Gastronomy (in Croatia)

Croatian cuisine is a cuisine of regions, reflecting Croatian geography, history and culture.Croatia ’s turbulent history,  caused by its unique geopolitical position, is also evident in its dishes, which combine different eras: the ancient Greeks grew grapes on the islands of Vis and Hvar;the Hungarians brought goulash and paprikash (meat stew), the Turks left sarma (stuffed sauerkraut rolls), stuffed green peppers and rolled dough, while the Italians left their trace in various kinds of pasta.

Cookery books

A history of bestselling books attests to the interest shown over the centuries in Croatia ’s cuisine: its cookery books. A Newly Compiled Zagreb Cookery Book Divided into Six Parts with 554 Instructions on How to Prepare a Variety of Dishes, Translated from German into Croatian is considered to be the first Croatian cookery book; it was written in the kajkavian dialect in 1813 by Zagreb Canon Ivan Birling.Recipes were also noted by many writers, starting with Marko Marulić, the father of Croatian literature, followed by Petar Hektorović and Marin Držić.Towards the end of the 18th century, Varaždin county doctor Ivan Krstitelj Lalangue wrote The Potato: the Apple of the Earth with the first recipes written in the kajkavian dialect.A writer and Zagreb city councillor, Đuro Deželić, published  A Croatian Cookery Book, or Instructions on How to Prepare a Variety of Meals in 1868, and later on Marija Kumičić wrote A New Zagreb Cookery Book. In this century, and particularly after World War Two, that practice was very successfully followed by Mira Vučetić.Today, the most prominent advocates of Croatian cuisine are in a group around Ivanka Biluš whose interest is focused exclusively on national cuisine, as witnessed by the titles of their cookery books Croatian Dishes in a Modern Way, Sweets–Croatian Style and the monograph Croatia at Table.

Regional Cuisines

The main feature of Croatian cuisine is great variety in a small area.A single type of Croatian cuisine does not exist because each Croatian region has »its own« cuisine.Basically, we can distinguish two types of Croatian cuisine: continental and Mediterranean.

Continental types of cooking include the cuisines of Slavonia and Baranja, characterized by simple but ample dishes rich in calories, and Međimurje and Zagorje cuisines, featuring comparatively smaller amounts of a wide assortment of ingredients prepared in a more imaginative way.Scanty in both the amount of food and means of preparation, yet very healthy,  are the cuisines of Lika and Gorski Kotar, which represent a transition between continental and Mediterranean cuisine which, because of the short cooking time–mainly boiling–of ingredients and because of an abundance of fish, vegetables and olive oil, has become a worldwide trend in modern nutritional science.

Many are confused by Istrian cuisine: it differs in the coastal regions, where it is based on fish, from that of the heart of the peninsula.Soft, pink Istrian prosciutto, olives, and shellfish,  particularly mussels from the Lim Channel, are greatly appreciated.Another favourite is posutice , a type of pasta served with various side dishes, salted pilchards, for example,  or chicken, or venison stew.Istrian tr ffles are well–known and are prepared in a number of ways;other specialties include fried eggs with asparagus or black bryony, maneštra , a thick soup of corn, fennel, chickpeas and barley porridge, and winter maneštra with beans and cabbage, called jota .Istrian turkeys are highly appreciated today.Istrian wines, such as Malvazija,  Teran, Merlot and Borgonja, are excellent.The famous Istrian supa , or soup, is made with wine. 

The mountainous Gorski Kotar and Lika regions have very similar cuisines.Local specialities are lamb (cooked or roasted on the spit), potato halves, sauerkraut and various types of cow ’s milk, sheep ’s milk and mixed cheeses, particularly in Lika (basa and škripavac ).The mountain rivers provide good fish (trout from the Gacka River)and the forests abound in game (Gorski Kotar dormouse).Lika slivovitz, or plum brandy, is also typical. 

