Even though I joined my Croatian family over 16 years ago, I’m still fumbling my way through quirks and facts of Croatian Culture. I scratch my head at some things, like the effects of the bura wind. I’ll never really understand the complex history of Croatia’s wars, battles, and leaders, but if you have read this Croatian expat and travel blog before, you’ll know I love Croatia deeply.
Updates: 1-Year In Croatia Post – 2-Years In Croatia Post – 5-Years In Croatia Post – 6-Years In Croatia Post – 7-Years In Croatia Post
If you can’t let your hair down, and you don’t like to poke fun at yourself, you may want to close the browser now. You certainly don’t want to read other posts like five reasons not to visit Croatia, and you definitely don’t want to read. You can’t eat, do or say that in Croatia.
Now that the T&C’s are out of the way, I want to share a list of things that you’ll find in many Croatian houses in both Croatia but certainly in the Croatian diaspora communities in Australia and the United States.
I follow an amusing Facebook page that makes me laugh every day. This community of Croatians pokes fun at themselves and their cultural quirks. It was a post last week that inspired this blog post: I laughed so much at what people said that I had to share it with you.
The question was: Name something that you would find in an Australian-Croatian household.
The answers may or may not make you laugh. If you are an Aussie-Cro, you’ll split your pants with laughter as we did.
Skip Ahead To My Advice Here!
Far and away, the most popular answer. What is Vegeta, you may ask? Vegeta is a condiment which is a mixture of spices and various vegetables concocted by Croatian scientist Zlata Bartl in the ’50s.
Croatians add this spice mix to everything – I often joke that I think it gets added to palačinke (Croatian pancakes). Vegeta is used to make chicken soup and is force-fed to you when you’re sick. It is also added on top of baked potatoes, and trust me, and you have never had better-baked potatoes if you have never had Vegeta.
Wooden Spoon Or Šiba
Used for stirring food in most households is a wooden spoon. In a Croat’s house, the wooden spoon is the sign of trouble. If Mama threatens you with the spoon, you better sit up straight, stop making a fuss, and listen. Or else…she’ll whip you with it.
Suppose that is not enough punishment, then how about you go outside to the tree or bush and pluck off your own branch. Called a Šiba (shi-bah), you then have to hand it to your parents for them to whack you with it…Šiba me timbers.
My baby donkey just turned two, and it seems that two is the acceptable age here in Croatia to start making those threats. I am still not sure if I’ll pick one up or not…
Ajme! Imagine the grief you’d get if you forgot the 457689065 Saints days we have to remember? Saint. Simeon would be sure to tell his cousin (Our Lord) up above if we failed to pay our respects.
On a deeper note, if you were without your Catholic calendar, how the heck would you remember to cook that pig on a spit for Velika Gospa? That would be what we call katastrofa!
Brands We Use And Trust
The Deadly Wind Known As Propuh
Wind will make you sick. You can be sure of that, and if you doubt me check this out.
Old Man Slippers Or Papuče
Due to the aforementioned items that will kill you. It’s mandatory to wear these inside. AT. ALL. TIMES. Yes, even in summer.
I’ll be honest and say I loved my red pair (shown below) when they were gifted to me. Not sure what happened to them or why I have not purchased another pair. Maybe this winter I should!
A Bottle Of Rakija Adorned With A Croatian Flag
Well, actually, rakija comes in many types of bottles—especially the kinds of recycled bottles, such as a Jamnica or Jana. But yes-oh-yes, Croatian’s do love their flag (more on that later), and you will often find it on a bottle of rakija.
Lots Of Swearing
While not technically something IN THE HOUSE. Croatian houses are not the place you want to be if you don’t like foul language. Curses that will defy sense and make your head spin, many like this list of Croatian swear words here and a godawful list here.
Last Supper Tapestry or Painting
Don’t judge me for including this. I am a proud Catholic, and I love Jesus. I just have no clue how or what started this trend, but it’s the truth. Every single Croatian household (okay, maybe 90%) has a tapestry of the last supper. Or, at the very minimum, a print of the Last Supper.
The decorations take many long, tedious hours to complete and are then added to very expensive frames and hung proudly on the wall – often over the sofa lounge for the whole world to admire.
Pictures, Plates, Prints & Paintings Of Home
This one, I understand. The diaspora communities long to be ‘home,’ back where their families are and back to the places of their childhoods. In an effort to re-create the feelings of years gone by and to pay homage to the little town, village or island, they adorn their ‘new home’ with pictures, plates, prints & paintings of their slice of home.
Take my mother-in-law; she has a huge ( by massive, I mean 1.5 meters by 1 meter) aerial photo of Zadar hanging above the lounge. You can’t miss it; there it is to slap you in the face. Long live Zadar!
Religious Statues And Rosary Beads
As if the huge Last Supper tapestry was not enough to ensure your commitment to your faith, each Croatian household must have a religious statue – or five. Usually with the rosary beads dangling from Mary’s neck, draping onto the table like some rap star. There’ll also be a little made-in-China trinket from Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I write this blog entry in jest and hope you (and Mary) still love me.
Other very popular statues and photos are, of course, of Jesus’s face, the Crucifixion, the disciples, and Pope John Paul II. More recently, old John’s face has been replaced with Pope Benedict XVI, and infrequently Pope Francis.
