Croatian cuisine is heterogeneous and is known as a cuisine of the regions, since every region of Croatia has its own distinct culinary tradition. Its roots date back to ancient times. The differences in the selection of foodstuffs and forms of cooking are most notable between those in mainland and those in coastal regions. Mainland cuisine is more characterized by the earlier Slavic and the more recent contacts with Hungarian and Turkish cuisine, using lard for cooking, and spices such as black pepper, paprika, and garlic. The coastal region bears the influences of the Greek and Roman cuisine, as well as of the later Mediterranean cuisine, in particular Italian (especially Venetian). Coastal cuisines use olive oil, and herbs and spices such as rosemary, sage, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and lemon and orange rind. Peasant cooking traditions are based on imaginative variations of several basic ingredients (cereals, dairy products, meat, fish, vegetables, nuts) and cooking procedures (stewing, grilling, roasting, baking), while bourgeois cuisine involves more complicated procedures and use of selected herbs and spices. Charcuterie is part of the Croatian culinary tradition in all regions. Food and recipes from other former Yugoslav countries are also popular in Croatia.
Croatian cuisine can be divided into several distinct cuisines (Istria, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, Lika, Gorski Kotar, Zagorje, Međimurje, Podravina, Slavonija) each of which has specific cooking traditions, characteristic for the area and not necessarily well known in other parts of Croatia. Most dishes, however, can be found all across the country, with local variants.
Croatian National Dishes
Zagorski štrukli is a popular traditional Croatian dish served in households across Hrvatsko Zagorje and Zagreb regions in the north of the country, composed of dough and various types of filling which can be either cooked or baked. It is closely related to štruklji, a traditional Slovene dish.
Mlinci is a dish in Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian cuisine. It is a thin dried flatbread that is easy to prepare by simply pouring boiled salted water or soup over the mlinci.
To prepare homemade mlinci, a dough is made of flour, salt, and water, sometimes also with eggs and fat. The dough is then rolled out about 1 mm thick and 20 to 30 cm wide, and baked in an oven or on a hot plate. Later it is broken into pieces about 5 cm in size before final preparation with hot water or soup.
Before serving, mlinci can also be quickly fried in poultry fat. Turkey with mlinci is a Croatian folk-cuisine specialty, especially in Zagorje and Slavonia. In Slovenia, duck or goose with mlinci is traditionally eaten on St. Martin’s Day. In Serbia, they are usually prepared in the province of Vojvodina, where they are served with a pork or chicken fillet in smetana sauce.
Mlinci can also be served by soaking the dried pieces in the drippings from roast meats. The roast meat is removed from the pan and the broken pieces are placed in the fat in the tray, and then baked for a short amount of time. The mlinci is then served as a side dish accompanying the main roast.
Brudet, brodet or brodeto is a fish stew made in Croatian regions of Dalmatia, Kvarner and Istria, as well as along the coast of Montenegro. It consists of several types of fish stewed with spices and red wine, and the most important aspect of brudet is its simplicity of preparation and the fact that it is typically prepared in a single pot. It is usually served with polenta which soaks up the fish broth, while other recipes serve it with potatoes or bread. Brudets can significantly vary in style, composition and flavor, depending upon the types of ingredients and cooking styles used.
Kulen is a type of flavoured sausage made of minced pork that is traditionally produced in Croatia (Slavonia) and Serbia (Vojvodina).
A regional festival of Kulen is held annually in Bački Petrovac.
A kind of kulen from Syrmia has had its designation of origin protected in Serbia by an organization from Šid. There is also a local variety called Slovak kulen made predominately in Bačka by local Slovaks.
A kind of kulen from Slavonia has had its designation of origin protected in Croatia by an organization from Bošnjaci. In parts of Slavonia, kulen is called kulin in Ikavian accent.
Croatian Baranya Kulen (Baranjski Kulen) is protected by Geographical Indication (GI) status from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The meat is low-fat, rather brittle and dense, and the flavour is spicy with the hot red paprika bringing it aroma and colour, and garlic for additional spice. The original kulen recipe does not contain black pepper; its hot flavour comes from the paprika.
The traditional time of producing kulen is during the pig slaughter done every autumn by most households. Kulen matures during the winter; it can be eaten at this time, although not fully dried and cured yet, with very hot taste, but it will develop its full taste by the following summer. To produce a dryer, firmer kulen, it is sometimes kept buried under ashes, which act as a desiccant. Kulen is a shelf-stable meat product, with a shelf life of up to two years when stored properly.
The meat is stuffed and pressed into bags made of pork intestine, and formed into links that are usually around ten centimetres in diameter, and up to three times as long, weighing around a kilogram.
The pieces of kulen are smoked for several months, using certain types of wood. After the smoking they are air-dried for another several months. This process can last up to a year. Although similar to other air-dried procedures, the meat is fermented in addition to the air-drying. High-grade kulen is sometimes even covered with a thin layer of mould, giving it a distinct aroma.
When the kulen meat is stuffed into the small intestine, the thinness makes it require less smoking and drying and thus also takes less time to mature. This type of sausage is often referred to as kulenova seka (literally kulen’s sister).
Kulen is regarded as a premium domestically-made dried meat product, given that on the Zagreb market even a low-grade kulen can cost much more than other types of sausages and is comparable to smoked ham. Although it has also been produced commercially throughout former Yugoslavia since World War II, the industrial process of production is significantly different, resulting in major differences in appearance and aroma, although it is cheap compared to the genuine kulen. However an annual “Kulenijada” festival is held in many Croatian and Serbian cities to honor the history and great regional masters of making kulen.
The Istrian stew or jota (Croatian: Istarska jota; Slovene: Jota, Italian: Jota) is a stew, made of beans, sauerkraut or sour turnip, potatoes, bacon, spare ribs, known in the northern Adriatic region. It is especially popular in Istria and some other parts of northwestern Croatia. Under the name jota, it is also typical of the whole Slovenian Littoral and in the former Austro-Hungarian territories in northeastern Italy, especially in the provinces of Trieste (where it is considered to be the prime example of Triestine food) and Gorizia, and in some peripheral areas of northeastern Friuli (the Torre river valley, and the mountain borderlands of Carnia and Slavia Veneta).
The dish shows the influence of both Central European and Mediterranean cuisine. In most of the recipes, olive oil is used, and the main seasoning is garlic.
In Slovenian Istria, it is often eaten together with polenta.