August 15, 2010

Vegetarian Travels to Zagreb: Štrukli and a Piece of Cake

Zagreb finds itself on the crossroads of the Eastern and Western, coastal and inland, traditional and international influences which are all felt in the city gastronomy as well: Austro-Hungarian passion for pasty and baking combined with an Eastern take on it results in both strudels and bureks receiving their following, Mediterranean-inspired fine dining goes side by side with the family-run konobas serving the hearty fare, local take on pasta called štrukli successfully competes with Italian fettuccine or Chinese rice noodles. Vegetarian travelers, get ready: you will be neither be starving nor surviving on the staples in Zagreb and here is how.

Prepare yourself for a simple yet delicious meal: most of the restaurants in Zagreb will try to take best of the available seasonal ingredients which definitely shows in the quality of their food. As a vegetarian you would often find satisfying to order a cheese plate that features best local cheeses, including the famous Pag cheese that is made on the island of Pag and owes its distinctive sharp flavour to the milk of the sheep pasturing on the salty grounds of the island exposed to the northern bora wind. Another vegetarian starter would be one of the seasonal salads - try Šopska salata made of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and white cheese. For the main dish you should sample štrukli, or baked sheets of pasta with cottage cheese and cream. Grilled vegetables and vegetable Italian fare including pasta, pizza and risotto - this is how far the attempts of the local eateries to cater to the vegetarians go. As a rule of thumb you should stay away from the touristy areas as good restaurants in Zagreb like in many other cities in Croatia tend to clutter off the key tourists landmarks. True gems should be searched for - and found!

Croatia 2010. Zagreb

Nova, Ilica 72/1. The only vegan restaurant in town and would probably be hard to market as such in the capital of the meat-eating Croatia. So the place comes under the concept of macrobiotic food which is a big buzz in Croatia right now. The menu is vegan with strong Asian influence and features a set of balanced nutritious dishes based on legumes, vegetables, rice noodles, tofu and seitan. They also have a selection of Yogi tea and refreshing house ice-tea with a slice of lemon. Organic beer and wine are  served. The dining here is not really cheap but the ambiance is rather tranquil with 30-40 something health-conscious crowd enjoying their meals and conversations. To complete the package there is a macrobiotic food shop downstairs and a yoga studio nearby. Closed on Sunday.

Ivica i Marica (Hansel and Gretel Restaurant), Tkalčićeva 70. From the first sight it looks like a piece of Bavaria with dark wooden furniture in a wooden cottage house. This feel is only accentuated by the English version of the restaurant name. By don't get discouraged by the looks - they do very decent vegetarian salads, pasta and štrukli. Homemade raspberry juice is a highlight. The place proudly announces itself as the only restaurant with the certified organic food in Zagreb. Great deserts and excellent service.

Zinfandels, Mihanovićeva 1 (Regent Esplanade Hotel). This finest of the fine dining places in Zagreb has a limited vegetarian selection but you will never regret going for this gastronomic pampering. Expect a symphony of flavours, shapes and textures boldly combined and creatively served in the quantities that are right to appreciate the taste and get ready for the new one. The chef from Malta is doing wonders with the Mediterranean cuisine: buffalo heart tomatoes souffle, corn crisps with sesame, goat cheese panna cotta with peppered raspberries and olive oil ice-cream are just a few of the specialties. The wine list is excellent too. Topped by the outstanding service and experienced waiters this place becomes so heavenly that you'll forgive them for not being really a vegetarian sanctum.
La Bistro, Mihanovićeva 1 (Regent Esplanade Hotel). It's an elegant Parisian bistro with the Art Nouveau and Art Deco stylized interiors. It has much simpler dining than Zinfandels but you will still enjoy French classics as well as the regional and seasonal specialties. Le Bistro does arguably the best štrukli in the country and French desserts of mousse-au-chocolat and tarte-aux-pommes are just superb.

While Zagreb may boast some of the Croatia's finest eateries eating out is still not a common practice here: you will see lots of locals hanging out for a coffee outside but most of their meals will stills be cooked and eaten at home. Private accommodation is a popular choice among the travelers to Zagreb and the local offering is substantial which makes self-catering a rather viable option and vegetarian travelers specifically will have a blast with self-catering in Zagreb. When choosing a flat make sure it is strategically located next to a good farmer's market or a supermarket.

Dolac Market, North of Jelacic Trg. Even if you have intention to do self-catering when you find yourself in the middle of the food stalls in Dolac you'd embrace the idea totally. Join the local crowd of the fashionista women in summer dresses and hats and fathers of the families getting off a tram at the Jelacic Square in the early morning  and marching with their trolleys to the legendary Dolac market. The fruit and vegetable stalls are over the steps from the flower section; here you will also see cheese vendors with a variety of home-made cheeses (sir) of various ripeness from cheep and goat milk as well as sour cream (kiselo vrhnje) and cottage cheese (svjezi sir). For more diary products as well as honey and herbs head down to the covered market underneath the stalls; there you will also find there a wealth of the bakeries which are located amidst the butchers' stalls - the market planners obviously had no vegetarian sentiments. While browsing through the stall you will get lots of encouraging smiles and "Izvolite?" ("yes, please", "what would you like to get?") from the vendors yet be sure to look around for prices and quality, touch and possibly sample before you start amassing brown paper bags with the day freshest produce. Open daly, 7 am - 3 pm.

