Eating around the World in Zagreb

Although huge for Croatian terms, Zagreb is a relatively small and cosy capital, certainly not fit to be compared with cities like London, Paris or Berlin in some aspects.

For example, its share of ethnic restaurants is significantly smaller, because the population is smaller and more homogenous. We certainly don't have large non-Croatian minorities or neighbourhoods, which are always a guarantee of good and genuine ethnic food. However, that doesn't mean Zagreb is deprived of all the wonders of international cuisines. There's a decent portion of ethnic restaurants in modern Zagreb, and each new opening is met with interest and curiosity. Some are just a short-term fad, some strike root and stay.

“Japanese is among the first authentic and high-quality ethnic cuisines that conquered Zagreb.” Image credit: Takenoko FB

The first explicitly foreign restaurants that came to Zagreb were Italian, although that's far from exotic because Italy is so near to us and there's a lot of Italian influence in Croatian cooking anyway. So we can't really put Italian into the category of ethnic restaurants, that would be far-fetched. The second to come, somewhere in the 1990s, were the Mexican and Chinese, which were quite new and unfamiliar at that time. But truth be told, both versions were just a compilation of some of the best known, play-safe dishes, adjusted to the European palate and prepared with a lot of mediocre ingredients. Still, for many people it was fun to go out, fumble with chopsticks and get a fortune cookie, or dip tortillas and knock back tequilas to mariachi music, even though the experience was far from authentic.

"Ramen from Gyoza Sake Bar, one of their bestsellers.” Image credit: Gyoza Sake Bar FB

Then came the Japanese, Thai and Asian fusion restaurants, an area where there was much trial and error, so there's actually only one that has successfully survived from the beginning and still maintains high standards – Takenoko in Gundulićeva Street. Many more came later, and now the Asian category covers all kinds of eateries, from street food joints and shopping mall stalls to fine dining establishments. It's not unusual to see wok dishes prepared in more traditional lunchtime bistros. If I had to pinpoint my favourite picks in this category, the first one would be Gyoza Sake Bar, a tiny little place with a super friendly young female Japanese chef, a very limited menu and a couple of flavourful value-for-money lunch specials changing every day. The second one would be Time, a popular upscale restaurant doing Asian fusion, and also functioning as a vibrant bar and club in the evening. Tekka in Zagreb's business district in Radnička Street is not far behind, quality-wise.

“A small and budget-friendly African bistro is the latest in the line of Zagreb’s ethnic restaurants.” Image credit: African Cuisine & Bar

Situation has changed for the better over the years, with the whole renaissance of Zagreb's restaurant scene. We used to have or still have Russian, French, Indian, Korean, Turkish, Spanish, Lebanese, Greek, Sri Lankan restaurants. The first African place opened just a couple of months ago. Some are more, some are less successful and the scene is quite lively, with openings and closings even on a monthly basis. The restaurant audience is now much more educated, informed and even spoiled a little bit, so it's not enough just to throw a menu full of strange foreign names and exotic interior to them anymore. Besides being new and exciting, the food needs to be consistently good, as well as the service. Royal India is a fine example, and their move from a more quiet address to the busy and touristy Tkalčićeva Street has not compromised the quality yet.

“Khiley Phool from Royal India, so far the best slice of India in Zagreb.” Image credit: Royal India FB

The world is your oyster, Shakespeare said a long time ago, and this can be applied to food perfectly. We would all like to see the world and feel cosmopolitan, but don't always have the possibility to do so. If nothing else, we can always explore the world by eating all those interesting and different dishes from all the various corners of our planet. Zagreb's ethnic restaurants are just a small part of the map, but enough to get you going in travelling plate by plate.

“Time restaurant offers not only high-quality Asian dishes, but also a nightlife option.” Image credit: Time FB


Header image credit: Takenoko FB

                                                                                                             Author: Morana Zibar/ Taste of Croatia