The main feature of Croatian cuisine is its diversity, so it is impossible to single out a typical cuisine or typical dish. Different natural and economic circumstances and diverse cultural influences have affected the development of several regional cuisines. Four main areas can be identified, but each of these has several subgroups with their own specific characteristics and specialities.
The Adriatic coast belongs to the Mediterranean world of cuisine. The food is light and includes a lot of fish and other seafood – cuttlefish, squid, octopus and shellfish. These are stewed, casseroled, grilled or roasted. Plenty of vegetables, legumes and wild plants (wild asparagus, meadow plants – mišanca) are also eaten. They are made into soups (maneštra), or steamed or boiled and seasoned with olive oil and garlic. Olive oil is the basic culinary addition. The most frequently prepared meats are mutton, and to a lesser extent, beef. A favourite beef dish is pašticada, braised with herbs, prunes and dried figs, bacon and red wine, and the most common accompaniments are potato noodles (gnocchi). Pork is smoked and air-dried to produce proscuitto and pancetta. The most famous hard cheese is goat’s cheese from the island of Pag.
The cuisine of Lika and Gorski Kotar is most meat-based: lamb, kid, beef and some pork. Meat is cooked with beans and pickled cabbage or turnip, grilled or roasted, and may be smoke-dried. The most common accompaniments are potatoes (ličke pole). Game is also eaten, particularly venison or boar goulash. Various kinds of mushrooms grow plentifully in the woods. The diet of these predominantly cattle-farming areas also includes plenty of dairy produce, such as the famous Lika cheese, škripavac.
Dairy products are also part of the cuisine of northern and central Croatia. Soft cow’s cheese, eaten with sour cream, is popular, as is podravska prga, a dried cheese seasoned with paprika and garlic. Sour cream is often added to stews and soups. Meat is usually poultry or pork. Turkey with mlinci, a side-dish of unleavened pastry, is one of the most famous dishes in Croatian Zagorje and the Zagreb area. Štrukli, filled pastry turnovers, are another popular dish. They can be sweet or savoury, boiled or baked, added to soup, filled with soft cheese, apples, pumpkin, poppy seeds, millet, etc. Dishes made from buckwheat, millet and barley used to be common, but these ingredients are less frequent on modern menus.
The culinary tradition of northeast Croatia (Slavonia and Baranja) relies heavily on pork, whether fresh or processed as dried products – sausages, bacon, ham, pork crackling, or the famous kulen and kulenova seka (types of salami). Čobanac is a goulash made with several kinds of meat, served with potatoes or dumplings. River fish are used to make paprikaš. Dishes are seasoned generously with paprika. Lard is used to make lard cakes (salenjaci).
Fine food and drink are an integral part of the traditions of the Croatian regions and an important factor in their contemporary identities. One component is the range of different gourmet treats for tourists – truffles in Istria, chestnuts in Kvarner, the ‘What our Ancestors Ate’ festival in Vrbovec – and restaurants and rural farms which offer traditionally prepared dishes, or those based on tradition, but adapted to modern culinary principles.