Every great Croatian dish starts with great produce. All across Croatia, farms, families and sometimes just Mother Nature, produce incredibly special and tasty fruits, vegetables, herbs, fungus and edible flowers that will blow your mind.
Some regions, counties, and villages are known specifically for what they produce. These crops are so special, they even hold festivals in their honor.
In this post, we focus on 14 exceptional culinary treats from all over the country including where to find them, why they are worth your taste buds and when you can party with the locals at the festival. Naturally, all of this produce is very seasonal, so use our guide to ensure you get the best when its the best.
#1 Wild asparagus (Divlje šparoge)
Place of growth: Dalmatia, Istria and Croatian coast in karst and rocky areas, at the edges of forests, and in fields
Harvesting: February, March, April, May
The reason it is special: Wild asparagus has a slightly bitter and spicy taste with a thin, tender stalk. It is considered a delicacy resulting in prices as much as ~100 kuna per kilogram. People often call them carsko povrće, which means “imperial vegetables”. They are ideal for preparing frittata or omelet (dishes with eggs), spring salads, soups, pasta and risotto.
Divlje šparoge also many health benefits. They are good for the liver, kidneys and lungs, and are also ideal for weight regulation.
To pick wild asparagus on state property, you must first get an annual license from Hrvatske šume, which is free of charge. Be careful when picking asparagus because they often share their habitat with snakes. The best time to hunt for their stalks is early morning after a rain. They are known to grow very fast overnight.
Events: Fešta od šparuga in April, Lovran (Istria)
#2 Lavender from Hvar (Hvarska lavanda)
Place of growth: Island of Hvar (Dalmatia)
The reason it is special: The smell of a Hvar-origin lavender oil is sweet and honey-floral. Lavanda can also be used for making lavender ice cream, essential oils, skincare products as well as many other applications.
The tradition of growing lavender on the island of Hvar started in 1928 at Velo Grablje. Over the years, the production of lavender oil has become the main source of income for its citizens. Velo Grablje received a status of eko-etno, which is a status given to villages that are “economically and ecologically sustainable”. The lavender tradition survives thanks to tourism.
Events: Festival levande in June, Velo Grablje (Hvar)
#3 Malvazija grapes from Istria (Istarska malvazija)
Place of growth: Istria
The reason it is special: Istarska malvazija (Istrian Malvasia) is a type of white grape that gives lush growth and high yield. Malvazija has a pleasant sweet taste and it is very juicy. It is well resistant to fungal diseases and collects sugar well, which is why it is used to produce Istarska malvazija, a quality dry wine. Malvazija is rounded and harmonious with a note of freshness and acidity. Mature malvazija wine can leave a bitter taste of almonds in your mouth.
Events: International competition Svijet Malvazija in April, Poreč (Istria)
#4 Truffles from Istria (Istarski tartufi)
Place of growth: Dark, dense forests of Istria that surround Motovun and Buzet, in the valley of the river Mirna
Harvesting: White truffles from September to January, black truffles throughout the year
The reason it is special: Truffles are gourmet mushrooms that have a pungent, intense, earthy scent and a unique taste. It is almost impossible to describe their aroma. Istrian white truffles are among the most esteemed truffles in the world, fetching prices up to 2.000 EUR per kilogram.
Istarski tartufi grow under the ground on the roots of hrast (oak), vrba (willow) and topola (poplar) trees. Trained dogs are used to find them. Romans used them as an aphrodisiac and as a medicine. They are usually prepared with pasta, but also are included in risotto, omelettes and in meat dishes. There is also a sweet Istrian dessert Motovun u magli made of black truffles, egg yolk and cream.
If you wish to go full truffle while in northern Istria, make a booking at Konoba Stari Podrum. It’ll be the best decision you ever make.
Events: Zigante Truffle Days in September, October and November, Livade (Istria)
#5 Wild sage from Kornati (Kornatska kadulja)
Place of growth: Kornati islands National park
The reason it is special: The Mediterranean climate and untouched nature of the Kornati islands is ideal for the growth of wild sage. This sage contains essential oils with curative effects.
Kornatska kadulja has an intensive, aromatic and refreshing scent, with a bitter and pungent taste. It is used for production of hydrolates, essential oils, and tea. The tea has a particularly strong taste.
Brand that produces it: Salvia Kornati
#6 Potatoes from Lika (Lički krumpir)
Place of growth: Lika
The reason it is special: Lika potatoes are grown with a high percentage of dry matter due to the tradition and the climate in which it grows. This dry matter includes vitamins (C and B complex), minerals and starch. The cold nights and less extreme heat in Lika are suitable for the formation of the dry matter, which gives these potatoes a floury and crispy taste.
Lika potatoes are ideal for preparing ličke pole which is a dish of unpeeled potatoes cut in half and baked in the oven. It is registered as a protected Croatian product at the EU level.
