You can find surprisingly delicious food in any corner of Croatia. Case in point: side of the road pit stops are filled with gourmet pizzas and smoking lamb on a spit. Yeah, there’s no such thing as fast food there. I was pleased at this finding, as the entirety of the reason I went to Croatia was for the food.
Yes, I must confess: Scott and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode in Croatia and decided we had to go. So we did that, and visited a dynamite restaurant that Bourdain recommended. But we also discovered cheese factories, hand-rolled pasta and olive gardens (NO, NOT THAT OLIVE GARDEN), that you can try when you visit. Check it out:
This is THE restaurant Anthony Bourdain loved when he visited Croatia. Set on the visually spectacular, otherworldly island of Pag, Hotel Boskinac is a luxury inn, restaurant and winery. We spoiled ourselves for a couple of days, eating only at the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here, you can have some of the finest food in the world, all local from the island of Pag, where the soil is steeped with indigenous sage, lavender and rosemary and this essence is tasted ever-so-subtly in every bite. This is where I’d have my last meal on Earth. It would be Adriatic fish soup, lamb cheeks and tail with parsnip puree, and a dense chocolate cake with berries and this ice cream/whipped cream fusion. Oh, and I’d have to add another dessert; soft, sweet (ricotta-esque) Pag cheese with sage ice cream. None of it is complete without a skilled wine pairing, however, and I’d pick the Gegic – a white wine variety only found at Hotel Boskinac, thanks to the discovery of the species by owner Boriš Suljić. If you go, say hi to Zlatko for me. He’s a server at the restaurant in the summer, and became a fast friend.
The Original Olive Garden:
Also on Pag island, you can hang out with some of the oldest olive trees in the world at Lun olive gardens. Set upon acres of land is a forest of olive trees with some trees as old as 1,600 years. You can get lost for hours, ambling along through the trails, or just chill and read a book. No matter what you do, stop at the visitors center to taste some of the olive oil that these trees produce – its very distinctive and sharp and has those lavender and sage herbal notes. They sometimes have bottles you can purchase to take home.
Going (Super) Local:
What’s great about food is that it brings people together that otherwise might never have met. Cue Eat With; a website that pairs travelers with chefs who are locals in certain countries. You pay for a meal in someone’s home, but get so much more – a feel for what it’s like to truly live in that country. We ate with Irena in Zadar, Croatia. She is a home chef that is an absolute pro at cooking, and a wonderful dinner buddy. She welcomed us into her home in Zadar, and upon arrival greeted us with homemade Marasca cherry grappa, a cherry that’s indigenous to the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. “Homemade” was the ongoing pattern in this meal. Irena expertly made so much of what we ate from scratch. From the wine, to the crackers, to the cheese to the grappa – between her and her friends, everything was made by hand. Of course, we talked about the food, which brought us into the culture of Croatia, the politics, the music, the economy and everyday life. We learned so much about Irena, and about Croatian people, through their food. Get this: the people of Croatia actually stopped buying chicken because that meat had too many hormones. They are now all collectively buying turkey and standing up for their food and their health!
Croatia is highly influenced by Italy, especially Zadar because it’s right across from Venice! This means that they are expert pasta makers. It’s a native, traditional food in Croatia. Zadar’s Bruschetta restaurant (recommended to us by Irena), has fresh handmade pasta cooked to that perfect al dente firmness. I had the Pasta pljukanci (hand-rolled Istrian pasta) with prawns, tomatoes, pesto and zucchini. This pasta had the best texture – just the right chewiness. Oh, and we had a meat and cheese board. Yes, there was a ball of bacon. A BACON BALL PEOPLE. Delicious food – we went there twice.
The Pit Stop:
I can’t say I know where we were. But, on our drive from Pag to Plitvice Lakes National Park, there were many pit stops – we stopped at one of them. No, they didn’t serve McDonald’s, they served lamb on a spit that had been smoking in the nearby smoke-house all day. We sat down and got lamb and potatoes, a small salad and just wondered why we lived in the U.S.
Again, the whole Italian influence thing – PIZZA is good in Croatia. Restoran Degenija was super close to our villa in Plitvice Lakes National Park, and had dynamite pizzas. We had a few during our time there, but my fave was one that was basically “the works” with prosciutto, arugula and ricotta cheese.
Pag island is famous for its cheese, so obvs we visited the famous factory that makes the best Paski Sir (Cheese of the island Pag). Sirana Gligora is award-winning, family owned, super traditional, blah blah blah – IT’S THE MOST AMAZING CHEESE EXPERIENCE. Scott and I got a private tour and tasting by Rahela, who was super fun. She humored our awe and amazement after each room we went into. The star of the factory though, is the milk. This milk is derived from some pretty tough sheep. These sheep live on Pag island and survive the barren winters and rough Bura wind (which comes from Russia), by eating indigenous herbs like sage, rosemary and lavender. Yep, then all this flavor, plus the natural sea salt in the soil, comes out in the cheese. We had a cheese feast at the end of the tour; a journey of cheese from cheese aged for years to very soft, sweet new cheese. Then we didn’t eat for the rest of the day…
A Lot-O Gelato:
All I need to say here is that Gelato is everywhere. IT’S THE WHOLE ITALIAN INFLUENCE THING AGAIN. Grab a cone with 2, 3, 4 flavors and just people watch in the plazas.
K, wanna go to Croatia now? I’m ready.
*I received complimentary meals from Hotel Boskinac and the Sirana Gligora cheese factory on behalf of MaryinManhattan.com.
Damn! This makes me miss Croatia so much. Also, not sure how I missed the cheese-making experience when I was there but it looks super fun!
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LOL. Did you go to Pag? I know you did Plitvice!
I had so much fun reading this. I’m from Croatia (but have lived in NY for almost my entire life) and I go visit every summer. My family is from Zadar and we have a summer place in a tiny little village on Pag so you have gone through all of my favorite haunts in your post. I love the (relatively) inexpensive fine dining options in Croatia, but what I’m always impressed with is the fact that any random highway rest stop, even the gas station variety, has excellent espresso and really good snack/lunch food. No Doritos and coke for the Croatians, and when they stop for gas, they actually sit in the cafe instead of the usual filler’ up and run. If you ever go back, my family would be happy to have you as a guest with no website intermediary needed!
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Amazing! I love that everything I felt about Croatia’s food culture, you find rings true. Zadar is a very cool place – any particular thing you like to do there or eat there when you visit?
This is an amazing read, I am going there 2018, looking forward to it, well done Mary!
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Thanks! Let me know when you do, I have so many tips on where to go!