Croats are in love with their bread. They eat it on the side with every meal. Even the starchy ones, such as pasta, rice or potatoes.
Bread (rolls, swirls, muffins, etc,) of all flavours is the commonest snack in Croatia. Just look at the number of bakeries in the country!
Still, the way we like it most is with a spread. And we like it richly applied. No skimping.
No cutting the bread thinner either. And definitely no counting how many slices you end up eating.
‘Bread with a spread’ (kruh i namaz) is a Croat’s perfect breakfast and dinner.
Now the only thing to worry about is choosing among the many bread spreads we have. So, let's dig into the Croatian culture of breads and spreads.
Bread and paté
Bread and paté (kruh i pašteta) is one of the most venerated combinations in Croatia. It can be a hearty breakfast (oh, yes!) or a light dinner.
Children get to eat it as an afternoon snack, especially in kindergarten or school. As adults, we feel nostalgic for those carefree days. Which is why we still sneak a slice of kruh i pašteta in between meals. It has nothing to do with being hungry!
You should know that Croatian paté is lighter than a French-style paté or terrine. That’s why we never eat it as our main meal: lunch.
And that’s why it’s totally acceptable to top pašteta with some cheese or ham. Yes - eat it as a sandwich spread!
Bread and lard
In Croatia, bread and lard (kruh i mast) is as old as time. There are many variations on the theme, but one thing is certain: the nation grew up on it.
In some regions of Croatia, lard is not merely lard. Across north-western parts we have lard with bits of bacon. This is called zabil in Međimurje and kosana mast in Varaždin and Podravina.
The Germans will know it as Griebenschmalz and the Austrians as Grammelschmalz.
When it comes to flavour, we can eat it sweet or savoury. Some people prefer it sprinkled with sugar. Others swear by the savoury version: spiced with salt and red paprika.
Kruh i mast calls for rustic bread: rye, whole-wheat spelt, corn. Anything that, in the old days, could stay fresh for a long time.
Nowadays, kruh i mast is having a comeback. Just like lard itself is being revived as healthy. But there is a generation, somewhere in between, who frowns upon it.
Those kids grew up on margarine.
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Bread and ajvar
In September there is hardly a household which doesn’t make their own ajvar. Red peppers are roasting everywhere. Entire streets and neighbourhoods are engulfed in these sweet fumes.
This is the time when you don't need to choose a spread for bread. Just do as most Croats do and indulge in bread and ajvar (kruh i ajvar).
For weeks, we might hold off from eating other food. It’s even acceptable to substitute a well-balanced lunch for kruh i ajvar.
Later in the year, ajvar turns into a relish. We enjoy it on the side, usually with meat (think ćevapi!). And just like a Hollywood actor, it wins an Oscar for the best supporting role.
Bread and bakalar na bijelo
It arrived from Italy, more specifically Veneto region, as baccalà in bianco. This creamy spread is made of salted cod and lots of olive oil. What’s not to like?
Honestly, cod spread (bakalar na bijelo) is an acquired taste. It’s very strong so you either love it or hate it. Or you learn to love it.
At which point you can’t stop eating it.
Baccalà in bianco used to be specific to Istria and Kvarner – Rijeka included. But these days you can find it in most Croatian shops in a jar.
Homemade bakalar na bijelo requires a strong man’s touch. Actually, a tug. Because to make it perfect, stiff cod meat is beaten until smooth and fluffy.
My sin is to eat baccalà in bianco with a spoon – skipping bread altogether.
Bread and cheese
Croats love their cheese spread (sirni namaz). It can be anything from the commercial Philadelphia to the sophisticated, homemade versions.
The point is in flavouring. And here again, red paprika wins the day. Rustle up some cottage cheese and sour cream with a sprinkle of sweet paprika and your sirni namaz is ready to go.
The more upscale version found in restaurants is the Liptauer cheese spread. It has added butter, mustard and diced onions for a more complex aroma.
The recipe comes from Slovakian Liptov region but is known throughout central Europe.
Croats will add any fat to the cheese – as if cheese is not fatty enough. But for some reason, healthy veggie oils and dairy fat are a match made in heaven.
In Međimurje, they pair cottage cheese and pumpkin seed oil. When you mix these two, you’ll get an avocado green colour. But only if you use the best quality oil. Add a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds too.
This is my go-to flavour. Not that I am partial, having Međimurje roots. The combination really is out of this world.
Bread, butter and honey
The funny thing about bread and butter (kruh i putar) in Croatia is that it is never only bread and butter.
This simple food fed millions of people, for which it earned the linguistic medal: it became a metaphor. We say bread and butter when we mean someone’s livelihood, or when something is basic, staple and everyday.
