In the humble konobas, typical Croatian guesthouses, and in the top restaurants offering the best of fine dining, Croatia is undergoing a gastro-revolution.
Chefs are buzzing with a new energy to re-invent the country’s long and varied culinary traditions, making the most of succulent local produce, in recipes tweaked to suit modern taste and presented to delight the modern eye.
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Each region has jealously preserved its own recipes, which showcase the best of what’s available there.
Go to lstria in the north to sample the famous truffles. Seafood is abundant, from Kvarner Bay where you can taste huge, succulent shrimps. And in Dubrovnik you can feast on the rare Ston oysters, one of the greatest seafood delicacy in the world.
Everywhere delicious prosciutto is served with plump olives, lamb and suckling pigs are spit-roasted, ewes milk is turned into award-winning cheeses; broad beans and artichokes are married in a delightful, fresh concoction; and the perfect climate ripens the grapes which are transformed into hundreds of differents wines.
There are more than 300 geographically-defined wine-producing areas in Croatia, and look out, too- or should we say beware- of the large range of spirits or rakija, from the plum firewater that is Sljivovica, and which some Croats still down as a breakfast wake-me-up (you may prefer it after dinner … ) to Kruskovac, flavoured with pears.
In Northern Croatia’s continental cuisine, meat, freshwater fish and vegetables dominate the menus. Mediterranean flavours and ingredients take over as you approach the coast.
Imagine sitting down in a traditional wine cellar in lstria to mistletoe schnapps followed by a fish stew, perhaps some frutti di mare risotto, or pasta deliciously flavoured with the famous truffles.
Wash this down with an excellent lstrian wine such as Malvazija of Buje. And to finish, perhaps something sweet like the local Rab cake.
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The cherry on top...
Travel south to Zadar to taste a glass of the famous Maraschino, a dessert liqueur made from the local Maraska cherries, and Pag cheese. It’s made on Pag island and was recently crowned as the best sheep milk cheese in the world.
In Dalmatia your menu may offer dalmatinska pasticada, a stew that takes two days to prepare. And finally to Dubrovnik where restaurants will serve you riches from the Adriatic sea: fish, calamari in various ways, mussels and shrimps, boiled in a stew or grilled.
If meat is more to your liking, look out for lamb and veal cooked in embers under an iron bell.
Vegetarians will be delighted to taste how the locals prepare the bounty from the soil – Swiss chard with potatoes and tomato sauce, vegetables prepared with the abundant olive oil, wine vinegar and wild herbs, scrambled eggs with asparagus.
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And so to pudding. Every region has its own cakes and sweets, many of them delightful by their sheer simplicity and good use of local produce such as dried figs, raisin, almonds, honey and eggs. Look out for rafioli, mandulat, smokvenjak and gingerbread rozata.
Just in case you still feel peckish as you’re wandering the ancient streets of Dubrovnik or the lively promenade around Split harbour, make sure to buy an ice cream of any flavour you wish, and some you didn’t even knew existed.