Fruit and Vegetable Market at Britansky Trg is a mini-version of the Dolac market that turns into a busy flea market on Sundays. You will likely to get the same variety as in Dolac - just that you will have less choice in quality and prices. Open daly, 7 am - 3 pm.

Konzum Supermarkets (Some of the centrally located stores include Trg Kralja Tomislava 12; Petrinjska, 38; Trg A. Starčevića bb). The largest chain in Croatia where you find most of the packaged food you may fancy. I recommend exploring the diary section with abundance of sour milk products, dry nuts and fruits, as well as cheeses. When everything else is far away or closed their counter with salads and bakery and a fruit section will come to rescue and feed your vegetarian hunger.

You should totally take advantage of the flourishing baking traditions and stop by a pekarna for a strudel that is much more hearty than its Austrian brother: stuffed with fruits, berries, cheese or poppy seeds (or sometimes all the listed!) they make a power snack. Beyond many recognizable items you may also spot gibanice, a pie that may feature up to nine (!) layers of assorted stuffing. Also check out paprenjaci - pepper bscuits made with honey, walnuts and black pepper - a Christmas treat that could be found throughout the year though. For a more substantial snack that comes in between the morning coffee and lunch in the afternoon the locals head out to a shop selling bureks, a layered filo dough pastry stuffed with meat or cheese, the dish found in the countries that had experienced the Ottoman rule at some point. (bakery) for a freshly baked bite. Zagorie region is famous for its baked goodies!

Croatia 2010. Zagreb

Croatia 2010. Zagreb

Dinara Bakery, Ilica 71; Dolac Market. There is a chance you will get stuck while choosing a baked goodie as the selection is mind-blowing. Some of the suggestions to help you navigate the variety: Zlevanka – a flat cake made from corn meal mixed with cream and fresh cheese, Bučnica – filo pastry with pumpkin, Saftkorn – a yeast-free rye bread with a sweet taste and a bio-yogurt bread. 

Burek, Trznica Mala Terasa Dolac 2. If a short menu is a sign of a good eatery than this place is uber-good because its menu is ultimately short: burek with meat and burek with cheese. Ah, and you could have a glass of yogurt, that's it. The locals religiously stop by the place en route to Dolac and just passing by and by the happy faces of the leaving clients you could say that you have not gone wrong either.

Daily Fresh Gourmet Food & Coffee (Maksimirska 3, Frana Petrica 1, Massarukova 23). This food chain brings to Zagreb the concept of an easy-going international urban dining. It  features many options for breakfast, snack and light lunch: honest pastry and cakes, salads, sandwiches and pies of all nationalities, fresh juices and coffee. They also have a wonderful ice-cream at the outside counter. 

Sweets and Deserts
Slastičarna, or literally a sweets shop, has an important place in the Zagreb gastronomy scene: it's a place to pumper your kid or a friend, take a break from shopping, stop by before heading home after the day in town and pick up some sweets for the family and on any occasion or without any - treat yourself to a cone of ice-cream. The traditional ones tend to have an ice-cream counter front and marble decorum. Here you can eat cake and ice cream, drink coffee, soft drinks and sometimes alcohol; confectionary shops often tend to be non-smoking places. You can't go wrong with any cake or pastry here but make sure to try kremšnite, or "cream slice", a vanilla and custard cream cake. Don'r refuse the glass of water you will be offered with any order - sweet is really sweet here.

Vincek, Ilica 18. The city's favorite place for ice-cream features a plethora of flavors and has been catering to the happy customers for over twenty years.  You can get takeway, eat by a stand or take a seat and enjoy the same offering in the cafe settings inside. 

Centar, Jurišićeva 24. Some swear by its ice-cream - check out if you will be converted too.

Kavana, or a coffee shop, will probably be the first type of a food-n-drink related institution you will get to see in Zagreb. You will soon find out though that these places have very little to do with food and drink and are much more about socializing, pastime and people watching. It is a place where you go in the morning to order a cup of black coffee with ice-cold water to have over a newspaper or in the late afternoon to chat with a friend. There is usually lots of smoking attached to the ritual so beware. Kavana will have a selection of coffee, bottled beverages, ice-cream and maybe a limited selection of cakes. Unfortunately, fresh juices and milk shakes are rare. There are so many coffee shops throughout the town that you may pick one just based on the color and style of the chairs which seem to be the most differentiating feature of theirs. The most happening streets packed with the coffee shops are Gajeva with classy cafes, respectable public and street musicians (what about the Pink Panter soundtrack played on a saw?)  and Tkalčićeva  with more eclectic easy-going places.

2 Responses to Vegetarian Travels to Zagreb: Štrukli and a Piece of Cake:

Tali said...

Strukli is my all time favourite Croatian pudding (it can be a main but many of us put sugar on it and call it desert).. but i like the boiled version better!! My mum however would give up her arm for a baked on like in your photo!

Olga Tikhonova said...

Seriously, I was so thrilled to find out what the whole deal was about with this strukli thing)

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