I recently traveled to Croatia. It had been on my list of places to visit for over 10 years. I was dying to see their beaches, but quite honestly, I knew nothing about their culinary culture. I assumed (correctly) that the Dalmatian coast would be dominated by seafood. This was right. It was also dominated by really bad Italian food. Turns out Croatia was often taken over by Italians. This resulted in plenty of "Bolognese" (think Chef Boyardee) and "Pizza Cuts" (as a New Yorker, these were nightmarish - this is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Croatia - you'll see this in Portugal and even Paris).
I say skip the Italian-Croatian food and go with simple dishes made with simple ingredients. Their fish and produce are really high quality (some of the best I have tasted), so if you find a place that does grilled fish or a simple salad, you will be in for a treat. The grilled lamb (usually found in the mountains off the Dalmatian coast is quite delicious as well). Oh, and Croatian tomatoes are simply gorgeous. Buy some, pick up some Croatian olive oil (nectar of the gods) and you will have a delicious snack at a fraction of the cost that you would pay in other countries. Today, I'll give you some tips for eating in Croatia. If you have a question, just ask in the comments.
Tips for Eating in Croatia
**I've added some basic phrases to the bottom of the post. These will make sure you do not starve even if you go to the most remote place in the country.
1. Couvert: In Croatia, when your server brings you bread, a small fee will be added to your check. It is minimal and it is considered payment for the bread (5-20kn). If you don't want to pay extra for bread, you must let them know before they put it on the table. Then again, what will you use as a vehicle to finish delicious sauces?
2. Wine: In the time I spent in Croatia, I had a very hard time finding wines I liked. Most whites were flaccid and uninteresting. That being said, my wine friends tell me that Croatian wines have come a long way since my last visit. Grapes to look for when you visit are:
- Bogdanuša (white) - floral & fresh
- Pošip (white) - full bodied white
- Grk (white) - high acidity, aromatic & saline
- Vugava (white)
- Plavac (red)
- Babić (red)
Stick to reds (Plavac is a nice choice - if you like Rioja style wines), The best white to be had was Posip by Korta Katarina. If there are Croatian wines you love, leave me a comment. I'd love to experiment and see how their wines have evolved.
3. Tipping: Locals in Croatia don't tip. They usually just round up and tip on this. Of course, if you have phenomenal service or plan to go back to a restaurant, it can't hurt to add a little extra as a tip. This usually results in a little shot of moonshine or dessert on your return visit. Higher end restaurants have begun to add a 10-15% service charge, so things are changing fast.
4. Beer: Croatian beer is GOOD! I mean really, really good. Buy yourself a big plastic bottle of beer (they sell huge ones at the supermarket), throw it in the fridge and drink midday while sitting in the sun. My favorites were Ožujsko and Karlovačko.
5. Language: Croatian is not an easy language to learn. At least it was not for me. I learned some very basic phrases. Luckily almost everyone in the touristy areas speaks English. The issue with this is that these areas have (usually) the worst food. Learn these few phrases and you'll be able to explore and find some really great food places. ***There may be some atrocious mistakes here. I don't speak Croatian...but I was able to get tables and eat everywhere I went. I got a few snickers from restaurant staff...but I never went hungry.
Basic Phrases For Eating In Croatian
Do you speak English? - Govorite li Engleski?
Yes - Da
No - Ne
I don't understand - Ne razumijem
A table for two, please - Stol za dva osobe, molim
Non smoking table - Imate li prostor za nepusace
A beer please - Pivo, molim vas
Another beer, please - Jos jedno pivo, molim vas
A bottle of mineral water - Bocu gazirane mineralne vode
A bottle of regular mineral water - Bocu ne gazirane mineralne vodne
A glass of water - Casa vode
A bottle of white wine - Bocu bijelo vina
A bottle of red wine - Bocu crnog vina
Another bottle please - Molim vas, donesite jos jednu bocu
The menu please - Jelovnik, molim
I will have this - Ja bih ovo
I will have the fish - Ja cu ribu
I will have the chicken - Ja cu piletina
I will have the pork - Ja cu svinjetinu
Where is the bathroom - Cje je toalet?
Coffee please - Kavu, molim
Tea please - Caj, molim
May I have the check - Molim vas, donesite racun
Things to Eat In Croatia
Now that you are armed with all the tips to eat in Croatia, you need to know what to eat. These were my favorite things:
Crni rizot: Black risotto...aka...squid ink risotto, I know I told you that Italian food in Croatia is not the best, but this is an exception. As long as there is fish involved, you're good to go in Croatia.
Buzara: Shrimp, mussels or clams in a white wine, garlic, parsley and breadcrumb sauce with a touch of tomato sauce. Yummy.
Fuzi: If you like pasta, you'll love this. It's hand rolled pasta cut into a diamond shape and rolled. Awesome with a not too creamy - but creamy enough sauce. This is usually served with truffles, chicken or as a beef stew.