For those living in “Western” countries fast food is a ubiquitous element of everyday life. The on-the-go lifestyle and long working hours have affected eating habits and takeout has become the weekly norm for many. Subway, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King logos are recognizable the world over. While you might find one or two outposts of these global chains in Croatia, these are not the places Croatians go to when they need a quick meal.
Jump to a section of this article
Slow Fast Food Is The Croat Way
Croats are still a bit old-fashioned when it comes to food and the preparation of meals. Our food culture and tradition in Croatia emphasizes the importance of consuming fresh, preferably locally produced, ingredients. Even when we are in the middle of the very busy work day, Croats will still find the time to sit in a restaurant for a short break and order the daily menu. If we must, we will have our freshly cooked lunch delivered to the office.
Seek out a Gablec or Marenda Spot
A cherished Croatian tradition called “Gablec” when in the north of Croatia, or also called ‘’Marenda’’ in Croatia’s coastal areas, is a very popular meal time between breakfast and lunch. It typically consists of dishes eaten with a spoon, such as stews and hearty soups, and finished off with a piece of bread to scoop up any leftover sauce. Restaurants and bistros across the country have special menus designed for this tradition and they typically have very reasonable prices for daily menus for dine-in, take-away, or delivery.
Attitudes to Fast Food are Changing
The main reason why Croats still cherish these habits is that our mothers, only one generation ago, were mainly stay-at-home housewives whose main job was to raise kids and to feed the whole family, properly. Nevertheless, the socialist era ended in the beginning of the 1990’s, and since then, new generations of young Croats slowly embrace a modern lifestyle – including fast food culture.
With all this said, fast food is becoming more and more popular, especially among the younger population. However, international fast food chains can be found only in the bigger cities like Zagreb or Split. Don’t expect to find McDonalds or the others in Dubrovnik, on the islands, or in the smaller coastal cities. Even though there are many tourists in these areas, there is still no interest from big fast food companies to open in those destinations.
International Fast Food Exists Too
Although you won’t find familiar, international names in most of Croatia, that doesn’t mean there are no great fast food restaurants. Local fast food is just as good as popular versions, some would say even better. Pizza, burgers, Mexican and Asian specialties can still be found in every touristy destination so fast food lovers won’t feel neglected.
Bakeries – the Croatian Go-to for a Quick Snack
When it comes to local habits, we have our own world of fast food here – bakeries!
Just like the other Balkan nations, Croats eat a lot of bread. And, I mean a LOT! I would go as far to say that this is one of the rare food sins of Croatia’s people. Considering the fact that bread is not particularly healthy, especially in large quantities. That being said, a meal without bread is literally unimaginable – especially for older generations. This is the main reason why bakeries are so important for us. Another reason is that they sell all these puff pastry specialties which are affordable and incredibly tasty. Here is where you will also notice a strong Ottoman influence in Croatian cuisine – there is no bakery in which you won’t find ‘’Burek’’ – pastry made of thin, flaky dough filled with a meat mixture. The same dough can be filled with cheese, greens,or potatoes and usually all the versions are available even in the smallest bakeries. Except for different types and shapes of bread and delicious burek, bakeries also have sandwiches, croissants, donuts, pizzetas (mini pizzas), cakes, and many other sweet sins.
Cevapi and Pljeskavice Beat Burgers
Speaking of foreign influences, mentioning the presence of ‘’cevapcici’’ and ‘’pljeskavica’’ in Croatian cuisine is inevitable. Originally from Bosnia, these meat specialties are widespread in Croatian fast food restaurants. Cevapcici or cevapi (always used in plural form) is grilled, minced meat in the form of small sausages usually served in portions of five, ten or fifteen pieces together with a type of flatbread – ‘’lepinja’’. It often comes with ‘’kajmak’’ (a dairy product like clotted cream) and chopped onions. Pljeskavica is a very similar meat dish, the main difference is that it is a big flat patty of meat.
Grazing Platters Rule
In my opinion, the best fast food you’ll get to taste in Croatia are the various platters of smoked ham, homemade dried sausages, and endless versions of homemade fresh cheeses. In some coastal towns you can find small sandwich bars that sell sandwiches made of homemade bread baked under the bell, smoked prosciutto, fresh cheese and seasonal vegetables. You will easily distinguish these places by the loud sound of locals who are regular customers here enjoying their local snacks. We Croatians simply love homemade food, even though it may be considered fast-food.
Seafood Fast Food?
I would be remiss if I did not include the variety of marinated and salted anchovies and sardines that are served on bread with few drops of olive oil, mmmm! Additionally, there are other fish that may be used to create what some call a seafood burger. Recently, a very popular trend is octopus burgers which generally consist of freshly cooked octopus mixed with Mediterranean herbs and spices, then formed into a patty. Although these types of burgers are not necessarily new to us as Croats, I have noticed the popularity of these burgers increase gradually throughout the years. In Croatia, the key recognizable ingredient in our food is fresh produce and most importantly, freshly caught seafood. We simply try to avoid any frozen products and we give priority to quality ingredients.
Our Advice – Go Local
To conclude – when you decide to grab something quick to eat in Croatia, don’t go for the usual options which you can find anywhere in the world. Try finding a small local sandwich shop, bakery, or Gablec/Marenda restaurant and enjoy our version of fast food. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure!