Although Croatia is a relatively small country, there are a lot of regional differences in it’s cuisine. You might think you’ve stumbled into a bizarre parallel universe of Italian food while in the northern Istrian peninsula, and inland Croatian cuisine is definitely defined by its Slavic roots, the legacy of Ottoman occupation, and the Hungarian neighbors. Dubrovnik and the surrounding area, on the other hand, have a food scene and regional dishes that are quite their own. Here are some of the must-eat foods to try while visiting Southern Dalmatia.
Seafood & Fish Dishes
The bounty of the Adriatic is to be found on restaurant menus in Dubrovnik and if you don’t usually eat a lot of fish because you can’t get it fresh enough, this is your chance to indulge.
Visiting Dubrovnik and not trying an oyster is truly a sin. The oysters here aren’t just *any* oysters, these are oysters from Ston Bay, and of course, the best place to try them is in the Ston area. You can find oysters in most restaurants in Dubrovnik, but the ones from restaurants in Ston come to the table directly from the sea – they are as fresh as you can get. The best way to have them is raw on ice with a bit of lemon juice. If you are not a fan of raw food, some places will even grill them or fry them for you too. But please, no dips or sauces like ketchup or mayo. That would be an even bigger sin than not having them at all!
Neretvanski Brodet / Neretva Brodet
Brodet is a fish stew that is very popular in the entire Dalmatia region and in neighboring Montenegro too. But, brodet from the Neretva valley is slightly different as it is made with frogs and eels. That’s right – frogs. Frog brodet is more of an old-school Croatian delicacy, but people swear it is delicious and that if you forget what you are eating and don’t think about it, you will enjoy it a lot. Besides the varying types of seafood or amphibian, the other main ingredients are plenty of onions, tomatoes, and chili pepper, so it is usually quite spicy. Brodet is traditionally served with polenta to soak up the leftover broth.
Popara is another type of fish stew but not as spicy as brodet. It’s very similar to a dish called gregada, but propara includes tomato. It can be made from one or various types of fish but they have to be fresh – sea bass, dentex, or monkfish are all good choices. The main ingredients are olive oil, parsley, garlic, white wine, and potatoes cut into slices. Very tasty!
Buzara is one of Dalmatia’s most loved specialties, with origins going back to the Venetian times. This dish gets its name from the pot it was cooked in, and while the pot is not used anymore, the name remains. Buzara is common all over Dalmatia, but if you won’t be visiting any other coastal places or islands, Dubrovnik is the place for it. Buzara can be done in 2 ways, with shrimp or with mussels. It is quite a simple dish, made with the fresh shellfish of your choice, plus olive oil, garlic, some salt and pepper, and a bit of wine and parsley.
For white buzara, don’t change anything from the original recipe. For red buzara, add some tomatoes and maybe a splash of red wine. Whichever color you choose, it needs to cook slowly so the shellfish can release their seawater, giving an additional salty flavor. The best part of buzara (besides the seafood) is the sauce. You will need a lot of bread on the side to dip into that yummy sauce. Carb counters beware!
Meat or Seafood
The perfect segue from the sea to the land, the peka is a traditional dish that can feature meat OR seafood (but never at the same time). Carpaccios and tartares, in either meat or fish variants, are a crowd-pleasing appetizer.
Although this is something you can find around all of Croatia, why not taste one in Dubrovnik and compare who makes it better? Peka is a traditional dish cooked under an iron bell “peka” covered with coal. There are two popular versions in the area, lamb and veal, or octopus. They are both very good. Often found at countryside restaurants, peka is a dish that usually needs to be preordered. We offer a peka dinner with locals in Dubrovnik that is consistently rated as the best meal of our guests’ trips. This is such a delicious, and filling, meal that you should make sure you don’t eat a lot else that day!
Carpaccios and Tartares
France might claim the steak tartare, but when you’re at the coast in Dalmatia you’d be remiss for passing up the opportunity for a tuna tartare, prepared raw from fresh-caught bluefin tuna from the Adriatic. Queen of the Adriatic, Venice, originated the carpaccio: thinly sliced raw beef with a mayonnaise dressing. In Pearl of the Adriatic Dubrovnik a tuna carpaccio is far more common. But tuna isn’t the only option. You’ll find other fish and seafood prepared in these ways, particularly sea bass and octopus. In meat focused restaurants beef carpaccios and tartare will be on offer too.
