This is a post on one of my favorite foods! I simply adore all sorts of shellfish: Arca noae, mussels, lobster, scampi, clams … Luckily, Croatian Adriatic is still a very good source of all mentioned so we often visit the fish markets both in Zadar and Split. We also have several friends who dive and fish so we are able to get shellfish just out of the sea when needed.
Shellfish in Croatia is divided to sea shells (školjke) and crabs and lobsters and they don’t go under the same name as in English. Of course, being such a diverse little country, almost each region has their own names for most of the shellfish but, in general, there are names more common than the others so I will be using the ones we use in my region.
My favorite of all is Noah’s arc shellfish, Arca noae or kunjka in Croatian. Probably has to do with the fact that I am used to it since my childhood and the waters around my home town and the entire Pasman channel are filled with these very delicious shellfish.
Very chewy and tasty, this is a very delicious treat! You can dive for it as it lives in shallow waters or buy it from 40 Kn at local fish markets. It seems that it is mostly popular in Zadar – Šibenik area as I rarely sea it on the menus of the restaurants south of Split but I can be mistaken.
And then there are Warty venus sea-shells (that’s an ugly name!). Known as brbavica or šarga where I come from, this is one of the most popular shellfish in Croatia. Delicious! This is a popular shellfish you can find in almost all restaurants
For 80 Kn for a 1kg, this is one of the more expensive shellfish you can get at the fish markets around the country. It lives in the sand and it should be properly cleaned before cooking as you may end up eating more sand than shellfish.
Very popular are scallops.
This shellfish is known as St Jacob’s shell in Croatian or Jakovska kapica and it is considered to be one of the best shellfish available on the market. We usually eat this only at the restaurants and it is rare at the fish markets. Very tasty shellfish and still remember the most amazing recipe served at Pelegrini for us last New Years: Scallops wrapped in bacon (and fried). Unbelievable! But then again, everything with bacon is just delicious. 🙂
And now to something completely rare and “exotic” that very few of the readers ever heard of and let alone tasted: Noble pen shell or periska, lostura in Croatian. Rare and endangered, it should be off the menu for all just like date shells (prstaci) but it can be occasionally available when trawlers pick them up from sand bottoms by accident.
Although it is quite pretty on the outside, the insides are not so appealing. But the taste is excellent! It is usually prepared like the octopus salad.
And then there is Amigdala decussata or vongola or kućica in Croatian. We know it as kunjčica and there were never a sweeter and more tastier shellfish but the ones my aunt just to dig out in the rocky shores of Babac island where my family is from. She used a normal fork and pretty soon, as she was skilled and experienced, she would fill a small pot. A true treat for us kids back in the day… Since there was no power on the island (luckily, still isn’t) we would eat them by the light of an old petroleum lamp.
Usually, we buy all the shellfish at the fish markets in Zadar or Split when we visit. The selection usually varies from mussels, oysters, Noah’s arc… but occasionally, some rare species can be found as well. Since I am one of those people who visits all churches and fish market in every place I go to, I am always on the look out for different and unusual species. Unfortunately, Croatians don’t eat as much seafood as they should so the offers on fish markets are shrinking only to the basic species grown on the farms. Especially now when all major supermarkets are selling frozen fish from all over the world – something I would ban instantly.
Besides shellfish with shells, there are also different species of crabs – if I am using this term correctly. Lobsters, shrimp, scampi… all delicious and highly valued seafood!
Adriatic lobster is in high demand and this past summer it was hard to get a hold of it in high season. The measures towards protecting this delicacy have been taken a while back but we still don’t know what will happen. Particularly popular is the lobster caught around the island of Vis but true connoisseurs know that nearly extinct Kornati lobster was the real deal. It is the same species, of course, but the micro environment of Kornati made this lobster very special! Only one or two families have permissions to catch in the waters of National Park Kornati and the catch is getting smaller and smaller… The scampi of Kvarner bay and Velebit channel are also a known delicacy and something that you should enjoy when in Croatia.
There are numerous other more or less known species of shellfish we enjoy in Croatia but this small overview is just to make you curious (or nostalgic) about the riches of the Adriatic. We do have best seafood in the World, after all (I am never modest about it :)). It is even worth traveling to Croatia for! But, many restaurants are still very basic about preparing the shellfish while very few are taking extra steps and making more than a meal focusing on experience.