Slavonian cuisine is a delightful blend of aromas coming from things like the delicious ham, kulen (flavoured sausage) and kulenova seka (a spicy type of kulen sausage), all the way to the large cast iron stew pots filled with beans, lamb and fish stews.
With this kind of “dynamite food”, it’s best to ease its way into the stomach with a glass of home-made šljivovica (plum brandy) or some fine wine. You want to end this kind of a meal on a traditional note, so the home-made salenjak (a type of puff pastry made with pork fat and jam), or an apple and walnut strudel should be the perfect match.
The cuisine in east Croatia is a result of hundreds of years of mixing of cultures and populations, immigrants and locals, conquerors and defenders of the territory. The simple, peasant, home-made dishes are enriched with the influence of the cuisine of the Turkish conquerors and also the special touches of the Austro-Hungarian culinary tradition.
Specialties include čobanac (meat goulash seasoned with hot paprika, garlic, and bay leaves), riblji paprikaš (paprika-based stew with a variety of fish), punjene paprike (paprika peppers stuffed with minced pork, rice, and bacon. Sarma (ground meat in sour cabbage leaves) and freshwater fish grilled on a spit over an open fire. Knedle sa šljivama/Marelicama (potato dumplings stuffed with plums or apricots) ..Kulen (spicy paprika sausage), and rezanci (broad egg noodles topped with sweetened walnuts or poppy seeds) are other regional delights. And the red stuff served with meat is called ajvar, a kind of red-pepper tapenade that can be mild or hot. The most popular wines in Slavonija is the white Graševina and red Frankovka.
Continental Croatia (Zagreb, Bilogora, Zagorje, Podravina, Medjimurje) -- Food traditions in this region have roots in seasonal climate, fertile farmland, and the rural lifestyle of the common people, plus the lavish gastronomy of the nobility (Austro-Hungarian) who lived in castles dotting the terrain.
Consequently, cuisine in this part of Croatia is more substantial than in other regions. For example, the need to store meat safely inspired lodrica ili tiblica (big wooden bowl), baked meats kept in bowls full of lard in cool places for later use. Smoking and drying, also methods used to preserve meats, extended to cheese (prgica), still a popular item in regional markets. Žganci, a kind of grits topped with cheese, sour cream, yogurt, or bacon, is a common breakfast dish. Turkey or duck with mlinci(baked noodles), and krvavice (blood sausage with sauerkraut) are popular mains.
Favorite desserts in this region are štrukle (phyllo filled with fresh cheese, apples, cherries, or other fruit) and palačinke (crepes filled with honey and walnuts or jam). In Međimurje, prekmurska gibanica (yeast cake layered with fresh cheese, apples, walnuts, poppy seeds, and raisins) is a must-try sweet after dinner.
Gorski Kotar & Lika -- The area southwest of central Croatia (including Plitvice Lakes National Park) is a combination of forests, hills, and pastures where winters are long and summers short. The food is similar to that of continental Croatia, with a few notable additions. You’ll see a lot of roadside stalls selling homemade cheeses and fruit brandies as well as spit-roasted lamb and pork. Look for janjetina (lamb) or janjetina baked under a peka (a metal, bell-shaped lid). Lika-style sauerkraut is another specialty that consists of marinated cabbage and smoked sausage served with potatoes boiled in their skins. Pijane pastrve(drunken trout) is fish cooked in wine sauce and served with potatoes and veggies, while lički lonac (Licki pot) is a stew of cabbage, potatoes, root vegetables, and meat.
Kvarner & Istria -- These two regions offer the most diverse cuisine in Croatia, perhaps because they combine both inland and coastal tastes. Here stews prepared using a peka (domed metal lid) are slow-cooked under hot ash. In the Kvarner, try Creska janjetina (lamb from the island of Cres) and škampi (shrimp cooked under the peka); or try game stews infused with bay leaves that come from the mountainous part of Cres island.
In Lovran and along Kvarner Bay, maruni (chestnuts) are used in almost everything, including kroštule (fried strips of dough made with flour, eggs, lemon zest, and grape brandy). On Pag, try Paški sir (Pag cheese), lamb, and pršut (Dalmatian ham), all infused with a distinct Pag flavor because of the animals’ diet of local herbs.
Istria has the most refined cuisine in Croatia, and it is also the source of some of the country’s best wines. Try riblja juha (fish soup), riblji složenac (fish stew), kuhane kozice (boiled prawns), crni rižoto sa plodovima mora (black and white seafood risotto), and any dish with tartufe (truffles), including Istarski fuži sa tartufima (Istrian fuzi with truffles). A special Istarski fuži sa gulasom od divljači(fuzi with game goulash) is worth trying. Wines from this region are Malvazija and Vrbnička žlahtina (whites); and Teran(red).
Dalmatia -- Freshness and simplicity are the watchwords that most aptly characterize Dalmatian cuisine. Main meals typically start with pršut and Paški sir, both often scattered with olives that have different flavors, depending on the Dalmatian village that grows and processes them. Oysters (kamenice) from Ston on the Pelješac Peninsula are also prized, as is anything from the sea. Riba na žaru (fish grilled with olive oil) and served with blitva (boiled Swiss chard and potatoes) is a common main course, as is školjke i škampi na buzaru (shellfish and shrimp stew). There are as many recipes and spellings for buzara as there are restaurants, but common ingredients in this sauce are olive oil, garlic, parsley and wine. Pašticada (beef stewed in red wine with prunes) is another good choice.
Wines to seek out in this region include Bogdanuša, Pošip, Grk and Vugava (whites); and Plavac and Babić (reds).