Croats are not super crazy about bread and butter alone. But we can never go for bread and honey or bread and jam without the layer of butter in between.
Call us spoilt but we love to take our buttered bread to the next level with drops of luscious honey.
Don’t leave Croatia without trying out favourite flavours. On the coast look for lavender, sage or thyme honey. And on the continent, you will love the deep earthy chestnut aromas.
Bread, butter and jam
Bread, butter and jam (kruh, putar i pekmez) is a timeless combo. No childhood is the same without it. And what we remember the most is our granny’s homemade jam.
In fact, if our memories are from a long time ago, they will probably be of a marmalade, not jam. The kind that is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.
The one that simmers almost all day long. That marmalade has so little water content it can last for years in a pantry. This is how plum or apricot marmalades are made in
But also some more unique flavours. Cornelian cherry marmalade (pekmez od drijenka) on the continent and fig marmalade (pekmez od smokve) on the coast.
Learn more about Croatian culture from my library of posts on Croatian traditions.
Which is your favourite bread spread?
Let me know if you want the recipe for my spelt sourdough bread pictured here!
This was interesting. I live in Dalmatia where butter on bread is almost unheard of. I’d love to have a good recipe for pašteta, which is the most common bread spread in these parts. Any advice on where to find one? Thanks!
Ohm OK. Let me do a pate recipe for you in my next blog post. 🙂
I have purchased your desserts book..
Could I get your recipe for spelt sourdough bread.
Kind regards for Australia.
Coming soon, Jozefina!
Would you please provide recipes for the spreads. Thank you!
Will do, Barbara!
Yes please!! I would love the recipe for bread and do you have a cookbook on traditional Croatian meals (think sarma, paprikas, pita/burek)…I would love to see these all in one book 🙂
Thanks, Sue. I will write a blog post with the recipe for my spelt sourdough bread. And the cookbook of classic savoury Croatian dishes is in the pipeline 🙂
Your article brought back so many childhood memories… and anyway is just like written from my heart (or better stomach?) Thank you Andrea!
🙂 Thanks, Mercedes. I know, food has such power over our emotions.
Hi, I was born in Zagreb, in 1941…After war, in 1945-1950…. my mother would always put ” mast”
( pork fat )…on bread….with coarse salt. That was my lunch ( lunch ).
I live in California now…..Avocado Toast ( smashed avocado with salt and pepper or different toppings is very popular now ( crispy bacon, thinly sliced radishes, etc.etc )
Maybe it’s time to go back to the old, time-tested ways? 🙂
typical Slavs what else can I say ))
Oh my goodness! How I remember the mast on bread as a child until the powers that be indoctrinated the public that somehow it’s deathly to even think of having it. I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where there’s a latge Dalmatian presence. Many of the recipes underwent changes more to the liking of Americans in the South, including elements added as substitutes during the Depression Era. I am 70 yrs old and during my childhood and young life we fished by casting nets in the Gulf of Mexico nearly every morning very early when we’d walk down to the shore before going to school. Often we’d have mullet for breakfast! There’s a slang term that calls mullet “Biloxi bacon” since it was the breakfast food for the “Jugos”, as we were known back then. Hahaha. We also had cows for milk and to produce a calf a year for market. We raised chickens and pigs and had pork and chicken and a small kitchen garden. We bartered for what we needed and in thosr days we could pay the doctors who still made housecalls in those days with shrimp oysters or fish or pork or chicken and that would settle his bill! The last time I brought mullet to our doctor was when my daughter was a teenager and she’s nearly 40 now so about 20 years ago now. Couldn’t do that today! My people were from Korčula and they brought the boat building skills to the Coast so they built all sizes/types boats big schooners to small shrimp boats and they used the shrimp boats where the women also worked to trawl the nets. Sell shrimp on the pier when they returned in the morning. It was a beautiful slow life, a Croatian kind of life until the 70s when suddenly life changed and not for better, I think. I am very nostalgic for those days, I guess. I had hoped I would have made it to visit Croatia as I still have cousins in the islands and along the coast of Dalmatia. But I am too old to travel far now. So I can only visit in my dreams. My daughter still hopes to visit one day. Maybe she will. But I will get your cookbook and look forward to another cookbook you are planning. Thanks so much for your blog I am fortunate to have found it. Excuse my long post. I am carried away! LOL
This is so wonderful, thanks for sharing this story, Anna. It is interesting how things changed suddenly in the whole world in the 70s.
Age is just a numbers,be active and newer give up. Go visit Korcula and Croatia,you will never regret it
My Grandpa and I would share butter and honey on bread. Usually on a rainy morning when it was too wet to pick strawberries. We raised them on the farm. We lived in Washington state.
oh, butter and honey is a divine combo!