Taste of Zagreb
What we mean by „Zagreb cuisine“, including all local customs related to food and drink, boils down to a unique combination of different elements, same as Zagreb's history, as well as its mentality. Instead of searching for 100% native and original, the best advice is to simply enjoy the richness of Zagreb's culinary mosaic, because this is where its authenticity lies.
There’s no doubt about one thing - the people of Zagreb are true gourmands. And they are lucky because the city’s geographic location is to their advantage. Zagreb is surrounded with gentle green countryside which has been feeding it for centuries and supplying with excellent natural ingredients, from fruit and vegetables to dairy, meat and wine, all year round. The most famous specialties actually originate from the rural surroundings. Zagreb’s dishes are a great example of harmony between the city and the village. At the same time, Zagreb is only a couple of hours away from the Adriatic Coast and its extensive selection of seafood. Local delicacies from all parts of Croatia come to Zagreb on a daily basis and make it the country’s main gastronomic showcase.
Historical destiny and position on the intersection of great empires take credit for what Zagreb offers on its menus today. In Zagreb’s cuisine many influences are blended: Austrian, Hungarian, Czech, Mediterranean (mostly Italian), French, Balkan and Turkish. The long period spent in the huge Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had the greatest impact on the local tradition and the contents of a typical Zagreb family meal.
The cuisine of middle-class Zagreb is perfectly outlined in the preserved cookbooks from the 19th century, when the self-aware bourgeois lived well and looked up to their greatest role model - Vienna. However, in spite of many similarities with other major Central European cities, what makes Zagreb’s cuisine and lifestyle special is its Mediterranean flair. The collective habit of sipping your coffee for hours with friends on a sunny terrace of a downtown café is the best example of the southern casualness that easily captivated Zagreb. To put it simple, Zagreb’s winning formula is something like the sum of Slavic soul, Germanic precision and Mediterranean laid-backness.
Travellers know that food markets are often the best starting point for getting familiar with a certain place, and in Zagreb they are at the very heart of the local way of life. Going to the market is a family ritual for many people. Visit Dolac, the central farmers’ market dubbed “Zagreb’s belly”, on a Saturday morning and you will be impressed by colours and smells, but also the lively atmosphere and positive vibrations. Zagrebians love to prepare food for their loved ones and gather around the table.
Holiday and family celebrations start and end over a plate, either in someone’s home, in a restaurant or at popular open-air barbecues. Do-it-yourself policy in the kitchen is not only heritage passed down from parents and grandparents, but also the way of life, from baking Sunday’s cake to making your own pickles for winter.
It’s very rare not to have a master of making sausages, jams, brandies, liqueurs, condiments or pickles - most common pantry items - in your extended family. When assessing the quality of a certain dish, produce or ingredient, you can often hear the catchphrase “domaće je domaće” (meaning “local/homemade is the best”). This simple motto perfectly summarizes the culinary philosophy shared by the citizens of Zagreb and the respect they have for the local tradition. You can also feel it at numerous food and drink related festivals, fairs, festivities and similar events filling Zagreb’s social calendar.
Even though one might say that the people of Zagreb are quite conservative when it comes to food, in the sense they are sometimes too uncompromisingly loyal to tradition and old habits, modern times have slowly been broadening horizons, bringing global trends and novelties. The clash of old and new has been changing the face of local culinary scene and making it exciting. This is most obvious in the wide selection of omnipresent fast food and the increase of ethnic restaurants, but also in the growing interest for wine culture, creative cooking, organic food and artisan products. At the moment, Zagreb is a very exciting destination for a curious gourmand and hedonist seeking new flavours. As the old Croatian saying goes - love travels through the stomach - and the best way to meet Zagreb and get to like it is to sit down and share a meal with Zagrebians.