Croatian snacks are almost always savoury. We might be conventional with the ingredients, but we don't lack creativity when it comes to recipes.
In fact, snacking in Croatia means more than grabbing a bite between meals. Let’s go over the Croatian words that mean to snack.
Staviti nešto u kljun [to put something in your beak] implies a quick breakfast on the go, usually a pastry from a bakery.
Čvaknuti nešto [to nibble at something] can take place at any time of the day, but we usually do it mid-morning.
Prizalogajiti [have a few bites] is mostly done in the late afternoon, but it can also serve as a light supper.
Nešto za pod zub [something to put under your tooth] refers to the munchies served with beer or wine so you can better hold your liquor.
Grickati nešto [to graze] implies a continuous pecking from a bag of salty sticks, crisps (chips) or other similar grickalice.
Now you see how diverse snacking can be in Croatia. From freshly baked pastries for breakfast to bite-sized puffs (pogačice) or store-bought grickalice. We even go as far as having lunch from a bakery – yup, burek!
Croatian burek and its siblings
In Croatia, burek is one of the most venerated dishes. The word and the recipe are originally Turkish, which is why there are so many hot debates around it.
Everyone eats burek, wholeheartedly. But everyone also bickers about the proper name for it. Is it burek or burek with meat? Do we say sirnica or burek with cheese? The former is the naming standard in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the latter is how we call it in Croatia. By the way, burek (pie in Turkish) with _____ (filling of choice) is the phrase used in Turkey too.
Don't waste time on the etymology; sink your teeth into this heavenly dish when it lands on your plate. Quickly agree to disagree with all the parties at the table so you can pat your happy tummy later.
Burek – phyllo pastry pie with meat
Croatians grow up on burek with meat as their number one treat. This flaky phyllo dough pie with succulent meat is so rich it often replaces the main meal of the day.
When no one feels like cooking, family members get stars in their eyes. Someone will pop down the bakery and get burek with meat for everyone. This ultimate comfort food is a real feast. Especially when it comes unexpected.
Sirnica – phyllo pastry pie with cheese
Not all bakeries carry burek with meat. But a Croatian bakery with no cheese burek is a contradiction in terms. This flaky pastry with creamy cottage cheese satiates not only your taste buds. Croatians believe in its magical healing powers too.
Whenever you are hungover, get a greasy burek with cheese and wait for its impact to kick in. Don't even go to bed after a party. Stay up until dawn, when some local bakeries open, and devour the burek right from its greasy wrapper. Wash it down with some yoghurt too.
Bučnica – savoury pumpkin strudel
Bučnica is a delicacy from continental Croatia. It takes a special pumpkin to make a traditional bučnica – a large green one with white meat. Buča (pumpkin) is shredded and combined with cottage cheese, sour cream and eggs. This rich filling is then wrapped in the phyllo dough that must be so thin you can see through it.
This savoury strudel is usually portioned into little pillows, soft and creamy inside and super crunchy on the outside. At least this is the kind you will find in bakeries. Home bakers use a sour cream topping to make bučnica even richer.
Soparnik – Croatian flatbread with Swiss chard
One of the most elusive pies in Croatia, soparnik comes from the villages inland of Omiš. This giant dough wheel is thin and filled with nothing but Swiss chard (and some onion). Still, its flavour is outstanding because it bakes on the hearth buried in glowing embers.
When it comes out all crispy and with specks of ashes, soparnik gets a rich coating of olive oil and minced garlic. It is traditionally sliced into diamond shapes which are shared among family and friends. A glass of red wine on the side is a must.
Morning pastries from a Croatian bakery
Although Croatian bakeries stay open most of the day, morning is their prime time. You’ll find them almost at every corner, even two or three side by side. Those uninitiated will be tempted to try out a different one each time they feel a craving for carbs. But Croatians have an almost monogamous relationship with their local bakery.
We pick one and stay devoted to it. Our intimacy grows as we visit the shop almost every morning on our way to school or work. The reason why we were allowed to skip breakfast as kids is the en-route pastry. Munching on slanci or kifla on the go is such an ingrained ritual that it sticks with us long into our adulthood.
Žemlje – Croatian semmel rolls
You can recognise these soft white rolls by a distinctive crease down their middle. Some may wonder why bother with such a design, but there is a good reason to take time with shaping the žemlje.
The fold in the dough makes it easy to split the roll in half just by gentle pulling. Once you break the žemlja in half, dunk it into a mug of warm milk and bite a piece off just before it gets too mushy. Repeat. If you wish to take the žemlje on a trip, know they make great sandwich rolls too.
Kifle – bakery-style finger rolls
A bakery that makes chewy and stale kifle will quickly go out of business. These milky rolls need to be airy and bouncy, with each bite melting in your mouth. We remember the kifle from our childhood when we’d pick them up from a bakery on our way to school. If you feel pangs of nostalgia for those moments, the baker was a true artisan. And your kifle were as soft as a soul (meke kao duša).
Because of their shape, žemlje and kifle entered the colloquial talk carrying a different meaning. Kifla can mean a penis and žemlja a vagina. Take a look at these expressions:
Boli me kifla [I have a pain in my crescent roll] means I don’t care. Here kifla is a euphemism for k*rac.
