A local’s guide to buying food on pazar (Croatia’s farmer’s market)

Pazar (farmer's market) in Split, Croatia

There are farmer’s markets throughout Croatia where you can buy local fruit, vegetables, cheese, and meat as well as wine and rakija. This kind of market is typically located in the city center or the center of a neighborhood in larger cities.

This market is called something different depending on which part of the country you are in. In Dalmatia, it is called a “pazar”. In Rijeka, they use the word “placa”. In Dubrovnik and Rijeka as well, it can be referred to as “tržnica“. Those in Zagreb refer to it as “plac”. I have no doubt there are even more granular distinctions.

Regardless of what people call it, they are all the same thing. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use the term “pazar” because I live in Split and that is what it is called here.

Usually, the pazar is an open area with tables set up with vendors selling mostly produce but it is not uncommon to find other local treats. Around the perimeter, there are butchers and bakeries as well as shops where you can buy cheese, pasta and other specialty food items.

When people first move to Croatia, shopping at the pazar can be a little scary when you don’t know the language. This can lead to people avoiding the pazar entirely.

While the pazar can be intimidating at first, avoiding it will cause you to miss out on the best produce, meat and cheese that Croatia has to offer. You also miss out on your best opportunity for practicing your Croatian and becoming part of the local community.

To help make shopping on pazar easier and more accessible, we’ve put together this guide on how to shop like a local including tips that will prevent you from being foreigner taxed. We’ve also included a short glossary of Croatian words and phrases at the bottom of this post that will help you get the job done without the pressure of learning an entire language.

Let’s get started…

#1 Communicate in Croatian

Anytime you want to get something done like a local, you need to do it in Croatian. Shopping on pazar, especially.

When you roll up on a vendor and start speaking English, in most cases, you’ll get treated like a foreigner. Usually this means you’ll be charged more and they will try and sell you stuff you do not want.

To get the best price, speak in Croatian and do it with confidence. While this may feel intimidating at first, you only need to know a few words to accomplish this transaction in the local language. Your accent doesn’t even need to be perfect or remotely accurate, as long as your words are right.

Throughout this post, we’ll give you some valuable vocabulary to use in different situations. Plus, we’ve included a glossary at the end for your reference.

#2 Go at the right time

The pazar is open from 7:00 to 14:30 daily in most cities, excluding major holidays. In smaller villages or on the islands, the hours and days may vary.

The best produce is found early in the morning before 10:00. After that, the choicest bits have already been picked clean and supply is much lower. The ideal time to visit the pazar is at 8:00 when the tables are full and it isn’t too busy yet.

#3 Ask for the price before you buy

In some cases, the prices are listed so you can know the price without having to ask. However, in other cases, the price isn’t listed.

I’m always a little suspicious when the price isn’t listed. Is this due to laziness on the vendor’s part, or is it because the price changes depending on who is buying? It’s impossible to know.

A local will ask the price before buying, which ensures they will get the best price.

To ask the price of something, you can say “Koliko košta?”. This translates to “how much does it cost?”. If you’re in Dalmatia, go the extra mile and use the dialect version, which is “Pošto?”. This term translates to “how much?”.

#4 Know what is in season

When buying produce that is in season, you are guaranteed the best flavor and quality, as well as the lowest price. It can take time to learn what and when things are in season in Croatia, but we will give you a schedule to make it a little easier to figure out.

  • January – lemons
  • February – lemons, wild asparagus
  • March – artichokes, lemons, radishes, wild asparagus
  • April – artichokes, broccoli, radishes, strawberries, wild asparagus, zucchini
  • May – artichokes, broccoli, green beans, radishes, strawberries, wild asparagus, zucchini
  • June – berries, carrots, cherries, radishes, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, peaches
  • July – berries, carrots, cherries, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, peaches, plums, watermelon
  • August – carrots, corn, eggplants, grapes, watermelon
  • September – apples, chard, cabbage, chestnuts, grapes, mandarin oranges, squashes, watermelon
  • October – apples, chard, cabbage, chestnuts, mandarin oranges, mushrooms, olives, pomegranate, squashes
  • November – apples, chard, mandarin oranges, pomegranate, squashes
  • December – chard, mandarin oranges

You can usually find local garlic and potatoes year-round.