When you’re in Dubrovnik, with the waters of the Adriatic lapping at the old city walls, you might think that you should be concentrating solely on the seafood, but there are many local specialties based on meat, dishes with stories to tell in fact.
Zelena Menestra (Green Menestra)
Zelena Menestra is traditionally a wintery dish, but you can also enjoy it in other seasons. This dish dates back to the 15th century and has also been proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list of protected intangible heritage. In some parts of Dubrovnik, it is still a custom to serve this dish for Christmas lunch.
Every year there is an event in Konavle called “Christmas Scents” where rural residents organize various programs but also a menestra competition! For this dish, it’s important to have good cabbage, possibly various kinds, and the same goes for the meat. Usually, menestra is made with dried lamb, dried pork, bacon, pork head, or dry homemade sausages. To bring the dish together, you first rehydrate the meat of your choice in water. Then use that water to cook your cabbage, potatoes, and a little lard. Add a glass of red wine and that’s it.
Kopun is the Croatian word for rooster, to be more precise castrated rooster. The name comes from italian word cappone, and it’s known as capon in English. Why castrated? Because the meat has better taste, more softness and more fat due to the lack of hormones. This was a dish eaten in the times of Dubrovnik Republic, when peasants were eating fish and the nobility indulged in the luxury of meat. Quite the reverse of the situation nowadays, with fish costing far more per kilo than meat! Kopun, as with Turkey with mlinci, was prepared on festive occasions. Throughout history you’ll find mentions of capon being served in the royal courts of France, Italy… and of course Croatia!
The dish itself was mentioned in the comedy Dundo Maroje by famous Dubrovnik playwright Marin Držić in the 16th century. The restaurant Kopun in Dubrovnik’s old city is preparing their namesake dish according to that recipe (orange, honey) and it is served with barley as it was back then. Of course, there are some modern interpretations and these include potatoes or gnocchi, kopun spreads, salads, soups and similar. This dish is also known in the Zagorje region of northern Croatia, close to the Slovenian border. Some historical texts from there mention it also in the 16th century, but Dubrovnik writers were more passionate about it, so we think it’s safe to say that Dubrovnik claims it as their own.
Pasta’s not just an Italian thing… With the intermingling of recipes and ideas since the Roman times, you’ll find a lot of pasta dishes throughout Croatia.
This specialty comes from the island of Korčula, specifically from the little town of Žrnovo. Makaruni are types of pasta with specific shapes. They are prepared by kneading dough and shaping it into pasta on a wooden stick, so it has a hole in the middle. This fresh pasta is traditionally served with beef sauce, which is made with onions and some secret spices.
Many years ago, women cooked whatever their men brought back from the sea. If the menfolk caught no fish, they would have to make do with what they had at home. As there was always flour in the kitchen, makaruni became popular. In the beginning, it was a necessity, but as time went on, this became a dish made for special occasions. Every year, there is a Makarunada in Žrnovo (usually for a humanitarian cause) where they prepare around 300kg of pasta!
This pasta also comes from an island, but Mljet island this time. Similar to Žrnovski makaruni, this dish came from a necessity back when people relied on the sea for their dinner. When the fish weren’t biting, women would work miracles with what they had lying around the kitchen. Nowadays, what was once peasant food is considered a delicacy. The shape of this pasta is the same as Žrnovski noodles, but this is a vegetarian variation. It is simply dressed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, thyme, and grated goat cheese.
Kontonjata is a traditional local sweet made from quince fruit. Local housewives were always proud to display their kontonjata at the table, traditionally served on a bed of bay leaves with walnuts on top. Still to this day, it is a special occasion gift in certain areas of Croatia. It pairs well with rakija, a fruit brandy that is very popular in the Balkans. To make kontonjata, first, the tough and sour quince needs to be cooked until softened and sweet. Then, it’s blended with sugar, and cooked for about 2.5 hrs while being constantly stirred. Quince fruit naturally contains high amounts of pectin and starches. This means nothing else is required to turn this into a delicious jelly-like candy – besides a little bit of time and elbow grease. After it’s done cooking, It is poured into molds to make different shapes depending on the occasion.
