If you’re only in Croatia for a few days and you’ll be dining out frequently, you may not need to go grocery shopping. But chances are, you’ll do some shopping at some point, even if it’s just to grab some snacks for the beach. Shopping for groceries isn’t something we normally think about too much when preparing for a trip, but just like anything else, each country has its own unwritten food shopping rules and customs. True, you’re not really expected to know the drill, but if you want to feel a little less like a tourist while at the grocery store, read on.
Food shopping itself doesn’t present many challenges: as you’d expect, you just wander around, tossing things that look good into your basket. Just about the only tricky thing you’ll encounter (besides not knowing exactly what you’re buying because you can’t read Croatian) is having to weigh your own fruits and vegetables. Basically, you set your produce on a scale and punch in the item number listed on the price tag. If you did everything right, the machine will spit out a label for you to attach to your produce. It’s usually better to buy your fruits and vegetables at an outdoor market, but in a pinch, grocery store produce will do.
In the checkout lane
This is where things get interesting. In general, cashiers at grocery and convenience stores in Croatia don’t like to make change. If you hand over a 200 HRK bill for an item that costs, say, 15 HRK, your cashier will likely grumble at you, and she’ll probably ask if you have anything smaller.
Don’t surrender all of your small change, though. Having some on hand is essential for smaller purchases, such as coffee or fresh veggies from the open-air market.
Kuna are further divided into lipa, and cashiers really love it when you have lipa to give them. But don’t waste your time digging through coinage you’re unfamiliar with. Instead, do as the locals do! They either open up their coin purses or hold out all of their change in an open palm and let the cashiers pick out the correct amount.
Do be aware that sometimes, cashiers round up the amount due, so they may not give (or take) the correct amount of lipa, but most people don’t complain because there isn’t much you can do with these small coins. If, however, you are partial to your lipa, just ask and you will get every last cent back.
Of course, at most grocery stores, particularly the larger chains, you can pay with a credit card. But managing to break a big bill and get rid of some lipa always feels like a small victory.
Don’t just stand there — bag something
Like in most European countries, in Croatia you are expected to bag your own groceries. Sometimes the cashier will automatically give you a couple of bags. Sometimes you have to request bags. Often, you will have a choice between smaller, free bags or large bags that you have to purchase.
Scanning and bagging groceries is not a leisurely event in Croatia. You don’t chitchat with your cashier; you don’t have time to watch the screen to make sure she is ringing everything up correctly. Instead, you position yourself at the end of the checkout lane, and she efficiently scans and chucks your items toward you while you unskillfully fumble with fused-together plastic bags and grope for your wallet.
But there’s a much better system. (Take it from someone who has held up the line one too many times.) While waiting in line, ready your method of payment and stick it in an easily accessible pocket. Then, strategically place your groceries on the belt: heavy stuff first, fragile stuff last. This will make bagging easier. Seems obvious, right? But if you don’t often bag your own groceries, it may never have occurred to you. Now, you’re ready to throw items into your bag as soon as they come tumbling toward you. When asked to pay, you can easily hand over your card or cash. And then you’re out of there and back to sightseeing.
Where to shop
Konzum is the largest grocery store chain in Croatia, with locations on almost every corner. Other large chains include Lidl with over 70 stores around Croatia that can be found on our map, Billa, Interspar, and Mercator. All of these stores sell fresh produce, baked goods, and deli meats and cheeses, along with basics such as milk, canned goods, and pasta. Interspar sells a good selection of gluten-free foods.
bio&bio is a health-food chain that offers vegan, vegetarian, whole grain, and gluten-free products.
DM drugstores sell a small selection of natural foods, soy products, and gluten-free snacks.