When the season starts for a specific kind of produce, the first round will always be imported from abroad. Wait until the second round to get the local produce. The local produce usually appears about 2 weeks after the imported produce arrives at the markets.

#5 Know what is produced here

It is always best to buy local produce, rather than food that was imported from abroad.

Why buy local? Because:

  • Local food tastes better.
  • Locally grown food has a lesser chance of being GMO, industrially produced or covered in pesticides.
  • Buying local supports local people and businesses.
  • Buying local reduces the environmental pollution caused by transporting food long distances and producing food in mass.

Croatia has incredible fruits and vegetables so it’s always going to better quality than what can possibly be imported. But, how can you know what is local and what is imported? Here are a few tips:

  1. If it’s any kind of tropical fruit, it is imported. Examples are bananas, pineapples, starfruit, mangoes and papaya.
  2. If it’s out of season, it is imported.
  3. Look for a sign that says where the produce came from. For certain types of special produce, usually the vendor will promote this on a sign like strawberries from Vrgorac or potatoes from Lika.
  4. When in doubt, just ask. In Croatian, you can say “Je li domaći?”. This phrase means, “Is it domestic or native?”. You can also ask “Odakle je?”, which means “Where is it from?”

We have a post about all the super special produce grown in Croatia including when and where you can find them. Check it out here.

#6 Look for imperfections

Imperfect produce is always the best choice when buying fruits and vegetables. Imperfection means that it is not genetically-modified and that it most likely wasn’t grown using pesticides.

When everything looks exactly the same in color, shape and size, run the other direction. That is a classic sign that GMOs are afoot. While GMO produce cannot be grown in Croatia, it can be sold in several counties.

Most farmers in Croatia cannot afford to get the official “organic” designation, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t using organic practices. If there are bugs on the produce or you see a bug nibble here and there, then that tells you that pesticides weren’t used and that it was grown organically.

Do not worry, a bug or two isn’t going to hurt you.

#7 Find the vendor popular with locals

Locals are always going to flock to the best deal with the best quality, no matter what it is. As you become more familiar with your local pazar, watch Croatians and see where they shop. I’m not encouraging you to be a creepy lerker. Just be observant.

On every pazar, there are produce vendors, butchers, cheese shops and bakeries that are more popular than others. Keep an eye out for big lines.

On my pazar in Split, there are at least 8 butchers but only one of them has a line out the door every single morning.

#8 Find the vendors that offer less

In the early hours of the morning, many vendors go to a bigger market outside of town to stock up on all of the produce they will sell at the local pazar during the day. You can tell which vendors do this because they have giant tables that are overflowing with produce.

There are some vendors that are only selling what their family has grown in their backyard. It is with these vendors that you can sometimes find some very special items.

In the bigger pazar, there is usually a section dedicated to these smaller vendors. They are easy to identify because they only have a few small piles of produce. They also tend to offer home-cured meats, olive oil, wine and rakija, all family-made.

#9 Pick your own

In Italy, only the vendor can pick your produce. It is a massive faux pax to manhandle produce at an Italian market. In Croatia, you are encouraged to pick your own. You can of course ask a vendor that you want a kilo of potatoes, but don’t do this.

If you give a vendor the power to pick what goes in your bag, they will pick the fruits and vegetables that they can’t move. They won’t be the best, but instead will mediocre at best or the worst of the bunch.

Always pick your own produce.

#10 Know what “izvolite” means

When you walk through a pazar, you will inevitably hear the echoes of vendors hollering in earnest or muttering in reflex the word “izvolite!”

Izvolite has an endless number of meanings. In this context, the loose translation is “how can I help you?” or “I am here to help”. Really, they are trying to get your attention so that you stop and look at their offering.

