Of all the places I travelled this year, Croatia was perhaps the most unexpected to enter my ‘amazing country for food’ list. From previous travels, I had known to expect plentiful seafood by the Adriatic and Italian influences gracing the hearty Eastern European cuisine, but I now know my first trip to Croatia revealed only bite-sized encounters with the incredible eats in this food-loving nation.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Croatian food is the fresh, locally-sourced produce from which it is crafted. We ate the black truffles of Istria, the fish of the Adriatic, the honey, sheep cheese and wine produced on the island of Pag. On the mainland, we ate traditional Dalmatian stews in Zadar and almost everything – the fruit and vegetables and meat and rakija – homegrown and home made in Petrinja.
Starting in the truffle-rich region of Istria, I relished the fragrant delights of beef carpaccio with black truffles, fuži with ragu, green pasta with truffles and slightly charred ćevapčići with a summer cider at the beach.
On the revitalising island of Losinj, I indulged in fresh seafood by the crystal clear waters.
Anchovies, sardines, peppered tuna steaks, grilled squid and plates of mussels in tomato were among the most delicious dishes.
A healthy carafe of cool white wine, refreshing salads and hearth-warm bread were served with most meals.
While only briefly in the coastal city of Zadar, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Pet Bunara; served with a helpful lesson in Croatian pronunciation (which I failed quite spectacularly).
There we ordered Paticada, a Dalmatian specialty stew of beef marinated in vinegar, lemon and rosemary, served with gnocchi, diced prosciutto and musket nuts.
The Brodetto was stewed cuttlefish served with broad beans and peas. A side of thinly sliced cucumber, a glass of local red wine and a started of sheep cheese and green olives and melon completed the meal.
In between ‘special’ meals, we often ate some kind of filling grilled meat and vegetable dish, which was common on menus across the country.
Sometimes, it was just a serve of potato chips, followed by ice cream, at a sun-blessed marina.
On the island of Pag, we indulged without reservations. Grilled fish and salads by the sea made for happy lunches.
Smoked shark with local olive oil, potato salad, chargrilled pimento, dried oregano, chive and parmesan started the meal.
Crab ragu with lobster and sheep yoghurt soon followed before a main of local lamb rump, potato fondant and pickled beetroot with melon puree and red wine jus. Oh dear it was good!
Dessert was a creamy almond and honeycomb semi-freddo with mint sauce, before a platter of local cheeses and honeys. Of course, we ordered wines to match each course and espresso to end the three-hour experience.
After such a meal, it was hard imagine ever being so satisfied by food again, but the humble home made delights offered to us by dear friends in Petrinja, near Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, managed to impress just as much.
The sausages, cheeses, pickles, relishes and baked treats were a true representation of wonderful food enjoyed by wonderful Croatians every day.