True story, the house we are renting, till we finish building our own, has no less than seven paintings, prints, and crosses around our furnished apartment, including the pope featuring twice.
A Whole Lamb (Or Pig), Complete With Head
Croatian’s love a spit roast. Called a Ražanj they feature at Christmas, on Boxing Day, Easter, Australia Day, Queens Birthday, engagement parties, post-wedding functions, oh heck even just an ordinary Saturday get-together!
I know; I had one at my very small an intimate engagement party of 120 people. We all crammed into my in-law’s concrete-filled backyard like sardines. Eagerly awaiting for that piggy to stop turning were 60 men. While the women prepared salads, set tables, and served drinks, the children played, watching their fathers, brothers, uncles, and sons discussing the fine art of cooking a spit roast.
“Take it off now,” says one bloke.
“Not yet,” says another. It’s not yet ready.
“Još malo,” screams one uncle.
“If you take it off now, we’ll all die of food poisoning; that thing must be cooked right through,” says the oldest man of the bunch.
Meanwhile, the roast keeps turning. The men keep guessing where more coals should be added. Then finally, it’s done, and all everybody wants is to be able to tear off the crispy crackling.
Grb & Flag Anything
Proud and in your face! Croatians abroad love the Grb and flag. (Grb is the checkered coat of arms). I don’t think I have been to ANY house where I have not been served coffee in incy wincy tiny cups that were either decorated with the Grb or Croatian Flag.
Tissue boxes, hip flasks, cushions, t-shirts, hats, phone covers, you name it. A Croat stuck the red and white checks on it and made a pile of cash selling it to the proud diaspora. Ourselves included that we had a pair of Croatian boxing gloves dangling from the rear vision mirror back in Australia.
Usually, the kind known to many as “Turkish coffee.” Served in the above-mentioned teeny cups.
Yeah, we have one. I purchased a Tamburica for Mr. Chasing the Donkey for his birthday before we left Australia. He used it a handful of times, and now it collects dust in the corner.
My dreams of being the wife of a great Tamburaš are now shattered.
There are hundreds of excellent wines in Croatia, but you don’t need them if you know someone who can make it. Snuck in through customs (sorry, customs it still happens) via innocent-looking Baba’s or brewed in illegal labs in the backyard. Either way, Croatian’s know how to make good wine.
You find this in bags, jars, and containers all year-round in a house of a Croat. It’s served as a side-dish to a slice of pork and a glass of Pošip wine. Last year, here in Croatia, we learned how to make Kiseli Kupus – oh man, was it yummy.
More Food Than You’Ll Ever Need
Did you say someone was coming over for dinner? No, Ohh well, why then are there two main meals, bread, cakes, and a bowl of never-ending sweets at the table?
Croatian houses are always full of food. You’ll find Mama or Baba in the kitchen with an apron and flour all over the place. Even if you just ate a roast pig, you still need something else to offer your guests (even the guests that are not confirmed to show up). The table will be stacked with:
- Stuffed peppers
- Endless bowls of chicken noodle soup
- Black risotto
- Slanina & kobasice
- Sweets and cakes of all kinds…
- An assortment of pršut, cold cuts, paprika and cheeses and if you are super lucky
- A massive Bessemer pot full of sarme.
- Everything will be covered in olive oil. Bonus point if the olive oil was snuck over from Croatia in a Jamnica bottle…
To be sure that you never run out of food, there will always be a second fridge AND a freezer combo in the garage stocked full. Just in case someone decides to pop-in unexpectedly (and they do!)
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Was there a Croatian salesman selling these at some point? Made to last, these pots are still found all over the country, in all of their orange glory. I don’t know any Croatian member of my husband’s family who does not own a set…
These are just a simple pancake-crepe-like sweet. Nothing fancy, but every Croatian homemaker makes these in VERY LARGE stacks. I am guessing made in a Bessemer frying pan. And when you add the Croatian Podravka jam on top, these palačinke don’t last long.
My record is 5 in a row. How many have you eaten?
Other critical notable items found in Croatian houses are:
Anything Podravka, Maraska & Kraš
Famous, even infamously, are the brands of Podravka and Kraš, which bring you food like napolitanke, ajvar, rosehip jam, and as we already discovered Vegeta. I have sampled many Kraš items and reported on my top 5 Kraš picks.
Maraska is better known for cordials, cherry brandy, and the foul-tasting pelinkovac!
Last but not least are the cards I cant understand. Briscola cards originated in Italy (I think, feel free to leave corrections in the comments below), and I hate them.
I can’t understand how to play it. And when I see the boys playing this game, I can’t for the life of me figure out why they are twitching, raising their eyebrows, and doing all kinds of weird stuff with their tongues—some kind of creepy man code.
There you have it—some of the items the Croatian diaspora community has in their Croatian houses.
What is missing? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll add it in.
Learn Croatian Online
We’ve been taking weekly Croatian language Skype lessons for some time now with our teacher, who provides an excellent service. She is currently taking on new students, so if you’re interested in learning or improving your Croatian, now is the time.
Learning Croatian one-on-one with a language teacher via Skype. You can learn at your own pace, you have the flexibility of taking the lessons in the comfort of your own home, and you have your very own teacher to help you along the way.