When I first moved to Croatia, I felt obligated to respond to every “izvolite” with a “Ne, hvala” (no, thank you). Ignoring them felt rude. I found out in time that it is not rude to ignore them and if you respond to everyone, you’ll be ripping your hair out by the time you get home.

#11 Bring your own bags

This piece of advice is a little different. Croatians are rarely spotted bringing their own bags to the pazar. There are exceptions of course, but generally speaking, they love love LOVE those cheap plastic grocery sacks that vendors hand out.

Regardless, my recommendation is to bring your own reusable bags, both the ones for produce (which you can get at Spar and Interspar) as well as the larger ones to put all your goodies in.

When a vendor goes for the plastic bag, just say “Ne trebam vrećicu”. This means “I do not need a bag”.

Not only does this help protect the environment from unnecessary non-biodegradable waste, but bringing your own bag is a sign that you live here.

While it took some time to get my favorite vendors to stop reaching for those plastic bags, they seem happy that I’m bringing reusable bags.

As a side note that is moderately related to this tip, reuse your egg cartons when buying local eggs. My egg lady loves that I do this as it saves her money.

#12 Learn how to refuse

Vendors want you to buy as much as possible. They have several methods for trying to get you to buy more than you originally intended.

One way is by telling you about all the other stuff they have. If a vendor asks if you want carrots or green beans, just give them a polite “Ne, hvala”.

Another method is by putting more in your bag so that it evens out to an even amount. For example, let’s say you’re buying potatoes. The vendor weighs the potatoes and they amount to 650 grams. The vendor may then suggest adding more to add up to an even 1 kg.

If you don’t want more, there are several things you can say:

  • Ne treba više/Ne trebam još – More is not needed, I do not need more.
  • To je dosta/Dosta je – It’s enough.
  • Ne, hvala – No, thank you.

#13 Form relationships

With time, you’ll figure out which vendors you like the best. Once you’ve started visiting them regularly and it’s obvious they recognize you, throw out a “kako ste?” to ask how they are doing. Develop a rapport with them.

In my experience, being friendly with the vendors comes with benefits.

Foremost, it brings you into the community. So many foreigners in Croatia feel like outsiders. Connecting with Croatians is a good way to lessen that feeling.

Second, you can practice your Croatian. As they get to know you, they will happily help you practice and compliment you as you get better. Many of my vendors practice their English with me, while I only speak Croatian back to them.

Third, you may end up getting discounts or free produce. Several of my vendors round the amount down, saving me a few kuna on each visit. Other vendors will drop extra into my bag after they’ve weighed it, just as a goodwill bonus.

Fourth, being kind and respectful to others is how we should all be anyways. It makes life better.

A glossary of terms to help you speak Croatian at the pazar

Below are the most common words and phrases that will help you speak Croatian when shopping at the farmer’s markets in Croatia.

  • Bok – Hi, bye
  • Bog – Hi, bye (if you’re in Dalmatia)
  • Dobro jutro – Good morning (to be said before 9:00)
  • Dobar dan – Good day (to be said after 9:00 and before the sun sets)
  • Fala lijepa – Thank you very much
  • Fala lipa – Thank you very much (if you’re in Dalmatia)
  • Izvolite – I am here to help, how can I help you?
  • Je li domaći? – Is it domestic?
  • Kako ste? – How are you?
  • Koliko košta? – How much does it cost?
  • Ne, hvala – No, thank you.
  • Ne treba više/Ne trebam još – More is not needed, I do not need more.
  • Ne trebam vrećicu – I do not need a bag.
  • Odakle je? – Where is it from?
  • Pošto? – How much? (if you’re in Dalmatia)
  • To je dosta/Dosta je – It’s enough.
  • Ugodan dan – Have a good day
  • Vidimo se – See you soon

Also…

For more Croatian lessons, check out our other language resources here. We also post a phrase and word of the week in our newsletter, which we deliver only once per week. You can subscribe here.

What challenges have you had in shopping at the pazar? Share your experiences in the comments.

Sharing is Caring:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Expat in Croatia Newsletter and get a FREE GUIDE to the 9 Tips for Battling Croatia's Bureaucracy.