Croatian Christmas Food According To The Different Regions
When we look back on the past, holiday customs and Croatian Christmas food are usually linked to regional production. In each region of Croatia, the things which were most commonly consumed were what was most readily available. Today, Christmas customs in Croatia increasingly resemble those seen throughout the rest of the world. Nevertheless, there are still slight differences by region whose roots we find in tradition.
Preparations for Christmas start weeks earlier. Menus are arranged, and dusty recipe books are pulled out, but most Croatians already know what will be on the holiday table in the days leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself. Each of us has a dish we love that we cannot imagine Christmas without, a dish that is most often prepared in the area where we come from.
Christmas Eve in Croatia is often celebrated with fasting dishes, fish dishes, and different salads. There is no exaggeration in anything because the next day, we will have a feast. You will usually find several courses of food, along with the inevitable baking, but what will be “turned” in the oven depends on what region in Croatia you are celebrating your festivities.
So sit back as we take you on a food tour of the different types of Croatian Christmas foods which are consumed throughout the regions of Croatia.
Brandy and strict fasting on Christmas Eve
Christmas Day begins solemnly with breakfast with honey rakija (a type of brandy) and lean dishes. The old custom was not to eat anything until dinner, which is plentiful and fish-based, but nowadays, the fish stew is often prepared for lunch. In addition to fish, you can find selected freshwater species such as trout, catfish, or carp on the menu for this region’s Croatian Christmas food.
Roasted pork or chicken will most often be found on the Christmas table, and there will be plenty of cakes – we all know that Slavonian cakes are the best. Of the many, dry cookies, walnut and poppy seed cakes and similar delicacies stand out, but quite often, there will also be a delicious cake on the table at Christmas.
In earlier years, most Slavonian families raised pigs, as well as various poultry. Since pig slaughters or slaughterhouses were usually held during November or December, a nice piece of meat and sometimes an entire suckling pig (depending on the number of family members or guests) would be prepared for the Christmas table.
By researching Christmas customs throughout Croatia, it is easy to conclude that delicious fish dishes will also mark Christmas Eve here, most often from freshwater fish and different salads, led by bean salad. Still, you can also find French salad and other versions of the popular vetch as part of this region’s Croatian Christmas food. The people of Međimurje will often roast a duck for Christmas, roast geese and turkeys, and often enjoy sarma in the days after Christmas.
Turkey with grinders
In the capital of Croatia, currently the most attractive Advent destination in Europe, there is nothing that is not offered. Different types of fish are mostly eaten here for Christmas Eve – from freshwater to saltwater, and it is not uncommon to find squid (prepared in different ways) and more often cod on the holiday table. A typical side dish is bean salad, which is also eaten on Christmas Day with baking, and French or cabbage salad.
Croatian Christmas food in Zagreb and the surrounding area is one of the most varied of all the regions. Most often you will see the roasted meat be turkey, and less often chicken or pork, which is saved for New Year’s Eve. The turkey is accompanied by the inevitable baked noodles called mlinci, but you will also find delicious baked potatoes and traditional pasta called štrukli here. Aspic can also be served as an appetizer. Here, walnut and poppy seeds rolls are also eaten for dessert, along with a handful of dry cookies.
Istria and Kvarner
Fish broth, maneštra
In addition to baked sea fish, Istrians will treat themselves to cod on Christmas Eve, and fish soup and pasta are often cooked in different ways, but without meat. Nevertheless, traditional Istrian fasting dishes are maneštra with chickpeas (in this case without dry pork ribs, which often complements this stew), posutica (homemade pasta that today is served with cod, salsa, cabbage, and sometimes only with garlic and olive oil) and stewed greens with potatoes and cod. In addition to this feast, soup, a decoction of wine, bread, and sugar, were often prepared alongside the main course in the past.
For their Croatian Christmas food, Istrians will bake a turkey and often homemade bread. Among the cakes, they can choose between kroštula, rolls, lamingtons, walnut rolls, or bishop’s bread – a sponge with dried fruit.
Lamb with halves
The commodity exchange from the olden times will bring lean sea fish dishes to the table in Lika for Christmas Eve. Sarma is eaten at Christmas then lamb or suckling pig. Of the side dishes, the most common are the pole, i.e., baked potatoes cut in half, the tastiest when grilled, especially if it’s grown locally.
From cod to squid
It is interesting how cod became an indispensable dish of Dalmatian cuisine on Christmas Eve. The maritime tradition, characteristic of Mediterranean countries, introduced cod as a symbol of prosperity. For example, cod, in different ways, is a traditional dish in Portugal, and it is not caught in national waters. It is the same with Dalmatia, where imported cod is prepared on Christmas Eve, usually ‘white’ with the addition of wine, spices, and potatoes.
In recent days in the media, citizens mostly complain about the high price of cod and different types of sea fish, which has influenced Dalmatians to reach for imported fish, even though aquaculture has started to develop significantly in recent years with significant investments in this production.
In Dalmatia, tuka, i.e., turkey, is most often eaten roasted, and pašticada, a stew made from the finest beef. Cakes will usually be made from dried fruit and nuts, such as mandulat in Split and its surrounding areas, or Hiba made from figs or fennel on Vis.
Fritters are still made in Dalmatia, which are made after dinner on Christmas Eve in many places. A good piece of lamb is often found on the holiday table as an important Croatian Christmas food of the Dalmatians, but what is also interesting is that this segment of meat is also increasingly dependent on imports, and a lot of lamb is placed on the “black” market.
If you consider yourself a bit of a foodie and would like to see try some of these delicious Croatian Christmas food, why not book a wintertime tour? At Adventures Croatia, our speciality is organizing tours all across Croatia that cater to different types of traveler’s interests, including tours that run during the festive season and food-based itineraries.
Our wine and culinary tour is incredibly popular with tourists wanting to try the best of Croatia’s local delicacies. However, if you’re looking for a more personal experience, we offer custom tours that can be tailored to your preferences. Get in touch today to book your dream vacation!
Written by Sandra Radovic