If you don’t know how the Croats drink, you are bound to end up with a hangover. Because we drink a lot and we drink the strong stuff.
Of course, there’s a logic to our boozing madness. A well formed strategy. I’d even call it a wisdom. You must learn it if you want to hold your Croatian liquor like a local.
I’m not talking about eating burek, which is our best hangover food. This part is about mastering the ultimate hangover cure: prevention. So, let me teach you the 5 golden rules of drinking alcohol in Croatia.
1) Drink alcohol slowly
There are two time frames to consider here. One is learning how to make your drink last as long as possible.
Imagine sitting down with a glass of cold beer. Now, sip at it. Do some talking in between. Admire the colour of your drink. Talk some more. Don’t just guzzle your pints like there’s no tomorrow. This is not a competition.
The second thing to learn is to start drinking throughout the day. Yes, I’m serious.
From then until the evening, it’s practice, practice, practice.
The trick is to slo-o-o-o-o-o-w down. Whether a glass or an entire bottle, learn to make it last.
2) Dilute your drink
There are two ways you can dilute your drink in Croatia. The first one is a well-known hangover cure from around the world. Just drink lots of water in between.
We are very good at following this magic hangover pill. You’ll always get served a jug of water with a bottle of wine. And there’s always a glass of water accompanying a shot of rakija.
But there’s another, Croatian, way to water down the alcohol too.
We mix water into wine. I know, I know… it sounds sacrilegious. Why would anyone ruin that rich, luxurious, noble liquid of the Gods?
We would… so we can follow the rule number 1… to drink slowly throughout the day.
So, on the coast, you’ll be offered bevanda – a diluted red wine. And on the continent, we’ll serve you a gemišt or špricer – wite wine mixed with fizzy water.
Note that bevanda is always made with still water. Even when it comes in its white version. Yes, it’s rare but also possible to have a bijela bevanda.
Croatian wine can have up to 17% alcohol. Dingač (a special type of Zinfandel) from Pelješac or graševina from Ilok can be quite deceptive. Pay respect! Don’t underestimate the sweet liqueurs either. The ones made with figs, carob or cherries are so tasty and mellow on the throat. Still, they contain 25-28% alcohol. Not as strong as the real rakija, but deadly if not washed down with some water.
3) Always eat and drink
If you end up hungover, you can always cure yourself with some of Croatia’s famed hangover meals. But there’s a better way to pair eating and drinking.
Do it at the same time. In Croatia, there’s a saying, actually a warning: nemoj piti bez dobre podloge. This translates: don’t drink without a good foundation.
And in this context, a good foundation is a good meal. Preferably a heavy meal. Something greasy and with lots of carbs.
Bread and prosciutto (or sausages), bread and cheese (hello vegetarians)… all the typical cold cuts you’d be offered at someone’s home. So don’t skimp.
Don’t you be thinking of your waistline now. The amount of alcohol you’re planning to drink has way more calories than your foundational meal. Be wise. Eat now and avoid ever even needing hangover food.
4) Don’t mix your drinks
And by this I don’t mean you should avoid cocktails. This is a warning to choose your drink of the day and stick with it.
Let’s say you plan to enjoy lots of delicious food at a wedding party. It makes sense to opt for wine. Because, with each juicy course, you can try a different type. All good. As long as you mix your drinks but stay in the same bandwidth – you’re golden.
What you should not do is start knocking back shots of rakija after midnight. Even if the best man told you to do so.
Curiously though, beer and spirits is often a go-to combo for the show-offs. Most often men.
They will cut the (beer) slate clean with a shot of rakija or jeger (herb liqueur). Ajmo presjeć is the expression. But just because they do it doesn’t mean you should. It also doesn’t mean they won’t end up with a hangover headache.
I said there was wisdom in the way Croats drink (every day). But some types of drinking fall out of lines, such as drinking at a wedding. At those times, you drink – you don’t strategise about how to avoid the next day hangover.
5) Never drink solo
One of the ways to insult someone in Croatia is to call them a ‘solo trinker’. Yes, we use the German word for a drinker – it’s our cultural heritage.
People in Croatia mostly drink to accentuate good feelings. They get together to eat, drink and make merry. It’s totally fine if you get drunk in the process. What is less socially acceptable is drowning your sorrows in alcohol. And doing it by yourself.
It might sound cruel to categorise people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ drinkers. But think again. The reason why we do it relates to the drinking wisdom I told you about earlier.
When you share your drink with friends, you drink more slowly. Tick.
Getting together often means cooking a meal which gives you a drinking foundation. Tick.
You’ll spend a lot of time together, hence your wine needs watering down. Tick.
If you hang out at home, the chances are you’ll be drinking house wine. No mixing of drinks. Tick.
Do you get it now?