Dala mu je žemlju [she gave him the semmel roll] means she slept with him.
Lepinje – Croatian flatbread for ćevapi
Known also as somun, lepinja is the most popular version of a flatbread. If you ever had ćevapi, you know how gorgeous the lepinja dough is when sliced open. It’s snow white, soft and full of irresistible airy pockets – perfect for sopping up those ćevapi juices.
Lepinja dough is quite similar to the ciabatta. So even though we eat it exclusively with ćevapi, there is no reason to save it only for those occasions. Make a rich sandwich with it, or simply eat it instead of bread.
Pletenice – braided buns
These fancy braided buns are a star of every Croatian bakery. They come in two versions: topped with sesame and poppy seeds. Their attractive look, however, doesn’t last long. The moment we step outside the bakery, we break off each knot of the bun and turn it into a bite of delight.
If you bring pletenice home, try this ritual. Break off knot by knot. Spread some butter or cream cheese on each bite. Top it with a spoonful of oozy jam and pop this darling into your mouth.
Slanci – soft and salty breadsticks
There isn’t a large enough paper bag to fit these lanky breadsticks, but bakeries insist on wrapping them this way. The paper is not meant to be proper packaging. It’s where you grab and hold slanci while you eat the longer side that sticks out.
Have a go at your ‘bouquet’ of slanci the moment you hit the sidewalk. If you are like me, you’ll love picking at and peeling away those salt strips. Make sure to get enough slanci to share them with friends.
Party snacks and nibbles Croatian style
If you like nibbles and bite-sized snacks, remember the Croatian word for it: grickalice. In this realm, there is a huge difference between bags of store-bought stuff and what your mama bakes for you and your friends.
Sure, we all love chips/crisps, peanut-butter-filled sticks and our signature smoki (puffed corn). But if you are hosting a special event, nothing beats home-baked kiflice (crescent rolls) or pogačice sa sirom (cheese puffs). These snackable pastries are the pride of every home chef. In fact, they are so typical for house parties that bakeries don’t even bother competing with family recipes.
Kiflice sa sirom – crescent rolls with cheese
The word kiflice comes from the German Kipferl, which means a half moon or crescent shape. These popular snacks are incredibly versatile. There are sweet and flaky jam- or walnut-filled crescents. Then, during Christmas time, we bake the dainty vanilla crescents dusted with powdered sugar. But the all-around kiflice made with yeasted dough are the headliners of every party.
They are neutral in taste and can hold any filling you can procure from your fridge or pantry. Make them with soft creamy cheese, jam or chocolate spread or just plain topped with the seeds of your choice.
Pogačice sa sirom – cheese puffs
These tiny cheese puffs have only three ingredients: flour, butter and cottage cheese. For such a simple dough, the result is astonishing. They come out soft, flaky and with a deep cheese kick. Don’t be surprised when guests start gobbling them like there is no tomorrow. Just be ready to batch bake and enlist your kids to give you a helping hand.
Caraway seeds are the traditional topping for pogačice, but you can use any other small seeds, even coarse salt and crushed pepper.
Čvarkuše – Croatian puffs with pork scratchings
Translation doesn’t do justice to these crunchy aromatic bites, so let’s first establish how čvarci are made. It’s common to equate čvarci to pork scratchings, but our delicacy is not made with pork rind. Instead, we melt cubes of fatty bacon until they turn into grits of meat. These are squeezed through a giant press and later seasoned with salt.
Čvarci are all about pork fat infused with the flavour of the meat. So, yes, they need to be greasy to produce the desired effect in the pogačice dough – similar to what butter does to the Danish pastry. Čvarkuše turn out hearty and filling but their appearance must remain sleek, with exquisite dough layering on the side.
Uštipci – fried dough balls
Uštipci are the epitome of scrappy cooking. They take few ingredients, which you almost always have at hand, and require no proofing or resting. Because of this simplicity, special attention must be paid to the frying technique. To get that crunch on the outside and the puffy middle, uštipci need to swim freely in a sea of sizzling oil. Give them space in the pan, and they'll come out all ruddy and crisp.
It's worth messing up your kitchen with oil splatters and frying steam just to see your guests fighting for every piece. Serve uštipci with prosciutto, cheese and olives and forget about cooking other meal courses.
Croatian pastry at home
You can sample most of these savoury pastries in Croatian bakeries. When you spend some time in Croatia, you’ll quickly learn the concept of a local bakery. Pretty soon, you’ll have your favourite breakfast roll that you’ll eat from a wrapper on the go.
But know that all these baked goods are even better when you make them at home. And if your home is away from Croatia, you’ll be able to appease your nostalgia by dipping your fingers into flour.
This is why I wrote my Croatian Savoury Baking cookbook. With 50 illustrated step-by-step recipes, you’ll be on your way to becoming a home baker in no time. Then just wait for the family and friends to start paying you announced visits - the Croatian style. Because those who can bake are a magnet for their loved ones.
Get my cookbook now.
Croatian Savoury Baking: 50 traditional recipes for bread, burek, pies and pastries
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