Dalmatian and coastal cuisines are basically very similar to the cuisine in the coastal parts of Istria.Dishes which come highly–recommended are brodetto, or fish stew,  roast gilthead with chard,  scampi on the vine grill, lobster fisherman style, boiled scorpion fish, scampi stew, squid stuffed with prosciutto and rice, black and white seafood risotto, and octopus salad.The Adriatic Sea yields specialities such as Noah ’s arks, mussels and other shellfish, while dried codfish from the northern seas, prepared in various ways such as al bianco or with potatoes, is traditionally eaten on Good Friday and on Christmas Eve.Pilchards are the most frequent blue fish, eaten grilled or salted in oil.Pasta,  most often eaten with tomato sauce or in soups, is seasoned with wild herbs and spices.(Marco Polo,  who brought pasta to Italy from China, is believed to have been born on the island of Korčula.)Also highly valued are cooked lamb, lamb soup,  tomato soup, and thick vegetable soups (Dubrovnik green manistra), pašticada, or a veal sauce , with gnocchi, and beans with pasta.In the Dalmatian hinterland known as Zagora, dishes such as kaštradina, or dried mutton soup with vegetables, and arambašići or japraci, minced meat rolled in vine leaves or chard, reveal that the region once bordered Ottoman T rkey.Eels and frogs in brodetto are very popular in the Neretva River valley, while people living along the Cetina River enjoy simple dishes made from frogs.

Island cuisine.Unique amongst the island cuisines are those of Vis (pogača , a round unleavened flat cake, is made on Vis and Komiža and is similar to pizza), Korčula, Hvar (roast octopus,  honey biscuits and wines made from ancient indigenous sorts of grapes such as prč ), Krk, and Pag (sheep cheese).Dalmatian prosciutto is very hard and distinctly red and should be eaten in a traditional tavern with cheese and olives.The most popular drinks are grape and herb–flavo red brandies, sherry and wines such as Dingač, Postup, Babić, Žlahtina,  Vgava, Pošip,  Maraština, Malvazija and Grk. 

Međimurje cuisine is best known for buckwheat, which can be eaten as porridge with duck or goose or put in blood 109 sausages (locally called black sausages)and soups.In no other region can so many kinds of štrukli , or strudel, be found;these are made not only from cheese, but also from buckwheat,  potato,  pumpkin,  walnuts,  poppy,  nettles and apples.Soups are prepared in imaginative ways but those like clear beef soup and chicken soup are very similar to the soups made in Podravina,  Prigorje,  Zagorje,  Moslavina,  Turopolje and Posavina.Very popular are thick vegetable soups, which are light in summer (pumpkin, cucumbers,  peas, runner beans and potato)and heavy and calorie–filled in winter (sauerkraut with beans, sour turnip with beans, and sarma ), which used to be prepared on important occasions and are now usually cooked with dried pork hocks, sausages or ribs.Like corn mush (usually eaten with milk, greaves, beans and cabbage), today they are being rediscovered as tasty dishes. Highly praised is the Zagorje turkey with mlinci , or browned dough.Specialities with beans and potato are common.

Some specialties of the low–lying areas are grilled carp, smoked or dried fish which is then cooked or roasted, and game goulash; but no special occasion is complete without a suckling pig, as in the past nothing could go without pickled, dried and roast pork. The best known sweets are Zagorje pumpkin pie with poppy seeds, and various types of pies and leavened cakes made of cheese, walnuts, poppy seeds and plum jam.

Typical drinks are strong brandies and wines (unfortunately often mixed with mineral water), such as Graševina, Rhine Riesling, Kraljevina, Moslavac, Škrlet, Frankovka and Portugizac.

The cuisine of Zagreb has developed from the heritage of several regional continental styles of cooking and is linked with central European cuisine, particularly Viennese and Hungarian. It is characterized by the once–common and now neglected seasonal vegetable soups (beans, beans and cabbage, turnip with cabbage, barley groats), goulash and paprikash (beef stew with wine or beef, game–style)with pasta, roast meat (turkey with mlinci , suckling pig), cooked meat (particularly beef with tomato or horse–radish sauce), freshwater or saltwater fish, excellent bread and rolls, and sweets (cream cakes, apple, cheese or pumpkin strudels, pies, ring cake, walnut and poppy rolls, etc.).

Zagreb has a long tradition of coffee houses.Popular spirits are brandies, liqueurs, French cognacs and cocktails, while wines include those characteristic of northwestern Croatia, such as Graševina, Rhine Riesling, Kraljevina, Frankovka and Portugizac, as well as slightly stronger Dalmatian wines.