There’s one more reason why drinking together is so important here. Especially if you get wasted. And especially if you drink until the crack of dawn.
You will end up in a bakery together. Munching on the greasy burek – together. Watching the sunrise – together – while the rest of the city is sound asleep. And this, my friend, is the best way to avoid the hangover anxiety which kicks in the following day.
Remember: burek is the best hangover breakfast!
6) Hangover cure food
If you missed out on the above lessons, there’s still hope for you. So, let’s go over Croatia’s best hangover recipes to uncover their magic.
First off, notice something. All hangover food (except for burek) is soup. And in terms of the taste, sour saves the day.
A) BUREK AND YOGHURT
With cheese or meat filling, burek is always delectably greasy.
If you’re about to give me a lesson that burek is always only with meat – don’t. Yes, in Bosnia, burek is filo pastry with meat. But in Croatia, burek is a generic term for any savoury filo pastry. And so is in Turkey where burek originally came from.
It would be much better to eat burek while you’re still drinking. Fatty food slows down alcohol absorption by 30%. But hey, no one is perfect.
Drink yoghurt with burek. It’s your source of sourness – the number one hangover cure.
Yes, Croatian stuffed sauerkraut is what helps with hangover best. It ticks all the boxes. It’s soupy, it’s warm and nurturing and it’s sour in the right way.
What do I mean by that? The cabbage (and the liquid) have been naturally fermented. And this rulz.
C) WINE GOULASH
Remember that wedding we talked about? You were probably served wine goulash in the wee hours. As your second dinner. To lift you up from the dead.
This is what wine goulash is made for. It’s beef stewed in tomato sauce and seasoned with wine. More wine for a wine hangover? Just trust me. In wine goulash, you make the most of the wine’s acidity. That’s the trick.
D) AJNPREN SOUP
Before I tell you what it is, let’s dig into its etymology. This traditional hangover soup comes from the German Einbrennsuppe.
In Croatia, this soup turned into ajnpren juha. But we also know it as prežgana or zafrigana juha. The foundation of the soup is roux – flour and fat cooked together.
To that we add water, and traditional spices: red paprika, caraway seeds and… surprise, surprise – a tablespoon of vinegar. Watch the video below to learn how to cook it.
The best part of ajnpren soup is the egg. It’s beaten and slowly poured in so it resembles tiny noodles.
E) TOMATO SOUP
Another healing hangover food with an added bonus. Tomatoes have lots of potassium. And though our ancestors knew little chemistry, they were wise enough to eat this soup.
Alcohol dehydrates the body. Not only do we lose water when we drink, but we run low on electrolytes. Quick fix? Tomato soup. Or juice. Your choice – though warm is always better for the stomach.
7) Hangover cure drink
A) TURKISH COFFEE
I am not sold on its medicinal effect. But coffee is the first thing you’d treat your hangover with. Strong Turkish coffee that is.
Coffee will dehydrate you even more. So drink water with it. But there is something (everything) about coffee in Croatia that makes it a be all and end all of optimal life.
And we’re back to sour. Make your lemonade with raw honey to stock up on the depleted minerals. Add a pinch of salt too.
The old fashioned version would be a concoction with apple cider vinegar instead of a lemon. Again, fermented apples – great stuff. Don’t forget that honey!
C) HAIR OF THE DOG
Yes, it came to this. No one believes it any more, but people in Croatia still do it. We have another alcoholic drink to cure our hangover. It’s usually beer. Sometimes a shot of rakija too.
There is some scientific evidence that the hair of the dog approach works – but only temporarily.
Basically, by keeping a tiny bit of alcohol flowing around, you postpone being hungover. Plus another drink releases a new dose of endorphins.
Not that I advocate for this. I’m just saying. There’s a reason why in Dalmatia people start drinking in the morning. And why they make sure there’s always a tiny bit of alcohol in their system.
They do say the Mediterranean lifestyle is the healthiest of all. So go figure.
8) Best quick hangover cure
Well, the best hangover cure is to stay in bed and oversleep your hangover. If you can.
The quickest hangover cure is to go for a good old run. Sweat it out. Push those toxins through the skin.
Sweating is key. So if your head is pounding, maybe take it down a notch. Go find a nice spa and lounge around in a sauna.
Most of all, do not feel guilty about the day/night before. I forbid you. Anxiety, hangxiety… what you did, what you said… screw that. You had a great time. You hung out with friends.
Don’t sweat it. Well, just the toxins you can!
Now, once you feel like your old self, why not make your own sarma, or ajnpren soup? The recipes for all the meals mentioned above are in my Croatian Classics cookbook. Go get your copy, eh?
Ultimate cookbook of traditional savory Croatian Dishes
This glossy, full color edition boasts: 100 step-by-step recipes, 386 pages, 700 images & expert cooking tips