If you ever find yourself in continental Croatia (Zagreb and everything north and east of it), do not miss the opportunity to treat yourself with some traditional Croatian food. I am a firm believer of eating an authentic food of a country I’m in; something that will widen my culinary horizons and that I can tell my friends about.
Almost every European country is full of restaurants that offer pizza or barbecue meat. While I’m a huge fan of both, I did not travel hundreds of miles to eat something I can get within a walking distance of my home. When in a foreign country, I am always trying to eat something I can’t eat in my own country. Of course, if I’m in Italy, I would definitely try a real, Italian pizza. It would be a sin not to.
Turkey with Mlinci
North of Zagreb is a lovely part of Croatia, full of small hills covered with vineyards, called Zagorje (pronounced “zagoryeh”). Known for its fantastic white wines, Zagorje offers delicious food as well. Its famous dish is turkey with mlinci.
After chicken, turkey is most common poultry raised for meat and the best ones come from Zagorje. Not many restaurants in Zagreb offer it, but it is pretty easy to find in Zagorje. Try to find small country estates that offer food and room for tourists. They will usually have free-range turkey, which is healthier and tastier than the regular kind.
You’re probably thinking: “What on Earth are mlinci?” Mlinci are pieces of super-thin dough (something like a tortilla) made from water, flour, and salt. Eggs and pig’s fat may be included, but it’s not necessary. They are cooked in boiling water and served as a side dish.
After enjoying turkey with mlinci, I hope you still have enough room to try Zagorskištrukli (pronounced “zagorski shtroockli”). I totally understand if you find this difficult to say out loud.). Štrukli can be baked or cooked. I prefer baked ones because of their crunchy nature, but I wouldn’t say no to cooked ones, either. It’s a type of pie filled with a mixture of cottage cheese, eggs, and sour cream. They are usually salty, but there is also a sweet variant.
150 miles east of Zagreb starts the Slavonian plain, covered with vast areas of wheat and corn. Slavonia is home to numerous dry meat delicacies. Most famous of them is certainly Slavonian kulen (pronounced “coolen”). It is made from dense, low-fat meat, mixed with red hot peppers, garlic, and salt. It takes months of drying for this mixture to mature into kulen. You can find it in lots of restaurants in continental Croatia, usually served as an appetizer, or you can buy it in a store and eat it at home.
Carp is a popular fish in Slavonia because it is versatile; lots of different dishes can be made out of it. You can fry it, make stew out of it, or roast it. One of the most delicious ways to prepare a carp is to impale it on a forked stick and slowly roast it over an open fire. When carp is roasted like that, it loses most of its fat so it’s not too greasy while still remaining juicy. Smoke adds extra flavor.
If you have a chance, try cracklings made of carp’s fat. Now that’s something you can’t taste every day.
Slavonian Shepherd’s Stew
You’ll find shepherd’s stew all over continental Croatia, but the best kind is, naturally, Slavonian. It usually contains 2-3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, and venison), lots of onion, and the most important part: hot peppers! The hotter, the better. If your face is not completely red and your forehead sweaty, it’s not strong enough. Even if you are about to die due to the extreme hotness of the stew, you should say something like “it’s not bad, but it could’ve been hotter.” That’s how you gain respect in Slavonia.
There are many other extraordinary dishes you can try while in continental Croatia, but I’ll let you discover them on your own.