The Slavonia and Baranja cuisines are very similar, with a lot of seasonings (sweet and hot red pepper and garlic) being used, particularly in the northern and eastern parts.Their specialities include simple dishes with an abundance of ingredients–goulash, meat stew and fish paprikash (freshwater fish from the rivers Danube, Drava, Sava and Mura), and cold cuts–smoked ham, cured bacon, sausages and kulen (a paprika–flavoured sausage), served with cottage or dried cheese, onions and pickled vegetables.Cakes are often made from wheat flour and yeast and filled with walnuts, poppy, cheese or plum jam.Slavonian plum brandy is light, and the most popular wines are Graševina, Rhine Riesling, Chardonnay, Green Silvanac, Zwegelt and White Pinot.

Foodstuffs

A wide variety of cuisines is the result of different farm crops being cultivated with great care because agriculture, the food industry and tourism are considered strategic branches of the Croatian economy.

Cereals .The most widely used cereal, corn, has been replaced over the last few decades by wheat, while the once–widespread barley and rye have gained currency lately because of the growing demand for more organic foodstuffs.Bread has always played an important role in nutrition and there is a tradition of baking high–quality bread from wheat flour or, particularly in the continental areas, from wheat flour mixed with corn, rye or barley, and various types of breadrolls, while particularly popular are pasta and cakes.The most frequent side dish is rice, which is exclusively imported.

Meat .The Croats like meat, and although the most popular dish is suckling pig or lamb on the spit, they most often eat pork and young beef or veal, while the most widely consumed varieties of poultry are chicken, roast goose and duck.In the last century poultry, and particularly goose liver, from the low–lying regions of Posavina, Podravina, Međimurje and Slavonia was exported to Western Europe.Highly appreciated are Adriatic fish, crabs and shellfish, while freshwater fish and game have only recently regained popularity.Also popular are traditional meat products such as prosciutto in Dalmatia and Istria, kulen in Slavonia and Baranja, cured bacon throughout the country, and pork knuckles, smoked garlic–flavoured salami and blood sausages in the lowlands.

Dairy products .The developed livestock industry offers a variety of delicious milk products.Cattle breeding in the continental areas boasts cottage cheese which is used for preparing various dishes, and may also be dried or smoked (turoši in Međimurje, prge in Podravina, basa and škripavac in Lika).Sheep are raised in Lika, Zagora, along the coast and on the islands, and sheep ’s cheese such as that from Pag and Dubrovnik can match the world ’s most famous cheeses.

Fats .The continental regions most often use cooking oil obtained from sunflower seeds, rape and maize.The use of lard is still common while clarified butter is very rarely consumed. On the other hand, the coastal regions prefer green and black olives and olive oil.Black pumpkin oil for salad is greatly appreciated, particularly in Međimurje.

Vegetables .The most common vegetable is the potato, followed by beans, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and lattuce.Because of the mild climate on the coast, fresh leafy greens, such as chard, are available almost year round.People in the continental areas are more skilful in food preservation, particularly in pickling and salting (cabbage, turnip, peppers, cucumbers, beetroot).The same applies to fruit, which was once cooked or dried, but nowadays, as with vegetables, it is frozen and used in the preparation of a large number of dishes, not just desserts.

Fruit .Plums are especially popular.Famous plum brandy is made in continental Croatia;cherries are used for making cherry brandy, known in the Zadar area as maraschino.Inhabitants of Samobor use must (young wine)and spices to make vermouth,  which is called berm t locally;in southern Croatia preference is given to sherry, while bitter herbal liqueurs are popular in all parts of the country.Unfortunately, the traditions of northwestern Croatia, which preserve ancient Slav roots, are dying out.They include beekeeping and church feasts with mead. Aromatic herbs are often added to grape brandy and marc to produce herb–flavoured brandy.

Wild herbs and mushrooms occupy a special place in Croatian gastronomy.In spring, people in continental Croatia enjoy salads made of dandelion leaves, while Istrians or Dalmatians relish wild asparagus.Istrian soil conceals truffles, while the continental regions are strewn with hundreds of species of mushroom, the most popular being agaric and field mushrooms.Women from the islands of Korčula or Kornati can prepare a simple meal with a mixture of about 40 varieties of herbs.The most famous Croatian food trademark, Vegeta , arose from the tradition of growing, picking, and drying aromatic herbs (of the cultivated herbs, the most common are used as spices: parsley, celery, ayenne pepper and onion, while the most common wild herbs are bay leaves and rosemary). It is something of an oddity that the last witch in medieval Zagreb was burnt for imitating saffron.Spice routes used by aravans of traders have been known since ancient times.They were used, for example, to transport fresh sea fish to the Zrinski family in Cakovec.According to recipes left by diocesan  confectioner Alojz Šenoa, pineapples were delivered to Zagreb by those routes in the last  century.Unfortunately, dogrose berries are used less and less often for making jam and chamomile, wild rose, raspberries, blackberries, lime and other plants for tea.However, imported coffee is very popular, and is prepared either Turkish–style, or as Italian espresso and Viennese kaputziner.