Some people call this a cake, some call it a sweet snack. However you prefer to categorize mantala, one thing is certain – this strange and acquired treat is a must-try while you are in Dubrovnik. Mantala originally comes from the Konavle area, in the southeastern corner of Dubrovnik. It is made from grape must (red wine), flour, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. To prepare this unique treat, you first boil the must (with orange or lemon zest), add flour, and stir – but don’t worry, not as long as kontonjata! When the dough thickens a bit you can add some coarsely chopped almonds and the spices. The mixture is poured into a wooden mold, lined on the inside with a damp cloth. Historically, mantala was prepared in the autumn time (around grape harvest time when you can get must) and left for Christmas. Think of this as a Croatian fruitcake!
You might have tried arancini in Sicily before, so prepare to be surprised! These are not Sicilian rice balls! In Croatia, arancini is a sweet snack made usually from orange peel (hence the name) that pairs well with rakija or liquors. In some restaurants (mostly taverns or the ones in the countryside) and Croatian homes, there is always a plate with mixed nuts, dried figs, and arancini – sugared orange peel.
Arancini can also be made from lemons but in both cases, you need to have fruits that were not treated with pesticides and ones with a thick peel. The peel usually stays in water for 10-20 days to soften a bit. Afterward, you boil water with sugar until you get syrup, add your citrus peels that have been cut into small slices, and wait for it to soak in the syrup. When done, you can also sprinkle with some sugar for a beautiful presentation and a bit of extra sweetness.
Creme brulee, flan, creme caramel, panna cotta…rozata? Maybe you’ve never heard of rozata, but you’ve surely heard of the others. As you might have guessed from the picture, rozata could be the Croatian cousin to the aforementioned creamy desserts, but of course with a slight twist. The main ingredients are very simple and familiar – milk, eggs, and sugar. However, the original Dubrovnik rozata has a special ingredient – rozulin, which is a rose liquor. It’s a very simple and popular dessert. Its special ingredient is the reason behind the proposal for rozata to be included on the UNESCO list of protected intangible heritage!
Stonska Torta / Ston Cake
By now you’ve read about different kinds of traditional pastas and also about different types of cakes, but did you ever think there would be a dish that combines the two? If the answer was “no”, have we got a surprise for you! Stonska torta is an unusual cake from the town of Ston, made with macaroni! This very original cake has a long tradition and was saved for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, and weddings. Now you can find it in nearly every restaurant in Ston, as well as in Dubrovnik if you’re lucky. Trust us, it is a must!
Cukarin is a type of cookie from the island of Korcula. As there is no mold for shaping them, each one is truly unique! Cukarin is quite a large cookie, with 2 long pieces coming together in the center – like two snakes holding a heart. They are believed to date back to the Venetian times when it was thought that snakes bring good luck. Like many Croatian desserts, the ingredients are simple but made with love. Mix together sugar, eggs, flour, and a bit of lemon and orange, shape into your snakes, bake, and you have a cukarin! They say the best way to eat it is by dunking it into sweet dessert wine – prošek!
This is another sweet delicacy from Korčula that is over 100 years old. Klašun is an interesting cookie full of flavors, combining unusual ingredients like ammonium bicarbonate and rose liquor. This crescent-shaped cookie is filled with almonds, orange zest, fig, and orange marmalade. Nowadays instead of ammonia, they usually use baking powder, but there are still some locals who stick to the original recipe. They say the traditional way smells awful when baked but it doesn’t affect the amazing flavor!
The inhabitants of Korčula must really have a sweet tooth because this traditional dessert also has its roots on this island in Southern Dalmatia. This might be our most unique listing yet – keep reading to find out why. Lumblija is a sweet bread that comes from the tiny town of Blato. If you happen to stumble over there during your vacation, it’s a must. This delicious treat is chock full of flavors and spices. It packs in almonds, walnuts, orange, lemons, grape must, raisins, cinnamon, and cloves.
The story about the unique name of this cake might make you laugh. During Napoleon’s time, a young French soldier fell in love with a local girl on the island. But, at a certain point, he had to bid “au revoir” to Croatia and go back home, and upon his departure, he did the most French thing one can do and baked his love a special bread. As he was leaving, he told her (in French) not to forget him, or “n’oubliez pas”. Now, Croatians aren’t known for their keen ear to the French language, and the poor girl understood that he said “lumblija”, and this is how the bread got the name. Because of this tragic love story, traditionally lumblija is made around All Saints Day / Day of the Dead, when we remember the ones that we miss who are no longer with us.