Events: Dan ličkog krumpira in September, Lovinac (Lika)
#7 Oysters from Mali Ston (Malostonska kamenica)
Place of growth: Mali Ston
The reason it is special: Malostonske kamenice (Mali Ston’s oysters) grow in one of the last preserved habitats of this species in the bay of Mali Ston. This bay is full of fresh mineral water that comes from the river of Neretva and underground water sources.
Mali Ston’s oysters are one of the best raw oysters in the world recognized as a powerful aphrodisiac. Due to the high salinity of the sea, they have a very distinctive and delicious salty taste that soothes and refreshes.
They are best when consumed directly from the sea, fresh with a bit of lemon. Only 1% of chefs know to open oysters properly without losing their taste. If they are not opened properly, their nectar can be drained and pieces of shells may remain on their meat. Oysters can also be served in soups, risottos, pastas and deep fried.
Events: Dani malostonske kamenice in March, Mali Ston
#8 Mandarins from Neretva (Neretvanska mandarina)
Place of growth: Valley of the river Neretva
Harvesting: Mid-September through end of December
The reason it is special: Neretvanska mandarina (Neretva’s tangerine) is a sort of very delicious, sweet and juicy citrus fruit. When the color of their skin is bright orange, they are ripe and ideal for picking.
They are perfect for preparing cakes, desserts, juices, liqueurs and other refreshing homemade beverages. The valley of the river Neretva has very fertile soil for breeding fruits, so it is not a demanding process. Neretvanska mandarina are registered as a protected Croatian product at the EU level.
#9 Salt from island Pag (Paška sol)
Place of growth: Island of Pag
The reason it is special: Paška morska sol (Pag’s sea salt) is a fine sea salt obtained from seawater of the bay of island Pag. It has a salty taste without bitterness.
It is produced at Solana Pag, which is isolated far away from industrial zones contributing to its purity. The salt has very low values of heavy metals since the sea water is rich with shells that clean the sea. It is registered as a protected Croatian product at the EU level.
#10 Cabbage from Varaždin (Varaždinsko zelje)
Place of growth: Varaždin county
Harvesting: September, October
The reason it is special: Varaždinsko zelje (Varaždin’s cabbage) is special for its strong, elastic leaves and high levels of sugar and aromatic oils. It has a spicy taste, which makes it ideal for pickling and preparing the traditional Croatian meals sarma (cabbage stuffed with meat and spices), krpice sa zeljem (stewed cabbage with homemade pasta) and dinstano zelje s kobasicama (stewed cabbage with sausages).
It is registered as a protected Croatian product at the EU level.
Events: Zeljarijada in September, Vidovec (Varaždin county)
#11 Strawberries from Vrgorac (Vrgoračke jagode)
Place of growth: Vrgorac
Harvesting: April, May
The reason it is special: Vrgoračke jagode (Vrgorac’s strawberries) are famous strawberries grown in the area around the city of Vrgorac. Vrgorac strawberries are a rich red and deeply sweet.
You can find them on the pazar in late spring, just after the first wave of strawberries from Spain have disappeared. Production started in the 1970s, and now 600.000 to 800.000 kilograms are grown each year.
Events: Dan vrgoračkih jagoda in May, Vrgorac (Split-Dalmatia county)
#12 Chestnuts from Učka (Kesteni s Učke)
Place of growth: Slopes of the Učka mountain
Harvesting: September, October
The reason it is special: The most famous habitat of kesteni (chestnuts) in Croatia are the slopes of Učka mountain. This species called maruni are very tasty and a bit bigger than the regular chestnuts.
They are excellent for preparing a tasty traditional Istria dessert marunjača, which is a cake with a chestnut filling. Chestnuts are full of vitamins and unsaturated fats, making them quite healthy to eat.
Events: Oprtaljska kestenijada in October, Opratlj (Istria)
#13 Šarac garlic from Dalmatia (Češnjak “Šarac”)
Place of growth: Dalmatia, mostly around Trogir
Harvesting: End of June
The reason it is special: Češnjak šarac is nutritionally the healthiest garlic in Europe. It is a natural antibiotic, antiseptic and a good medicine for the digestion system.
Šarac garlic is light pink, purple and brownish with longitudinal dashes. It has a specific smell, is a bit spicy, and has a good dose of juiciness, hardness and good aroma all at the same time. Its taste is completely different than any other garlic. Add it to your dishes towards the end of cooking to preserve its flavor.
#14 Maraschino cherries from Zadar (Zadarska višnja maraska)
Place of growth: Mostly around Zadar, parts of Dalmatia
Harvesting: End of June and beginning of July
The reason it is special: Višnja maraska (marascino cherry) is an indigenous Croatian cherry with a strong sweet-sour taste and excellent quality. The tradition of growing maraschino surpasses 500 years.
Zadarska višnja maraska are used to produce the famous liqueur Maraschino, which is made of its fruits, leaves, and pits.
Events: Maraška fest in July, Sv. Filip i Jakov (Zadar county)
Have you had any special dishes made with these these? If so, share the restaurant and dish in the comments so we can all give it a try.
Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.