Viticulture and Wine

Croatia is experiencing a revival of viticulture, which has been present here since ancient times.In the continental regions it was spread by the Romans (e.g.the name of the Moslavina region originates from Mons Claudius, or Claudius ’hills, because it was planted with grapevines on the emperor ’s orders). Some indigenous grape varieties on the islands of Hvar and Vis have retained Greek names.Numerous toponyms from Istria to Baranja (Novi Vinodolski, Vinagora, etc.) bear witness to the well–developed viticulture.There are not many countries that can boast such a variety of wines. Croatia is officially divided into two viticultural regions, according to climatic features and variety of grape; these regions are further divided into subregions and wine–growing areas.Continental Croatia covers the subregions and wine–growing areas of Zagorje, Međimurje, Prigorje, Plešivica, Pokuplje, Moslavina, Bilogora, Podravina, Slavonija and Podunavlje, while the coastal region includes Istria and the northern Adriatic, northern Dalmatia, the Dalmatian hinterland known as Zagora, and central and southern Dalmatia. Croatia produces nearly 700 registered wines, among them a dozen premium varietals, such as Malvazija and Hrvatica rose from Buje; Muscatel Ottonel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Porec; Teran from Buzet, Žlahtina from Vrbnik, Babic from Primošten, Bugava from Vis, Plavac from Bol, Faros, Plavac Ivan Dolac (Sviree), Golden Plavac (Vitis, Jelsa), Bogdanjuša (Planeia), Postup Donja Banda, Dingac and Pošip (Smokvica) (all from Korcula), and Grk from Lumbar.Other well–known wines are Portugizac (Režek), Rhine Riesling (Jambrovic), Chardonnay (Tomac) and Green Silvanac (Bolta) from Jastrebarsko; Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon and Predikanta, Sauvignon (Lebara), Yellow Muscatel (Židov) from Štrigovo;Chardonnay (Lovrec) and Muscatel Ottonel (Matanovic) from Urban, Champagne (Turk), Rhine Riesling and Grey Pinot from Božjakovina; White Pinot (Jarec) from Sveti Ivan Zelina; Rhine Riesling (Kos) from Hrnjci;White Pinot and Škrlet from Moslavina; Graševina, Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling and established wines from Kutjevo;Rhine Riesling and Graševina (Enjingija), Graševina (Krauthaker), aromatic Traminac (Miličević), green Silvanac and Frankovka from Orahovica; Rhine Riesling, Ilok Traminac and Chardonnay from Vukovar;Graševina Pajzoš from Ilok; Tranava Traminac from Đakovo; Mandićevac Graševina and Mandiceva White Pinot from Đakovo. Tourism is directly linked with gastronomy, viticulture and the wine business.With small vintners gaining prominence, wine–related events are being organized, such as Martinmas and Vincekovo;wine cellars (the oldest and most interesting are in Zagreb, e.g.Vinium, Bornstein and Le Gout); and wine routes, of which those in Moslavina (Kutina), Prigorje (Zelina) and Zagorje (Plemenšcina) have a certain amount of success. Wine routes in Plešivica, Istria (Buje) and Međimurje have recently been set up while the establishment of those in Pelješac and Slavonia (Požega valley) is under way.

Customs

Many Croatian customs are associated with food and drink.It is hard to imagine a harvest without mature kulen and a good wine, or grape–picking and pig–slaughtering occasions without a good brandy, or a must christening at Martinmas without a roast goose with chestnuts.In Mediterranean Croatia, one cannot fast without codfish, Christmas is known for sarma and turkey (with mlinci in Zagorje, buckwheat porridge in Međimurje), the New Year for a suckling pig, and Easter for baked ham.Many toasts, such as »May God grant you as many years as there are drops of wine, «express a true gratitude for the fruit which, in return for their hard labour, the earth offers farmers, cattle breeders, wine growers and fishermen, as well as all those who delight in the tastes, smells and colours of the fruit they put on the table with their celebrated hospitality.

Croatian Almanah 98/99, Gastronomy
Copyright © 1998 HINA News Agency, Zagreb - Croatia
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