Croatian food is a special ingredient that makes any sailing holiday in the country particularly memorable and unique. While the captivating landscapes of the Adriatic coast and islands provide plenty of sights to explore, the restaurants and eateries on Croatia’s shores are ideal for a break from sightseeing and beach activities, with a rich offering of local specialties inviting sailors to fully enjoy the country’s flavours and aromas.
The Croatian coastal regions have a typically Mediterranean cuisine and a lively restaurant scene, with opportunities to indulge in seafood dishes and delicious desserts lurking at every corner. Tourist hotspots such as Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik are usually crowded in the peak season, but nonetheless harbour many intimate restaurants that are not as packed as those in the historic centers and along the cities’ waterfronts.
Istria and Dalmatia nurture a tradition of healthy and natural dishes based on meat, fresh seafood, and sheep and goat cheese, seasoned with aromatic herbs and olive oil. Fish is usually stewed, boiled or grilled, while meat is often roasted on a spit, which gives it a unique flavour.
There are a number of foods specific to Croatia’s regions that will leave no foodie indifferent. Each region offers considerable diversity and many culinary surprises, but most places on the coast and islands offer good quality food prepared with fresh seasonal ingredients.
Istria prides itself on “maneštra,” a vegetable soup with dried meat, the Istrian “pršut,” dried ham which is one of the most popular appetizers in the region, the Kvarner scampi, a favourite among gourmets, seafood salad and a variety of risottos and pasta served with Istrian truffles, a widely
Dalmatian cuisine is simpler, with fewer spices used, and based mostly on seafood served with olive oil and plenty of lightly cooked or fresh vegetables. The region is known for its risottos, fish soups, grilled octopus and fish, stewed oysters, scampi and mussels. Another popular dish is “pašticada,” beef marinated and slow-cooked in a rich sauce, served with gnocchi. Black risotto, a must for any foodie, is a mainstay on the menu of most restaurants, while the Dalmatian brodetto, a traditional fish stew made with different kinds of fish and typically served with polenta, is a real treat for anyone who likes fish. The traditional Croatian “peka,” a blend of meat or fish with vegetables baked under a bell-like dome, is one of the most popular dishes in Dalmatia and can be found on menus across the region.
The island of Pag has two special delicacies that make a wonderful addition to any meal. Pag lamb, produced from lambs fed on natural milk and local aromatic herbs, has a uniquely rich and aromatic flavour, while Pag cheese, a variety of hard cheese produced from the milk of sheep that graze on the island’s fragrant plants, stands out among a variety of Croatian artisan cheeses.
The island of Vis is another wonderful destination for food lovers. Fresh lobster caught by local fishermen is one of the best known local delicacies. It is served grilled, broiled, stewed or in a cream soup.
Dubrovnik has a particularly diverse gastronomic offering, with everything from traditional Croatian cuisine to innovative seafood dishes that surprise and leave a lasting impression. The restaurants, bars and fast food eateries in the Old Town offer an endless variety of dishes to explore, from freshly prepared fish and shrimp with homemade bread and pasta to pizza, sushi, pastries and confectionery. The low-key street food bistros are particularly innovative and prepare shrimp and other seafood in dozens of different ways, including tapas-style, tempura, wok, burger, and tartare.
Traditional desserts on the Croatian coast typically include an assortment of unusual ingredients such as dried figs, raisins, honey, almonds and other locally grown fruit.
In Istria and Dalmatia, the flavoured deep-fried doughnuts with raisins known as “fritule” and “pinca,” sweet bread with apples, are well-loved traditional desserts. Istrians also enjoy sweet ravioli, while Dubrovnik’s “rožata,” a traditional caramel pudding flavoured with liquor, has been a favourite on special occasions for many generations.
Traditional family restaurants along Croatia’s coast serve these and many other specialties prepared from recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Some restaurants in larger cities offer an exciting fusion of traditional meals with a modern twist, while waterfront taverns serve the time-tested classics, along with a selection of excellent Croatian wines and liquors. Many restaurants on the coast and islands have anchorages directly adjacent, inviting sailors to sample their abundant offerings while enjoying the views of the sea and the cityscape, especially in the evening. The portions are usually generous and the views unforgettable.