International cuisine is now a commonplace sight in most cities and towns in Europe. These days, almost everyone can order a pizza or Chinese to their door. Popular street food stalls and pop-ups also sometimes give us the chance to sample delicious food unfamiliar to us.
But most of the international food we try are either lunch or evening meal options. In some respects, breakfast remains the most mysterious meal of the day. For instance, do you know what a regular breakfast looks like in China? Do you really imagine that every day, the English consume a huge plate of cooked food that includes bacon, eggs, mushrooms, beans, sausages and toast?
In Croatia, the first meal of the day is similarly obscured. Just what is breakfast in Croatia? Well, truth be told, there's no simple answer. Trends observed internationally have encroached on Croatia and now many non-traditional foodstuffs can be found on the breakfast bar in the morning. Before they go to school, children can be seen eating bowls of cereal and adults can be seen warming in the over French breakfasts such as croissants or pain au chocolat, that they've bought from the supermarket.
Health conscious, but busy, office workers can be seen ordering smoothies and fruit juices to go. And the queue at Croatian bakeries around 9am can sometimes be just as busy as at lunchtime, with people buying sandwiches, strukli, baked pancakes or kiflice that will keep them going until lunch.
But none of these could really be considered traditional Croatian breakfasts. The truth is, that while traditional foods fall from widespread popularity, there remain several breakfast options in Croatia that visitors certainly should try before resorting to something with which they're already familiar. And to look for the best of these, you need to look to Croatia's regional differences.
In continental Croatia, you can still find plenty of people who've eaten or who eat lard on bread for breakfast. In central and eastern Croatia, where more Schwabe families can be found (those with German ancestry), there's the more Germanic platter of cold cuts and cheeses available alongside the bread, with slices of paprika rich sausage sitting next to uncooked bacon. The sight of the latter can be pretty terrifying to some visitors; British people, for instance, never eat bacon uncooked. They may even take some persuading that it's not going to kill them in order for them to try it.
On the coast, as is the case all around the Mediterranean and Adriatic, breakfasts are lighter and pašteta, a smooth, preserved pate, on bread is commonplace. More rare, but a delicious treat, is anchovies, olive oil, olives and bread. Few things will give you the feeling of being by the seaside than a flavoursome breakfast like that.
These days, eggs are ubiquitous in Croatia and, in more rural households, can sometimes be taken fresh from the chickens in the backyard. They often come boiled, fried or scrambled accompanying either a cold plate of mixed meats, or as the star turn, served with bread or toast. In restaurants, especially on the coast, they can be offered as omelettes, with Istria offering particularly extravagant versions containing ingredients such as asparagus or truffles. The only thing perhaps more ubiquitous than eggs at breakfast in Croatia is coffee; breakfast in Croatia without coffee is like inhaling without exhaling!
Perhaps not so traditional, but very commonplace, is for breakfast to take a similar form to lunch. It would be a very unusual bakery in Croatia, or indeed across the whole Balkans, where you did not see someone buying burek for breakfast, its substantial hit of rolls of pastry softened on the stomach in the morning by the natural yogurt bought as the usual accompaniment. Similarly, a slice of pizza is also a popular breakfast on the go, particularly for young people. Sometimes the bakery will not yet have prepared pizza for this time in the day, but this sorrowing absence can often be circumnavigated by taking some from home; unwise is the man who orders takeaway pizza of an evening in Croatia, without leaving one slice to eat cold for breakfast the next morning.